Ask somebody 100 years from now if they remember any of the following magicians: Penn & Teller, Derren Brown or David Copperfield.
Most likely the answer will be ‘No’.
Houdini is so famous people will remember him 200 years from now. Just like Charlie Chaplin.
What few people realize, is that he was equally gifted at marketing. He was light-years ahead of his time when it came to marketing his magic tricks. Many of the tactics he employed are still useful to this day.
Discover 5 marketing techniques that Houdini applied to achieve fame and renown around the world.
1. Pick a name to be remembered by
Houdini was born as Ehrich Weiss and started performing under his birth name. The public found his name difficult to remember and easy to forget. The young Ehrich Weiss realized that this would be an obstacle to becoming famous and attracting big crowds.
To pave the way to fame Ehrich Weiss changed his name to Harry Houdini. The choice for this name was a homage to two of his childhood idols: the magicians Harry Kellar and Jeun Eugene Houdini. He also thought he could lift on the allure and fame of Houdin. He thought Houdini meant in French ‘like Houdin’.
2. Move into uncontested market space
Early in his career, Houdini was called the “King of Cards”. He focused on performing traditional card tricks. The competition for card trick performers was very tough. Houdini’s card performances were not popular and limited to dime shows. Houdini struggled to gain fame and secure better bookings.
When performing at a Beer Hall, Houdini met Martin Beck. Beck, who later became his manager, told Houdini to concentrate on his escape act, as that was what set him apart. Houdini listened and worked hard to improve his escape act. Slowly Houdini transformed from an unknown card trickster into the unparalleled escape artist we all know. He placed himself in a new category and set the standard.
Instead of competing with other card trick performers, he carved his own uncontested niche where he could become the greatest. Houdini was able to secure much better bookings, as he could offer venues something different than what was already out there.
3. Ride the waves of technology
Houdini loved technology. He learned how to fly when airplanes were just invented. He even bought his own plane. Houdini’s plane was shipped to Australia because he wanted to establish the world record for being the first person who flew in that region.
When movies just became popular, he started acting. He saw it as an opportunity to reach a bigger, worldwide audience. Houdini became world famous during the rise of film. He was now a celebrity surrounded by other celebrities. Being a movie star opened many doors for him and gave him access to a huge network of celebrities who wanted to be associated with him.
4. Give a taste of what you can offer
Houdini once said:”I get more advertising space without paying for it than anyone in the country”. In every city he visited he challenged local municipality to lock him up. Every single time he escaped and amazed crowds. This provided a lot of free exposure for his shows.
On top of this he would visit performances of his competitors. He would sit in the audience and challenge them to put on his inescapable hand cuffs. He would leave them struggling to make clear to the audience who was the best escape artist.
He also would allow other people to bring their own handcuffs to his own performances. Every single time he was able to escape. All of these stories were covered in the media and helped turn Houdini from a regular man into a legend.
5. Keep pushing boundaries
Houdini was top of his game the moment he became an escape artist. He could easily have turned lazy. He kept pushing boundaries to make it even more impossible for the competition to keep up.
Instead of milking his existing performances, he kept inventing new acts during his whole career. His tricks became more and more dangerous. His tricks became so risky, that other escape artists did not dare to perform them.
It was a wonder Houdini did not die during a performance of one of his extremely dangerous acts, such as ‘The Chinese Water Torture Cell’ which required Houdini to hold his breath for three minutes.