The Bridge Theatre’s Julius Caesar: how to reboot your brand

Can a 418 year old play about a story that happened over 2,000 years ago provide any inspiration for your brand?

The answer is a resounding “Yes”, based on my recent night out with the Taylor family to watch an an amazing production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar at the brilliant Bridge Theatre. Producer Nicolas Hytner and his team have delivered a masterclass in how to reboot a brand using insight into popular culture, as I explain below.

Step 1: build on a brand truth

Like all great brand rejuvenation initiatives, the Bridge Theatre looked back to understand the essence of the brand and what made it famous.

In the case of Julius Caesar, it is at its heart a political thriller full of intrigue and plotting. It starts with Caesar returning to Rome in triumph, welcomed by a crowd of people who pour out of their homes to celebrate. Alarmed by the autocrat’s popularity, the educated élite conspire to assassinate him, with civil war erupting on the streets after the dirty deed is done. The team had to respect these core elements, in addition to the key ‘brand properties’: the lead characters, the setting and the text itself.

Inspiration: look back at made your brand famous, in particular the key elements of the brand story. What is the cause the brand is championing, and what are the opposing forces that help create some drama?

Step 2: tap into a cultural truth

The second thing that the Bridge Theatre team did really well is to mine popular culture for insights on how to make Julius Caesar relevant for a contemporary audience. “I’ve never before staged a play that has said so much about our present, or warned of such a terrible future,” commented Hytner in a Guardian column (1)

In particular, they found inspiration in today’s ‘post-truth’ era, in which “debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion, disconnected from policy details, with the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored.” (2). The grandmaster of post-truth politics is of course Donald Trump and it seems he was an important source of inspiration for the producers of the play.

An additional, associated cultural trend is the the attractions of populism and the failure of ‘dismayed liberals’ to understand its appeal. This happened with the victory of Trump over Hilary Clinton. It also helped the Leave campaign come out on top versus the Remainers in the Brexit vote.

Inspiration: try to decode popular culture as it relates to your brand and category, to uncover insights that could help make your brand story relevant for today’s world

Step 3: reboot your execution

The magic in a successful brand rejuvenation comes from using cultural insight as a catalyst to reboot the expression of the brand story. The Bridge Theatre’s Julius Caesar is like no Shakespeare play you’ve ever seen. The play’s modern interpretation has pulled in a young the audience and my two 16 year old daughters  loved it; no mean feat when you consider how old the play is, and the challenge of understanding the text.

The evening starts off with a pounding rock concert, part of a flag-waving pro-Caesar rally complete with banners and t-shirt sellers. Part of the audience stands a central pit close to the action, playing part of the crowd. The audience-pleasing Caesar has more than a hint of The Donald about him, playing to his fans and throwing his baseball cap into the crowd. Opposition supporters who dare to tear down images of Caesar are severely punished, in the same way Trump clamps down violently on anyone who dares to disagree with his tweets.

And then we have Mark Antony, who “delivers a masterpiece of populist rhetoric, resorting to story rather than to logic.” (3) After Caesar’s assassination, he mobilises the masses by making a campaign pledge to give everyone money from the dead emperors will, only to then find a way to back out of the promise. UK readers will notice parallels with the promise of Leave campaign leaders during the Brexit debate to spend an extra £350m on the National Health Service from diverted EU spending, only to drop this pledge once they had won.

Inspiration: use your insight into popular culture to see your brand story through a contemporary ‘lens’. How can you respect the key brand equities and properties, while updating the expression?

In conclusion, a standing ovation for Nicolas Hytner and The Bridge Theatre, for showing how to reboot a long-established brand by remembering and refreshing what made you famous, inspired by insight into popular culture.

If you live in London or are visiting, do try and see the play: you can book tickets here.

If your brand needs a reboot and your organisation would like to work closely with world leading marketing thinkers, visit thebrandgym online.

(1) https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2018/jan/25/nicholas-hytner-on-julius-caesar-shakespeare

(3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-truth_politics

(3) https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/julius-caesar-the-bridge-theatre-review-ben-whishaw-brutus-a8186961.html

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