What does it take to advertise the arts? And does theatre have an image problem?

Ballet as you have never seen it before.

Ballet as you have never seen it before.

I still like print papers. I like to see the article position in a page, the space it takes, the section it appears, the print ads that surround it. It’s not unusual for this ecosystem to throw unexpected partnerships and hidden meanings.  As it happens (and to the surprise of no one), I spend much of my time in the Culture sections of the weekend papers. And inevitably, I pay attention to the ads.

Last weekend I noticed a great new advertising campaign by the English National Ballet. It doesn’t advertise a specific production, but it aims to shake preconceptions about ballet itself (uptight people in tutus). It shows the company at its disheveled decadent best. Open shirts, untied bow ties, beautiful bodies draped over furniture, a hotbed of sensuality. The theatre establishmet should take note: theatre, similarly to ballet, has an image problem. Stuffiness and boredom are often mentioned when the conversation turns to plays, and funding problems won’t be solved until this image changes.

This weekend I came across a print ad for the film Silver Linings Playbook. It’s extremely simple, even drab: cropped photograph against a white background. What picked my interest was the absence of star names and the extensive review extract: not the usual “two thumbs up” blurb, but a sentence meaningful and specific. I don’t remember the last time I saw a film poster like this.

Silver Linings Playbook as it appears in the Observer

Silver Linings Playbook as it appeared in the Observer

Which reminded me of another advertisement where the name of the star is absent: the next day after the announcement that David Tennant will play Richard II for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the papers were full of ads for the new RSC season:  The star takes centre stage but his name doesn’t appear. We all recognise him, we all know who he is. The absence of the name makes the campaign no less effective, but gives it a savvy knowing quality. It’s worth mentioning that the campaign focuses on membership and priority booking. There is little doubt, we will have a battle on our hands when booking opens next week.

RSC winter 2013 season advertisement

RSC winter 2013 season advertisement

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