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Arts Marketing: Why Casting Celebrities in Theatre Productions Can Backfire

New research finds why certain types of celebrities can have a negative effect on theatre productions

United Kingdom, 10 December 2014 – Casting inexperienced and questionable celebrities in theatre productions can have a detrimental impact on the show according to new research published in the latest issue of Arts Marketing: An International Journal from global publisher Emerald Group Publishing.

In ‘Star quality: celebrity casting in London West End theatres’, Niall Caldwell from the Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge and brand consultant Kathryn Nicholson, conducted a survey of both theatre production staff and audience members in one of the first studies to investigate the effect of casting celebrities within the theatre industry.

One of the most striking findings to emerge from the study is that potential audience members believe there is a significant difference between fame and celebrity – and that this holds different associations in audiences’ minds. Niall Caldwell explains: “The practice of casting celebrities as a marketing tool to draw bigger audiences is now endemic.  Many critics argue that it is simply to generate revenue and may damage theatre as an art-form.  Others suggest it is a suitable modern day method of encouraging people who may not otherwise have any interest, to go to the theatre.  But it would appear that not all celebrities are equally powerful.”

Respondents were asked to rank three dimensions of celebrity credibility - trustworthiness, expertise and attractiveness.  The study found that theatre professionals ranked trustworthiness and expertise as equally important, but audience members ranked expertise as the overwhelmingly single most important attribute. 

When asked about the impact of celebrity casting on their intention to go to a show, the vast majority of respondents, 64 per cent, said it would depend on the celebrity.  Theatre and film celebrities were far more likely to attract people to the theatre than celebrities from reality shows, such as ‘search-for-a-star’, the sports industry of those known for simply being in the media limelight - with only four per cent believing that these types of ‘celebrity’ would improve their opinion of the theatre. 

Older theatre goers were less likely to be influenced by celebrity cast members, with younger audience members more likely to be influenced by the presence of a celebrity, regardless of the specific talent which that celebrity brings to the performance. This will be of interest to those developing  targeted marketing strategies for different theatre going age groups when considering celebrity casting.

Niall Caldwell adds: “Celebrity culture is now at the height of its powers, but unlike advertising or marketing, celebrities working within theatres cannot be described as endorsers.  They do not simply recommend the product, they are in fact part of the experience itself”. 
This article is published as part of a special issue ‘Brands in the arts and culture sector’ of Arts Marketing: An International Journal, Volume 4, Issue 1/2.  

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