Vancouver Opera - There’s a monster in all of us

Best Matching of Message to Medium(s) (GOLD)

Client Credits: Vancouver Opera
Vancouver Opera
Director of Marketing: Doug Tuck
General Director: James Wright
Associate Director, Communications: Selina Rajani
Associate Director, Marketing: Jennifer Lee

Agency Credits: DDB Canada / Vancouver
DDB Canada
Executive Creative Directors: Cosmo Campbell / Dean Lee
Associate Creative Director / Art Director: Daryl Gardiner
Copywriter: Geoff Vreeken
Mural Artists: Ben Tour / Chairman Ting / Nick Gregson / Ola Vola
Agency Producer: Erica Jonsson
Account Director: Amanda Downs
Stickboy Illustrations: Giant Ant
Type Illustrations: Fredéric Mazzola
Digital Artists: Laurice Martin / Laurel Miller
Director of Corporate Communications & PR: Paige Calvert
VP Strategy & Innovation: Marty Yaskowich
Mural Support and Space: The City of Vancouver, Ameresco, Bomber Brewing, The Beedie Group
Video Production: Salazar Films
Video Project Management: Video Project Management


Business Results Period (Consecutive Months):September 2014 - November 2014
Start of Advertising/Communication Effort: September 2014
Base Period as a Benchmark: Performance of prior Opera shows/series 2013-2014

a) Overall Assessment

Make Opera Relevant Again. 

Like many art institutions, Vancouver Opera’s (VO) funding and patrons are literally dying off and it needed to attract new audiences to survive. Vancouver is home to a thriving creative class which actively support local culture and avant-garde events, however the Opera was not seen as modern, nor was it being attended by this audience. Ticket sales were in decline season over season.

To revive the experience offered and increase ticket sales from a younger demographic, VO developed a modern new work called Stickboy, which tells the emotional story of a bullying through opera, spoken word, multi-sensory set design, and animation.

VO had created a modern show, but to get a new audience to experience it, they first had to break their preconceived notions of opera and convince them this show was relevant to them.

b) Resulting Business Objectives

Double the Opera’s ticket sales.

The challenge was to promote Stickboy as a contemporary work and position Vancouver Opera in a way that would get the attention of a younger demographic. VO needed to spark conversation and advocacy about the show, knowing the only way to build credibility with millennial and Gen Xers was to have someone they trust or respect vouch for them. Simply saying the opera was cool again, wasn’t going to work.  

With a limited marketing budget of $70,000, earning additional impressions was also necessary to reach the audience needed to secure the new ticket sales required to make the show profitable.

The reality of Stickboy’s production costs and Vancouver Opera’s balance sheet meant that our business objective was to double ticket sales, adding 3,300 in new tickets sales to what had been sold to existing subscribers over the course of VO’s marketing for the 2014-2015 season.

c) Annual Media Budget
$50,000 - $100,000

d) Geographic Area
British Columbia

a) Analysis and Insight

Opera was and still is an underground art form.

VO’s subscribers and donors were mainly 65+ years old and their time, money and attendance were declining.  To replace these patrons a new target market for Stickboy was identified: 20 – 40 years old, curious minds who like to think of themselves as cultured and want to be part of what’s new and next in the arts.  

The strategic impetus for the campaign direction came from looking into where spoken word artist, Shane Koyczan, got the inspiration to write his first opera: Stickboy. Shane researched opera and wrote a poem on the role it has played in society and its evolution overtime.

This is a brief video of Shane delivering his piece for the fundraisers guests:

From this powerful piece, came the understanding that opera has always been the underground movement that carried the stories of the voiceless people in sounds that could be heard.

This inspired us to ask: where does our audience currently look for underground expressions of social and cultural tension? The answer: street art. This form of art had taken a similar role in today’s culture, as opera had played in generations past.

Rather than tell our audience that opera was a still relevant, our strategy became leveraging the street art, the art form they currently pay attention to, to spark interest in one they should get to know. 

Merging street art with opera may feel dichotomous, but this unexpected pairing made the medium part of the message, and at the same time demonstrated that Stickboy was taking a modern approach to opera.

b) Communication Strategy

Empower artists to tell our story.

