By Neil Allen
It's plainly obvious that word of mouth advertising of a nativity display is far and way the most impactful form for getting folks to "come and see."
Recalling our first major display, I recall literally dragging people in off the street. At first they were apprehensive about taking time out of their day to see a nativity display. I attribute that to folks having one idea about what a nativity looks like.
Most Americans have some image stored away in their mind which is either white porcelain or something from their childhood (if they even have memories of such things.).
When I was little, there were lots of sets made out of plaster of Paris, or paper. Later, there were plastic sets, and those colorful ones from Sears and Robebuck that had a "Made in Japan" sticker. That sticker in the 1950's meant "cheap."
So, those were the images locked in my head (Protestant Homes rarely put much thought or money into nativities). I suppose those who grew up in other traditions had much different ideas about "Nativities" - but even so we're likely all locked in to certain ideas about what a nativity looks like - which makes it VERY difficult to get people to come and see a display.
HOWEVER, if your display shows a wide variety, and large enough, you might get to the "wow' factor (audible expressions). That's going to lead to advertising that far outweighs the local newspaper. If you are able to get that on TV - OH MY, the rush is coming. In short it takes someone to "come and see" in order to open the flood gates.
So, if you're new to the idea of opening your display to the public be aware that it will probably take you a few years to get momentum going, unless you have a built in promotional base (perhaps your local church or a friend in the newspaper business). If the display is in your home (as many are) it's probably easier to reach your comfort level of visitors.
Our displays are simply too large for an average home, so we have displayed in churches. This is easy when you are part of the churches leadership team, but a hard sell to those who haven't heard of such things. However, once the people "come and see" it's usually an easy sell to get back in the door, unless you run into a situation we encounter last year; we were too successful. We pack nearly 2,000 visitors into a 5 day event with over 1,000 sets on display. The busy church we were using loved and loathed it, because they simply had too many other programs to work around.
With over 30,000 visitors from our traveling show (a rarity among collectors), we've slowly built a reputation that unlocks doors. While we are an anomaly among collectors, it's been a fabulous ride but not without tons of work and dedication.
Bringing the nativity out of the cobwebbed memories and opening creativity to the light of day is well worth every ounce of energy. It just takes a few people to "come and see" - and in those intimate moments among our display times, people open to a new idea about what. "nativity" means.