One of the trickier aspects of managing a theatre company is the lack of consistency and cohesion between individual productions within a season. Generally, each show has a different creative team and a brand new script with radically different ideas to explore. One promotional method that theatre companies have used to bring some cohesion in recent years has been the seasonal identity. That is, giving your season a promotional brand of it’s own rather than focusing on constructing a brand for each individual show. However, do the benefits of this practice outweigh the loss of individual identity among productions?
The Seasonal Brand
This trend has been well and truly installed in the worldwide theatrical landscape for many years now with groups such as Belvoir (Sydney), Signature Theatre (New York) and Unicorn Theatre (London) all opting to wash a season of work with a singular identity. In broader marketing, this strategy is known as a branded house (applying one brand to a range of different products).
The New Theatre uses objects and cropped shots to create a company identity. Separate yearly seasons are then given their own identity through features such as desaturation (2014) and vibrant backgrounds (2015).
It is worth noting that in addition to a seasonal brand, all of the above examples use a blank canvas marketing strategy, which we have spoken about before here.
The seasonal brand holds several key advantages:
– Cohesive product identity. This is particularly important for companies who push subscription seasons. It reduces the perceived risk felt by customers entering into a subscription service by projecting consistency throughout the season.
– The success of one show can directly impact the success of another. As all shows in the season share a core identity, the success of one cannot help but have a positive impact on the remaining shows. However, there is also the risk of the adverse occurring. A poorly received show can reflect very badly on the others that share it’s promotional identity.
– They make the customer feel as though they are part of a greater experience. There is a difference between seeing an individual show that just so happens to be on at a particular venue and becoming part of a seasonal viewing experience.
– It increases brand awareness. The production company is first and foremost in consumer minds when they see a familiar image, rather than being an afterthought or a thought at all.
Every now and then this strategy pops up in other mediums, one of the most notable being Baz Luhrmann’s red curtain trilogy:
And in the world of business it can be seen prominently through Virgin:
Unfortunately, the seasonal brand is also the marketing equivalent of putting all of your eggs in one basket. It’s an all or nothing approach that may result in:
– Isolating customers. Should a customer enjoy your seasonal branding then that’s all well and good, but if a customer does not like your brand aesthetic then they will carry that negative connotation with them throughout the entire year.
– The failure of one show has negative impacts on the others. As every show is clearly branded as a company and not an individual product, the company assumes the responsibility of a bad show and that stigma carries over into the next offering.
– No show being allowed to stand out. A common brand may struggle to generate excitement about any particular show in the customer’s mind. For example, here is a snapshot of the 2014 Belvoir season without the show titles:
If you were to ask you, as a customer, which production excited you the most based on the imagery above, which would you choose? And if I were to tell you that among these productions is Oedipus Rex and The Glass Menagerie, would you be able pinpoint them? For the casual theatregoer (Or the non-theatregoer), this marketing leaves a lot to be desired. If nothing is able to take their eye then the production company has a lot of work to do to get them into the theatre.
It is important to note that the marketing is not complete without the show titles, however the emphasis placed on an aesthetic cannot be ignored. The old saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ may actually an understatement with claims that 90% of information sent to the brain is visual and images are processed 60,000 times faster than text. So it could be argued that a picture is worth 60,000 words. Either way, it’s a lot of words. Furthermore, according to the picture superiority effect, memory retention is significantly higher when images are combined with text. So by attaching an image to a show title, you need to make sure that you are saying the right thing because that image is how the production will be remembered.
A uniform aesthetic can leave very little room for individuality and may lead to higher perceived risk among customers, who don’t have any tangible cues to inform what they are spending their money on.
A More Detailed Approach
The main disadvantage of a seasonal brand is the lack of individuality among shows, however there are solutions to this problem. Take a portion of the Sydney Theatre Company’s 2016 season for example:
The common trend of featuring actors in the foreground is taken a step further by giving each production a detailed background. These backgrounds provide context for the actor’s expressions and enhance the overall feeling of each production, as opposed to simply relying on an actor to do this against a black or white background. If you were to ask you, as a customer, which production excited you the most based on the imagery above, you would probably have an easier time answering than with the previous example. Those with a sense of adventure may be drawn to the wonders of the outdoors represented in Machu Picchu, while those wanting a period story may gravitate towards the serene, golden lit gardens of Arcadia. For those who want something darker, The Hanging is inviting you to unveil it’s secrets through the shadows and fog. They all provide a tangible cue to customers about what they will receive if they decide to attend the show.
With that said, they are unmistakably part of the same season. Each production shares the common theme of actor with a textured background along with vivid colours and uniform text. In fact the promotional images appear to have been purposely desaturated to provide contrast to the vivid boxes accompanying them. With this detailed approach, the STC have presented a path towards being able to have a seasonal brand and maintain the individual integrity of each offering.
Griffin Theatre Company demonstrate a different detailed approach with their signature crosswords titles:
These acrostic poems give customers a clear idea about what to expect from a production. The Boys uses the words “brothers”, “violence”, “brutal” and “confronting” coloured in a cold steel blue to provide a tangible atmosphere from marketing material alone. The vagueness of the words retains the mystery of the show and actively invites the audience to solve their context.
The seasonal brand is a powerful strategy to implement when trying to build brand awareness. While I’ve primarily spoken about main stage companies in this article, this is type of marketing is in no way out of reach of independent theatre companies. If you are an independent producer (or company) who plan on doing more than one production in a year then give some consideration to your seasonal brand. It will stop you starting from absolute scratch in terms of marketing with each new production. There are also some cases where letting each individual production stand alone is a very legitimate strategic choice. The key is to make the best choice for your theatrical ambitions. If you want to build a company then a seasonal brand can go a long way towards that and if you want to produce a singular work (Or series of singular works) then build the individual show.
Until Next Time
Thanks for taking the time to read this article. Please feel free to join the discussion through the comments below and check us out on facebook. I’ll be back soon with another article promoting the art of marketing for the arts.