Our communication strategy was to establish partnerships with street artists to participate in the project and ultimately lend their credibility, influence and creativity to attract the attention of our new audience. This unique collaboration was also the newsworthy angle we needed to drive publicity for the show and earn the impressions we couldn’t afford to buy. Public relations and social media channels were to be used to amplify murals that would be created by the artists and an online “mural” that would be created to allow influencers and audiences who’d seen the street-art, to share their own stories inspired by the shows message “there is a monster within all of us”. The communication strategy leveraged the street-art insight across all touch points, both using it to introduce Stickboy in our paid and earned messaging and to create opportunities for the audiences to express themselves. In doing so we created the third party credibility we needed to introduce the show and reach our audience through the channels that were relevant to them. 

a) Media Used

The campaign focused on four key media channels that would offer a mix of high impact placements and highly targeted reach. 

  1. Out of home murals
  2. Transit posters
  3. Online pre-roll, display, search
  4. Paid social 












b) Creative Discussion

There’s a monster in all of us.

The story of Stickboy deeply resonated with audiences because bullying is a widespread issue and strikes a personal cord.  However, simply telling people this was an opera about this subject matter risked lumping the show into the wash of anti-bullying PSA messages and people’s preconceived notions of traditional opera. The creative challenge was to develop a message that would be clearly differentiated from the clutter of government and non-profit ads on this topic.

Without the benefit of experiencing the visceral nature of Stickboy’s multi-sensory performance, the creative also needed to trigger the same emotions the audience would experience during the show. The strategy behind every touch point for the campaign was to generate an emotional response that would cause intrigue, reflection and the curiosity to purchase of a ticket to experience more.

Building on Shane’s collaborative creative take on opera, a call was put out to popular street artists to express the story behind Stickboy. The brief to the artists was not to depict Shane’s story, but to personalize the story and interpret their own inner bullies as monstrous graffiti shadows, bringing to life the show’s message that there is a bully within all of us.

Each mural was tagged, “There’s a monster in all of us,” and encouraged people to visit to learn more about each mural and Stickboy.  On the site, people could explore sketches from each mural, read how each artist has been affected by bullying.

The site visitors were encouraged to share stories about bullying and contribute their own monster interpretations to the online gallery, and of course purchase tickets to the show.

We chose not to build the web page on Vancouver Opera’s relatively stodgy main site, but to create the online experience on its own Tumblr page that would counter the stuffy preconceived notions of opera, and would signal that this was a show you could attend, even if you didn’t own a ball gown.

The sentiment behind street art was extended into traditional media spaces to drive broader awareness through provocative graffiti-like posters that confronted passers-by with aggressive statements like, “Time for a diet Fatty” and other lines from the libretto.  The copy triggered reflection and drove curiosity for what Stickyboy was all about and what one might feel if they experienced the show in person.

The creative, visitors’ stories and monster submissions were all shared through VO’s social channels to spur further conversation online around #stickboyopera. 

Media outreach was conducted to raise awareness for the murals and the revolutionary nature of the new production VO created with Shane Koyczan.  A short video was captured of Shane outlining his inspiration for writing Stickboy and applying his creativity to opera. This was coupled with interviews of the street-artists to tell the story of VO’s modern approach to opera from the murals, to the posters and to the show itself.

c) Media Discussion

Earn our impressions.

With less than $60,000 in media budget at our disposal the plan centered on where and how we could use these dollars to earn the impressions we couldn’t afford to buy.

Partnerships were negotiated with the city and local business owners to support the anti-bullying message behind the street art murals by donating their building wall space. Outreach was done through sharing the story of Stickboy and the vision for the murals (see PDF Stickboy City Owner Space Outreach). We secured four free spaces for the murals, which allowed us to use the media budget to pay the street artists and cover material costs.   

Transit posters were purchased in high traffic locations on our target audience’s commute. The unexpected creative stood out from surrounding fashion and product ads and sparked conversation about Stickboy, either online or in person, when people would have idle time to spend in transit.

These conversations were monitored and amplified, along with the monster stories submitted through the Tumblr site, and resulting press stories on Vancouver Opera’s social channels. Promoted posts and tweets were geo-targeted to Vancouver and to followers and lookalikes to other local avant-garde art houses and events.

