Superbrands Loyalty Series: How do Theatre Superbrands create Loyalty in the Competitive West End Theatreland?

By Rebecca Carverhill, Founder of Carving Partnerships

I love theatre. I love the buzz of the West End, the fizz of anticipation when entering the auditorium, the people watching, the sight of joy and excitement on people’s faces who have been looking forward to, and anticipating, the joy in every moment of their experience. I love seeing couples, families, groups of friends brimming over with anticipation and excitement for their theatre moment. Many will have travelled hours to get to central London. Some will be meeting after work, and will have already enjoyed dinner and a few drinks.

Even planning the details of the trip becomes part of the whole event; the travel, restaurant, bar, hotel choices, what to wear. Theatre can certainly be expensive….but for theatre lovers, their trip will be one of the highlights of their year.

People love every moment of their experience so much, they come back time and time again – often to see the very same show.

Take Wicked for example, an international musical theatre super brand. The show opened on Broadway in 2003, then in the UK in 2006, and then there have been countless domestic and world tours, and even ‘Wicked Day’ charitable initiatives where cast and production creations are auctioned for super fans to snap up on eBay to raise money for Anti-Bullying Alliance, National Literacy Trust and the Woodland Trust. 

How does a 2.5 hour musical about witches – indeed a side/ sub story to the classic Wizard of Oz film – entice super fans to come back again and again, at a minimum of £20 and up to £120?! What keeps an live experience theatre brand alive, relevant and engaging?

Firstly of course there is the stellar quality of the huge, glitzy production where every detail really is gold standard. But what keeps people coming back? How is their loyalty garnered?

I  believe the answer is a complex mix; brilliant talent, brilliant creative marketing, initiatives like Wicked Day which allow superfans the opportunity to have their own slice of Wicked magic, and crucially…a strategy to work with third party brands to create bespoke brand partnerships to allow the Wicked brand to engage with new, but still relevant, audiences. 

Wicked has an established history of working with 3rd party brands, and previous (pre-Covid) partnerships have included:

  • Lucy Choi London: A well-established luxury shoe brand who created 3 limited edition pairs of Wicked designer shoes, which were heavily PR’d with consumer press and spotted on Darcey Bussell
  • Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group: The luxury 5 star hotel created a Wicked themed afternoon tea to celebrate the show and bring some Halloween fun to families and fans
  • Ripley’s Believe it or Not: This mega-venue (sadly closed in 2017) created a Wicked themed exhibition and ‘trail’ through the enormous building

Even the choice of these partner brands is fascinating, as the alignment with high-end and luxury brands demonstrates how a theatre trip to see Wicked is a luxury experience for well-heeled ladies and families enjoying a trip to London where they can literally dine out on the experience. These partnerships were mainly marketed through consumer press PR and email databases. 

The partnership with Ripley’s Believe it or Not was a particularly integrated partnership which included a costume and prop exhibition, a Wicked themed ‘trail’ through the venue and recognisable songs from the show being played in the foyer area which passers-by on Piccadilly could easily hear. This large partnership was heavily marketed to tour companies, email databases and crucially a large London Transport ATL campaign- the result being their best ever ticket sales for the important October half term period. 

The heart of the story is that partnerships between consumer brands with synergy can work fantastically, engage with new audiences, and make consumers think about brands and experiences more creatively and imaginatively. Creating brand loyalty, customer retention and genuine engagement can be a huge amount of fun, and result in long-term conversations with the loyal customers who are most important to you and your brand. You don’t necessarily have to play it safe, synergy can lurk in slightly unexpected areas. With a bit of research, new target areas and customers can be identified, and be strategically engaged in creative ways.

Rebecca Carverhill is the founder of Carving Partnerships, who have extensive experience in consumer brand partnerships and loyalty in sectors including West End theatre, hospitality, hairdressing and FMCG brands.