Magic Dollars


Stage magic and marketing are very similar. In both you’ve got an audience and your goal is to get them to believe something. In both there’s a lot of effort convincing your audience of some premise. For marketing it’s getting the audience to accept some value proposition, for magic its getting the audience to believe something’s real when it isn’t.

I went to a magic show a few days before Halloween, the first after many years, and this time saw it through the cynical eyes of a Results Marketer. What became obvious in a way it hadn’t previously was the amount of effort the magician spent convincing the audience that something was as they expect it to be – the table is a normal table – the sword is a real sharp metal sword. Neither was true, and to me it was clearly evidenced by the amount of time he spent emphasizing the obvious.


After a dozen prop tricks the performer culminated the show with a trick I considered truly amazing. It was a brilliant marketing move whose “magic” is I couldn’t resist mentioning here. Here’s what he did:

Throughout the show he had kids from the audience assist in the tricks. After each trick he would give the kid assistant one or more of his books and a “magic dollar.” Every kid in the place was super-pumped up to participate and get something. At the end of the show he announced that every kid could get a magic dollar! Wow!

Siblings stared at each other with mouths agape. They just had to get in line in front of the stage. He took the time to sign the cards and pose with each family as they received theirs, so the line took forever. Moms and kids were fighting with each other over places in lines. Feuds were being formed that would cross generations.

What this magic dollar turned out to be was essentially a 5”x11” laminated cardstock promo piece, like a high end direct-mail postcard you wouldn’t hesitate a millisecond to chuck out if it came in the mail. It was essentially a big ad for his magic classes and availability for events like birthday parties. He took something other businesses would have had to pay dearly to get people to just touch the thing and made moms scrap over it instead. Brilliant!

Here were the tactics I recognized from it:

  1. Call your promotion “magical”. The best part is that nobody really knows exactly what “magical” is supposed to mean. What it has come to mean for consumers in a practical sense is that they’re willing to suspend their disbelief.
  2. Make it sound like something with distinct value – for example call it a dollar.
  3. Make people jump through some kind of hoop to get it – getting in line is great because it has the added benefit of having a crowd advocate.

Everyone’s probably recognized some of these tactics employed before, but I had never seen something so shamelessly obvious executed to such effect before where the response rate was over one half the whole audience. I was one of the only people who didn’t get in line in front of the stage. I got to watch it all from my seat.  If you’ve got a good seat to watch it from its always amazing to watch basic tactics work over and over again.


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