Pre-roll and display were also purchased targeting local news and events sites as well as arts, culinary and culture content relevant to our target audience in Vancouver.

Lastly, video was used to tell the story of Stickboy in press outreach, knowing that the visual nature of the Stickboy’s modern operatic experience and the street-artists’ stories would compel interest where a new release would be ignored. A targeted list of online publications that the media budget could not afford was approached through one-on-one media outreach. This included the local entertainment weekly magazine and global culture sites that would give the credibility Vancouver Opera needed to be seen as “cool” and relevant to our target audience.

a) Sales/Share Results

A new audience and a new movement.

Stickboy successfully reversed VO’s declining ticket sales and doubled ticket sales through selling to new patrons. This exceeded the target and prior season tickets sales by almost 10%.

Response to the creative was immediate and visceral. Posters in sky train stations stopped commuters in their tracks and Stickboy was injected into their conversation. Stickboy generated 300% more social conversation than previous VO shows.

The murals catalyzed the creative community, prompting a gallery to host an exhibition of art that had been inspired by Stickboy and featured works from over 50 artists.

PR outreach generated 16 million impressions*, including the front cover of Vancouver’s premiere arts & entertainment publication, and international coverage from influential blogs such as PSFK and Fast Company. Just the credibility Stickboy needed to be seen as innovative and intriguing to our target.

Stickboy and its marketing effects not only reinvented the way Vancouver views opera, it catalyzed the country to embrace a modern new form of this fine art. Opera houses across Canada reached out to VO to organize a national tour of the show, generating a potential new revenue steam for VO and a new name for the company within the arts community. 

* See Vancouver Opera_Stickboy_PR Results for a list of media coverage by outlet and impressions.

Bully Confessions Wall at venue:


b) Consumption/ Usage Results


c) Other Pertinent Results


d) Return on Investment


a) General Discussion

With a minimal media investment behind Stickboy, and the reliance on earned and owned media as the key strategy, the reversal of the decline in ticket sales is evidence of the effectiveness of this campaign. Previous show campaigns have leveraged the same media channels of out-of-home, online, and print advertising and did so with similar budget and weighing with the messaging and placement strategy being the key difference between previous show campaigns and the approach taken with Stickboy.

Stickboy is one of five Canadian premieres that Vancouver Opera has produced so is not the first new work to be presented by the company. Previous premieres were promoted in a more traditional fashion and did not garner the earned coverage or new patrons Stickboy’s campaign generated.  

The participation in the project by the local creative community and marked attendance of the show by a younger demographic is evidence that the campaign achieved the desired softer results of attracting their desired new audience. Third party commentary in social channels and in the press also supports the successful repositioning of Vancouver Opera within the arts community and support for their new direction. One example being:

The notion of “fashionable” opera is in its own way a return to traditional practices; time was when no self-respecting member of the fashionable world would ignore the latest opera hit or scandal. Thus, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Stickboy being something everybody is talking about. VO understands social media: Twitter and Facebook have been building buzz about Stickboy for months. Consider the brilliant use of gritty street murals (to be found on four east-side locations), the most innovative promotional idea on the local scene for years. VO is gambling that new audiences are to be found through new media and new strategies. And I’m betting that they are right.” – David Gordan Duke, Vancouver Sun, October 23 2014

b) Excluding Other Factors
Spending Levels:

Vancouver Opera’s budgets are the same for every show.


Vancouver Opera engaged outside pricing consultants to set the pricing for Stickboy based on the local market, the venue, and the number of shows. Tickets were actually priced above that of other shows Vancouver Opera had done in similar size and venue due to the fact that this was the premiere. Based on mid-priced tickets selling out and higher priced tickets not being purchased, Vancouver Opera concluded that if ticket prices were lower, they would have generated even more sales from first time ticket buyers who were more price sensitive.

Distribution Changes:

Stickboy was promoted in the same way as previous shows, including it in the season promotions for subscription sales and then promoting is as an individual show for single show ticket sales in the two months prior to the show. 

Tickets were available online and through will-call as per other shows.

Unusual Promotional Activity:

No unusual price discounting or high-value promotional activity was activated.

Other Potential Causes: