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Cirque, Sid Lee team up to create marketing ‘events’

Cirque du Soleil is teaming up with Montreal ad agency Sid Lee to launch a branded entertainment company.

JOHN LEHMANN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Cirque du Soleil is bringing its sense for spectacle to the marketing world, teaming up with Montreal ad agency Sid Lee to launch a branded entertainment company. The joint venture will aim to help brands create experiences that people actually want to watch, listen to, and experience.

The joint venture will be announced Thursday evening at one of the advertising industry's biggest events, the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in France. Sid Lee Entertainment has been a year and a half in the making, and is an attempt to address a fundamental shift in advertising: away from pushing messages to consumers, and toward creating engaging content.

"For the marketing community, this is very important," said Sid Lee chairman Bertrand Cesvet. "We're in the age of interactivity and interaction, and a lot of this happens in a digital way. … [An entertainment event] generates consumer engagement in a very visceral, analog way."

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The brand Red Bull, for example, is on the forefront of this change. Rather than simply sponsor an existing sporting event like most advertisers, the energy drink manufacturer has created its own events, such as Red Bull Crashed Ice, in which athletes race on a downhill ice track on skates. And last year, it scored a marketing coup with Red Bull Stratos, Felix Baumgartner's record-breaking parachute jump from the edge of space. At its peak, there were more than eight million views of the live broadcast on YouTube – the most concurrent views ever on the site.

"Everything today is about social media, but social media are fed by what? They're fed by events," said Cirque du Soleil's chief executive officer, Daniel Lamarre. "… People are getting more sophisticated. They want an experience."

It was this pitch that helped Sid Lee win the global account for Absolut Vodka late last year, Mr. Cesvet said. The company is currently developing a project for Absolut, but is not yet able to share the details.

The new company has also signed Canadian fitness wear brand Lolë as a client. Lolë's marketing strategy already includes yoga meet-up events, where attendees wear white as a symbol of peace and do large group yoga sessions. With Cirque and Sid Lee, the company will now take this further; planning an event at the Grand Palais in Paris, with a symphony orchestra, dramatic lighting, and other elements to create a "sensory experience."

The partnership was announced in February, 2012 – at the time, Cirque du Soleil also took a "significant minority equity stake" in the ad agency – but until now it has not had a name. Marketers have been approaching Cirque for years to develop entertainment projects, Mr. Lamarre said, but the company was unable to figure out how to do that without having it conflict with its own brand.

The goal is to create events engaging enough that the brands behind them can sell tickets, Mr. Cesvet said – and to potentially create a new economic model for an industry in flux.

"With advertising, we're still selling hours," he said. "What we want to do with this entertainment division is transform the revenue stream of our business … what clients expect from agencies is a lot more complex. You have to do an app, you have to do interactive experiences. I don't think the value is recognized."

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