Shakespeare and marketing today - Part 1

When Shakespeare was creating his plays his challenge was to break down the barrier between audience and performer. The famous “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players;” embodied his belief that art is life. Everyone from the richest Duke sitting up in the Globe’s galleries to the poorest barmaid standing by the stage were entranced by Shakespeare’s genius in immersing them in the drama on the stage. So powerful was his skill that the audience forget that they were observers, and became involved with the action. The barrier between stage and auditorium is eaten away through the use of soliloquy (the actors talking to the audience), interaction with the audience (booing and cheering), improvisation (comedy moments), dramatic irony (the audience “in” on the plot, knowing something that the characters do not). Shakespeare pulled the audience on to the stage and in to the minds of his great characters. Richard III the hunch back toad even spoke asides and gave ironic looks to the audience to ridicule other characters behind their backs. Brilliant for bringing the audience in on the action. This was one of the many reasons that the people of Elizabethan England fell in love with Shakespeare and his plays, because they became a part of the experience, they felt the emotions, they were moved to laughter and to tears, they cared for the relationships presented to them. In the balcony scene Romeo tried to woo Juliet throwing out grand poetic statements of love but Juliet is not interested in this stuffy rhetoric. At the end of the scene she calls Romeo back to her and holding each other’s hands, looking into each other’s eyes, the audience know that their love is real, not because of what they say, but because of the way they feel, the way we feel being a part of their most private moment. That is the thrill of the Globe Theater and the addictive Shakespearean drug that kept his audience coming back for more and more and more: this shared experience, a fantastic journey for the actors and audience to have together.

Nowadays the direct descendents of Shakesepeare’s plays - great movies, TV and theatre - achieve the same results. They interact with their audience; they grab you and don’t let you go. You find yourself immersed in another world, unable to switch off, fully engaged with the action. Advertising is also hungry for the same results with its customers. To break down the barrier between you and the brand, to the point that you have forgotten that you are the subject of a marketing campaign. Strangely the challenge faced by Shakespeare 400 years ago to involve and move his audience by breaking down the barrier of the stage, is now replicated in the world of marketing. How do you reach out and pull in your customer when they are constantly surrounded by advertising? How can you break through the barrier of the screen and pull your audience in, grab their attention and lose them in your moment?

Many marketers have already successfully and possibly unknowingly followed Shakespeare’s methods. Experiential experts are wise to advise their clients to physically create a space for potential customers to enter (Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre). Once inside they are enveloped in the brand’s world, ready to engage and interact with the product (speak to your audience). A good narrative, story telling, is often fundamental to successful television advertising – the much loved Bisto gravy adverts that followed the same family over many years from childhood to adulthood. I wonder though how far we can go with adapting Shakespeare’s dramatic devises to modern marketing techniques. Dramatic irony is a clever trick and many ad agencies attempt to achieve a similar effect, creating intrigue and suspense through indirect advertising, what is now commonly known as viral advertising. To create a buzz about a product, as if it just happened by magic, even though we know the PR whiz kids spend their days dreaming up wonderful plots full of twists and turns to fool the audience and suck in customers.

Ad agencies are now looking more and more into providing multi-sensory experiences for their target audiences – not just visual, but sounds and smells too. Are we not near the point now when there is too much visual advertising? When companies are trying to establish and raise brand awareness surely they would be foolish just to focus on the pictures. We live in a world bombarded by images, logos, icons and graphics. Our one solace is to close our eyes and shut out the marketing mayhem that surrounds us. To be truly exciting and innovative, just like Shakespeare 400 years ago, advertising must break down the barriers that prevent the flow of information from company to consumer. I think Shakespeare would look towards aural and olfactory solutions. Just like his Globe Theatre where there were no fancy lights and sets, the actors used their bodies and Shakespeare's words to create locations and atmosphere; "Think when we talk of horses, that you see them / Printing their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth;" Picture this: 5 people sit in a dark room in front of a big screen. A video begins to play of a beautiful mountainscape with blue skies and white clouds tumbling above the mountain tops as a rocky river flows below and birds swoop and soar. There is image but no sound. In the next room 5 different people are sitting in the dark but there is no big screen, instead they hear the sounds of the mountainscape, the river water hitting the rocks, the calls of the birds, the cold wind, also the room is filled with the aromas of the scenery. Which experience is more immersive? Impossible to quantify you may argue. One week later the people return to the rooms and repeat the experience. The people watching the video are reminded of their previous visit to the room and most probably think, “I’ve seen this already” and then enjoy it as they did before. The people listening to the sound and smell effects however, recall their own image of the mountainscape that they created with their own imagination the week before. I would argue that the video doesn’t provoke your imagination to create your own sound and smell effects in the same way that sound and smell provokes you to create a picture in your head. And that is your picture by the way. Individual to you. Personal to you. You own it. Now that is a far more powerful marketing tool, wouldn’t you say?