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The Show Must Go On

Tackling the creative challenge of getting audiences back to theatreland.

Adam Fulrath, Dewynters

Director of Creative Services

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The West End. London’s beating heart and cultural poster child. Usually buzzing with vast swathes of shoppers, workers and tourists looking to spend their money on dinner and a show as the summer hits, it now finds itself on the frontline of a battle for attention.

The pandemic has left a wake of destruction, with theatre continuing to bear much of the brunt of its impact. It’s an uphill climb to get shows back, especially with tourist numbers down by 90%, however, a creative opportunity presents to rethink ways to engage with audiences- old and new. Audiences want that engagement; they want to see a show. You want to see a show. Who doesn't want to escape the nightmare of the past year and a half and go into another world? There's pent-up demand for world class live entertainment. Audiences are just waiting to be told it's OK. That it's safe. That it's time. That's the focus of our messaging: Come. Come back. It's time.

Audiences want that engagement; they want to see a show. You want to see a show. Who doesn't want to escape the nightmare of the past year and a half and go into another world?

Adam Fulrath, Director of Creative Services, Dewynters

Setting the scene

You don’t need to be a theatre-goer to recognise the iconic advertising featured at tube stations, outside theatres and on social media feeds. The cat's eyes, the illustration of a young Cosette, the vibrant yellow and black lion. You immediately know the shows I mean because they are now rooted in association with the West End.

When the pandemic forced us all to live our lives at home and largely online, shows were cancelled and that advertising wasn’t seen. It left us in an interesting place - looking at new ways to engage audiences for the first time in decades. So rather than wait for audiences to come back to us, our marketing came to them.

We undertook a huge push to online: digital content is consumed differently and requires marketing assets to be much more flexible and engaging to stamp the brand in a consumer’s imagination. Dynamic content captures attention much more quickly, inviting the viewer to be a part of the experience and bringing them into the brand’s world. Capturing attention has never been so important, and it's never been harder to lure a potential ticket buyer. So we thought harder about who was on the other end: We used cultural insights and data to target our audiences with hyper relevant, engaging content, now driving excitement and value in their minds—we can bring the West End back.

And capturing attention has never been so important. With leisure time activities in demand, the rise of the ‘pingdemic’ and an ongoing fixation on the pandemic, it’s never been harder to grab the attention of a potential ticket buyer. So our creative has had to really evolve to ensure that it doesn’t just attract the eye, but that it is relevant to that person to drive individual excitement and value in their mind.

We believe using creative, with cultural insights and data to target our audiences with hyper relevant, engaging content that drives excitement and value in their minds - we can bring the west end back

Playing to a new audience

So where did we start? We started by taking the time to really understand who we were talking to, finding out where they were and listening to what they wanted.

Take Mousetrap, the world’s longest running play that opened in the West End in 1952. Known and loved by older generations and fans of Agatha Christie, how would we reach that demographic whilst also looking to younger theatre goers?

Firstly, we didn’t have to look too far. One of the positive aspects of people being forced to live largely online during lockdown was the digital acceleration that forced less digitally-savvy people to upskill. So, we first looked to those we know love the show. Our rebrand was inspired by the signage of the theatre itself - the title written in neon. That decision both rooted the show in nostalgia and provided a contemporary and striking look to a logo that had long avoided its history. As a West End staple, we positioned it as ‘the little engine that could’, depicting it as plucky and resourceful to inspire fans to continue supporting it.

We then looked at targeting new audiences, taking this new imagery for the show to capture attention on social and in situ which was supported by a new trailer that was modern and engaging but still rooted in its classic style and legacy. ("Don't just see it," we encouraged them. "Solve it.")

In contrast, for our work on Back to the Future, a brand-new show, we’ve barely looked to outdoor advertising so far to drive awareness and ticket sales. The show has invested in a much fuller digital experience with bespoke content for targeting different audiences, from fans who love the film and musical theatre to families looking for a much-needed day out. (They can do karaoke to the "Back in Time" lyric video to get hyped beforehand.) We’ve looked to London and surrounding counties to engage and invite them back into the capital and back to the theatre. With hybrid working in full force, we’ve looked at new ways to market theatre - a special treat for those select days back in the hustle and bustle. Even Biff couldn't resist.

We believe using creative, with cultural insights and data to target our audiences with hyper relevant, engaging content that drives excitement and value in their minds - we can bring the west end back

Adam Fulrath, Director of Creative Services, Dewynters

Flipping the script

With the variations in restrictions over the last few months and now a ‘pingdemic’ threatening theatre’s full return, another creative challenge has presented: being able to seamlessly

layer safety information and assurance as part of the story-telling and customer journey, whilst also maintaining that feeling of escapism that theatre conjures. But it’s a fine line to tread. For some people they don’t want to be reminded about a global pandemic when they opt to see Hairspray on stage, whilst others need to know they’re safe in order to feel comfortable swapping their money for a ticket.

The issue here can be that for most established theatre brands, they are set within a rigid brand framework, leaving little room for the language and visual identity deployed with their comms to change. Aligning your creative and strategy once again becomes critical here to ensure that the right message reaches the right people, all whilst staying true to the heritage of the brand.

Yes, it may feel like we’re going back into the woods once again  but when we eventually reach the other side, we will have completely transformed the ways in which we engage and embrace our audiences- and that certainly deserves an encore.

Guest Author

Adam Fulrath, Dewynters

Director of Creative Services

About

Adam Logan Fulrath is Head of Creative Services at Dewynters. His experience includes designing numerous award-winning covers for Time Out London and Time Out New York. Creative directing J.K. Rowling’s digital hub pottermore.com including a site relaunch and the Patronus interactive experience. Designing the global digital covers for the Harry Potter book series. Creating Wizarding World editorial content including videos that have been viewed over ten million times, Twitter emojis that have been used over two million times and pop up events that have been attended by tens of thousands of people. Developing innovative creative at Dewynters for an insanely varied group of live entertainment clients including, from the Mousetrap to Back to the Future the Musical.

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