In this article, I will explore the strength and effectiveness of using a big illusion act in the marketing of an illusion show. This refers to developing the marketing of an illusion show around a single highlight illusion and using it as the key selling point in all marketing material. (Note: I’m not talking about one-off mega illusions or stunts for special events or television specials but rather an actual illusion that you can present in your regular show.)
Magicians from yesteryear and the golden age of magic used big illusion acts to successfully sell their illusion shows. Examples include Selbit or Goldin’s “Sawing a Lady in Half”, Houdini’s “Vanishing Elephant”, Kellar’s “”Levitation of Princess Karnack” and Thurston’s “The Million Dollar Mystery”. The film “The Prestige” also explored the importance of having a big act that no one had ever seen or could figure out to sell a show.
Modern magicians have not used this marketing tactic widely although one example I can think of in the recent past is Mark Kalin & Jinger’s “Vanishing Jumbo Jet” that they used as a marque illusion to close their show in the Reno Hilton.
Mark Kalin with his Jumbo Jet illusion (www.bestmagicshow.com)
So, is a single illusion act strong enough to sell an illusion show to a client or ticket buyer in today’s market? In my opinion, it does not hurt to sell a show based on one big illusion act. It is not a common practice now so it can be an effective tool to differentiate yourself and your show. There are some considerations when selling a big illusion act:
You Must Deliver on Your Promise
If you are selling the levitating black panther illusion, you must be able to levitate a black panther in your show.
The audience/ client does not care if restrictions in staging conditions or technical problems affect your illusion. As far as they are concerned, they paid for a marque illusion and they are expecting to see it.
The Illusion Must Live Up to Its Hype
The method and performance of the illusion must be solid. If the illusion is not deceptive or poorly staged, the illusion will fail to live up to its marketing and will ultimately hurt your show.
The presentation and choreography of the big illusion act is critical. You must build up to it during the show and ultimately when you present it, the audience must be satisfied.
The Illusion Must Have Value to Your Target Audience
Your big illusion act does not have to be mega in scale or super original. It is not practical for new illusionists or even most working professionals to have a jumbo jet, elephant or spinning spikes of death illusion at their disposal.
The good news is that you do not need such “mega” illusions to sell your show. All you have to do is find out how to make the illusion of value to your target audience. This is often overlooked by magicians and illusionists. The key is not to find an illusion that you think is fantastic or you think will appeal to other magicians. In fact, it is not entirely necessary for the illusion to be 100% original (although it is preferred).
The success of a big illusion act is that it must appeal and resonate with your audience. While walking through a solid steel plate sounds cool, if you are performing for a family audience with lots of kids, you will likely have more success producing a giant gingerbread and candy house on an empty stage.
If you are performing in night clubs, vanishing an all-girl sexy dance crew in mid-air will be much more appealing to the target audience than making a 10-foot art sculpture disappear.
So, it is possible to make a “Head Chopper”, “Chair Suspension”, “Modern Art” or “Mini Kube Zag” as a selling highlight of your show if you can make it of value to your target audience.
How do you know if an illusion has value to your audience?
With research, careful thought and experience, you can make an educated intelligent guess as to what illusion is best suited for your target market and audience.
If you are clear on your target market & audience, it is not difficult to choose an illusion that will appeal to them. For example, which of the following illusions do you think will be easier to sell to a corporate client for a corporate illusionist?
- A Corporate Executive Appears from Thin Air
- An Old Model Product Magically Transforms to a New One Inside a High-tech Mini Research Lab
- A Girl Dressed as a Bunny Vanishes and Reappears from a Rabbit Hatch
Even if you are not a corporate illusionist, I think you will instinctively choose illusion #1 & 2. It is not that tough right? 🙂 I can confirm that illusion #1 & #2 will appeal much more to a corporate client than illusion #3. And, it is not unreasonable to expect a corporate client to book your show based on you being able to present one of those two illusions at their corporate event.
So, a tailor-made illusion that is designed with your target audience in mind can be very effective in selling your show to a client.
I have a confession to make. I was a bit sneaky in the above example. Actually, all the illusion descriptions I gave above are for the exact same illusion, just presented differently! I gave presentations for illusion effects that can be performed with a standard “Tip-Over Trunk”.
So, there is another lesson to be learnt! One important skill is to learn how to sell an illusion and make it relevant to your target audience. The illusion method is secondary. What is important is how you package the illusion effect to the client or your target audience.
So, technically, with creativity, you can “package” one illusion many different ways and sell it differently to different clients as a highlight of your show.
So, what is a Good Big Illusion Act to Sell an Illusion Show?
As highlighted in my post “The Perfect Illusion”, your perfect illusion is dependent on the stage of your career and your specific needs. The same goes for a big illusion act. A good big illusion act for you will be one that fulfills the three considerations I stated above. And, one that you can afford and stage at a practical level.
Most importantly, it must bring you a return on your investment. If it is an illusion that no one else can do, all the more the better; but this is not critical to the success of your show.
Here is a benefit of selling a big illusion act. Marketing an illusion that is (or is perceived as) unique to you can help differentiate yourself from the competition. It also can help create a positive impression in the client’s mind if the illusion is of a certain scale and/ or originality. This gives you credibility and better negotiating power.
For example, one big illusion act that I sell for my event show is “High Octane” which is actually a series of different illusions with a sports car. While the illusion may not be possible to stage for every show (due to budget, staging or logistics), it makes me stand out from other illusionists as it an illusion that not many can present easily.
It also gives the client confidence in the scale of illusions that I can present. This makes selling the illusion show easier as well as setting the benchmark for a higher price point for the show. Less shows, more money!
Good Marketing Does Not Negate the Need for a Good Product
Having said the above, it is important to note that the big illusion act is the sales “gimmick” that draws the crowd in but, ultimately, the actual show itself and the performance of the illusionist must be good. The performer makes the illusion and not the other way around.
A big illusion act can definitely help you attract attention, be noticed among your competition, or get the interest of a client, but ultimately, the performance must be good in order for the marketing to be really effective in the long run.
Good marketing is a double-edged sword. Good marketing can do wonders for a great product but it will kill a bad product. An illusionist who has sustained success over a long period of time cannot live on good marketing alone. The product has to be good, if not, there is no way for there to be any longevity.
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