Hi Lips Are Sealed

14 10 2011

I am a little over one-half through a rather long trip to Las Vegas. It’s all work-related. Really. Trust me. Yeah, I have had several people offer to assume my job duties (sensing that I must be growing weary, but probably just wishing they were here). Upon further consideration, though, I think I’ll keep this job. I rather like it.

With three academic paper presentations under my belt, I can now focus all of my efforts on working with four WTAMU students who flew out yesterday. Together we are conducting Phase I of a long-term marketing research effort with The Terry Fator Show at the Mirage Casino.

Yep, it’s all very tough work, but someone’s gotta do it.

The project involves the students doing Man-on-the-street (MOS) intercepts with passersby, and then longer post-show surveys as people exit the theatre. In both cases, students are learning a lot about how market research is conducted, human interaction skills (you have no idea how hard it is getting people to give you a few seconds out on the street), and the use of technology in this research.

But first a little backstory. Terry is a Texan who won America”s Got Talent in 2007. His prize was $1 million and a Vegas showcase featuring him. He was a huge success and was hired by Mirage to a 5-year gig. He has played a huge role in the resurgence of ventriloquism as an entertainment form. He packs out his 1200-seat theatre five nights a week most of the year. He and his ten friends make people laugh for 90 minutes. Terry can sing. Act. Joke. Impersonate. And do it all without moving his lips.

So why the research? Simple. In a town like Las Vegas, you have to stay on top of your game all the time. It’s not like there aren’t other entertainment options out there. Heck, Mirage alone has the Beatles Love show as well as three night clubs. Walk a few hundred feet in any direction and you’ll see that the choice set explodes exponentially.

So our job is to take the pulse of the typical Vegas tourist, intercepting them out on the street to gauge awareness of Terry. It’s an uphill battle trying to constantly break through the ad clutter, rise about the hundreds of other voices in this town. But it’s something Terry must do. It’s been four years since he won AGT, and the folks who remember him from there won’t be around forever. The fact that Terry scored a cameo toward the end of AGT’s season this summer (in front of 20 million viewers) was a huge coup, but you cannot go to sleep in this business.

Vegas showgoers know that tickets are not cheap (Terry’s are typically in the $115 range, but run higher for seats near the stage). With so much money at stake for patrons, the show had better be good. Or else word will get out on the street, and the game will be over.

It is in working with Terry that I have come to notice the many places his ads appear (the most prominent of which is the inside back cover of Spirit Magazine on Southwest Airlines flights). But he also has 5 taxi wraps, along with lots of taxi tops and and taxi backs. Oh, and those awesome 70-foot electronic marquees on either side of the Mirage. Yet people we interview on the street will say they’ve never heard of the man.

Gulp.

But for the folks we interview exiting the show, it is no longer about awareness. Now we’re going after content and demographics. Gender. Age. And, most importantly, what did you like and dislike about the show and specific characters.

While Terry can read an audience like a book most of the time (you don’t need a laugh meter to know when something resonates), sometimes folks just need to be given the opportunity to provide more in-depth information. And so we stand outside the turnstiles, giving autographed picture cards to those willing to give us a few minutes of their time.

As for the technology, we are using iPads with wifi as our survey tool, and Qualtrics online surveys as our data collection method. In fact, our sidewalk intercepts are powered by a portable wifi hotspot in my front pocket. I am able to come in the through the backdoor via my iPad and watch the results coming in.

It really is tough work. We did this several days and nights last August, and we’re doing it for four days this trip. Why? Because a great show is a terrible thing to waste, and we want to see Terry prosper long on the Strip. “Hey, free water if you take our survey! Here, I’ll walk with you.”

Yeah, I’ll keep this job.

Dr “Lip Service” Gerlich


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