Is It Important to Use the Original Show Art For Familiar Shows?

I love it when you guys submit questions. It ends up generating some of the best Sold Out Run content because I’m addressing a specific question or need that someone has. (And if one person has a particular question, you know there are a lot of other people not asking it that would also like to know.)

Perfect example here. It never would have occurred to me to write about whether or not you should pay to use a well-known logo from a show or create your own version. Thankfully, Becky was not shy about asking:

Hi, love your site. I have a question for you. I am on the board of directors of a community theatre. We are having a marketing dilemma. We do 5 well known MainStage musicals throughout our season to bring in audience from our small town. Our marketing committee wants to recreate the logos for posters, etc. from these shows to save a little money. Shows are familiar, i.e.. Mary Poppins, Music Man, Aida, Anything Goes and Miracle on 34th St. We are in disagreement on this, some people think we should not change the logos, but go with those that people recognize. Any thoughts?

My gut reaction…

It’s certainly a trade off. You save a little money, but it means the marketing pieces using the show art will likely be a little less effective than they might have been with the “official” art. That means you’ll need to spend more marketing money elsewhere to recapture those lost sales, so you could make a case that it doesn’t really save you any money.

There may be cases where that’s the right call, but my gut reaction is: if you’re selecting popular shows like the ones you listed, you want to get the benefits of the familiarity the general public has with those shows. The owners of those shows have spent impressive amounts of time and money branding those shows, and I would want to piggyback on that branding by using the official art.

The more I think about it…

… the more certain I am. When people see your poster, you want them to think about how awesome the source material is… which is what the original art will do. You don’t want to create the impression that this is any way a sad imitation of the original work… which is what creating your own version of the art can oh so easily do.

The possible exception here is if you are creating show art for your entire season that carries consistent visual themes across all of your marketing pieces. Even that will be more effective, though, if you find ways to marry your visual elements and the original artwork together.

Creating your own version of the imagery for a well established show in an effort to save money seems to me like it will end up costing your more in the end.

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  1. Clay-
    I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with you on this matter and offer a counterpoint. Full disclosure: I’m a marketer and graphic designer and most of my work is creating custom visuals for theatre productions.

    While you are correct that using the well-known artwork that is available with these big shows from the rights organization has the benefit of using visuals that people already know, that is a two-way street. If patrons have seen these shows before, perhaps on Broadway or other lavish productions, using that artwork implies that your production will match what that patron has already seen in terms of production budget and quality of the acting/singing/technical elements. If you cannot deliver that, then you run the risk of overpromising and disappointing audience members.

    Essentially, this is like franchise branding: if you are hungry and see a sign for Wendy’s, you know exactly what kind of food, decor, and service to expect. If you go into the establishment and the similarity is just that there is some meat in a bun, you are going to be disappointed.

    Also, by using the original production artwork, this tells me that you are simply trying to recreate what the other production did, and that I should not expect any original ideas or artistry in this production. If what you are doing with the script IS kind of different or original, then your marketing needs to communicate that.

    This stock-image approach also misses the greater opportunity of branding your theatre through the production art. If all of your theatre’s posters use completely different art designed by other productions, then your theatre has no brand and no personality of its own. If you can partner with a good designer or illustrator to create a consistent artwork style from show to show, then your patrons will start to recognize the style and it will become your brand. Back this up with excellent art and customer service, and you will make people want to attend your theatre regardless of what the show actually is. To go back to our food metaphor, instead of going to a restaurant because you saw them advertising fish, you go back again and again because you enjoy the whole menu and the decor.

    Charles on Sat, Mar 7th, 2015 at 5:25pm
    • Charles, you bring up several great points that I hadn’t considered. I think you make a strong case that there are going to be times when doing original work makes more sense – far apart from any thought about trying to save money.

      Part of what I like about marketing the arts is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to anything. Each production, and all the variables that go into that show are unique. Thanks for sharing your considered and articulate thoughts on this! You’ve given me some ideas to chew on. 🙂

      Clay Mabbitt on Sat, Mar 7th, 2015 at 10:10pm
  2. You both make good points. Thanks for the dialogue.

    Jim Gallagher on Thu, Nov 17th, 2016 at 8:52am

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