Extreme Branding!

A couple of days ago I was shown a board game which could divide a nation. Yes, a board game! But it may be the most ingenious board game ever produced – and it provides some nice ideas when it comes to the theatre.

monopoly_empire.0_cinema_640.0Branding and advertising is slowly permeating its way throughout society and especially in the entertainment sector. YouTube is slowly becoming further weighed down with advertisements. Television shows have pervasive influence from product placement. Movies have the obligatory 15 minutes of promotional material beforehand. And now the board game industry is getting its cut of the advertising revenue . . .

Hasbro’s latest Monopoly themed release, Monopoly Empire, has forgone the Mayfair, Park Lane and even Old Kent Road tiles. In their place are some of the world’s most recognisable brands including McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Samsung, Yahoo and eBay.

There are a number of arguments for and against this product and in my opinion this is a little too far. Maybe if the chosen brands didn’t reinforce obesity and consumerism we wouldn’t think twice? Consider swapping McDonalds for Disney or dropping Coca-Cola for Thank You Water.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about as millions of people across the internet have already had that discussion. I believe that if we dial this idea back a couple of steps it opens up a whole new approach to sponsorship in the theatre.

Consider your average visit to the theatre. There is advertising in the programs, brand partnerships at the merchandise counter and food kiosks and even lounges that have been sponsored by major banks. Is the next step on stage?

Probably. But this doesn’t need to be the all-encompassing evil that everyone makes it out to be.

I’m not suggesting that we alter existing shows to include brand placement. Nellie Forbush checking in on her on-again-off-again beau Emile de Becque via an Apple computer wouldn’t really work for South Pacific. But there is room in more contemporary shows like Rent. Set in 1990’s Manhattan, promotional posters were plastered across the streets so it wouldn’t be unreasonable to come across contemporary advertisements on the sets. In fact it might make it more realistic!

But I’m not suggesting this so that these brands could sell more products – that’s just an incentive for them to invest. Selling advertising space on sets provides new shows with more money and places less reliance on raising money from investors and the ever decreasing pool of government grants. And this extra bit of money could go a long way in adding a financial ‘buffer’ – i.e. an extra couple of weeks – for new contemporary works to find their feet in the incredibly competitive market that is professional theatre.

We have all come across shows that we thought were the best thing to happen to theatre but closed too soon because not enough people bought tickets. Well, this idea could give them those extra couple of weeks to find their market – plus the brands that invest would be promoting the show to all of their loyal customers providing some pretty powerful (and free) marketing communications!

I know it is controversial and this plan is by no means a finished product. But it is something that the industry should start exploring before these brands subconsciously take over the stage anyway. If you don’t believe me, check out this still from the contemporary musical Hit List featured in the show SMASH. Notice any global powerhouse brands?