Shaw Festival rebrands in search of youth

Despite its mandate to represent the plays of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the last thing The Shaw Festival wants consumers to think is that it's mired in the past.

Despite its mandate to represent the plays of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the last thing The Shaw Festival wants consumers to think is that it’s mired in the past.

Thus, the Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.-based theatre group recently rebranded in an attempt to display its contemporary side.

‘In 2002, we expanded our mandate to include recent plays reflecting the era of Bernard Shaw,’ explains Jill Planche, the festival’s director of resource development. ‘We want to reflect a vibrancy, newness and fun approach.’

With the help of Toronto ad agency Scott Thornley + Company, which worked closely with the Festival’s artistic director Jackie Maxwell, the company found that the best way to communicate its message was to turn the spotlight onto its ensemble cast. All marketing material now includes photography focusing on its expressive performers.

‘Everyone who knows the Shaw feels that it’s one of the finest ensembles on the continent in English theatre,’ says agency president and CD Scott Thornley. ‘In the past, the ensemble has been swallowed up by grand sets and costumes [in advertising]. For me the idea was to bring these people forward, because they bring things to life.’

This approach should help the Shaw reach both its goals of pursuing a younger audience and developing top-of-mind awareness. Typically the theatre-goer is an older consumer, but Shaw is hoping to skew slightly younger, to a 39-plus target.

‘We’re trying to [make the images] very strong, so that the personality of the actors is reflected,’ points out Planche, who describes past branding efforts as ‘more illustrative, beautiful and a little pastoral looking.’

Adds Thornley: ‘Young people are not afraid of intimacy, and they are not afraid of being confronted by an actor being the entire subject of an image. We wanted to reach out.’

The theatre group’s main marketing piece is an 80-page handbook, which is mailed out annually to its 290,000-strong database. Postcards are then sent as a reminder to those recipients who have failed to reply.

Other media used in the campaign includes print advertising in the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star, as well as travel magazines. An outdoor campaign may be added this fall, and The Shaw Festival also regularly collaborates with wineries and hotels in the Niagara region for additional advertising. The media budget (not including DM) is just under $500,000.

Client: Shaw Festival
Agency: Scott Thornley + Company
Creative Director: Scott Thornley
Associate Creative Director: Kirk Stephens
Photography: Shin Sugino
Design and Production: Shelley Hinch, Carmen Serravalle
Web Site Development: Robyn Ferrier
Production Management: Dolph Loeb
Account Director/Media Strategist: Bruce Roberts
Account Executive: Cvita Delac
Media: Karin MacPherson, The Media Company