Indian Theatre Meets Mixed Reality, with Zee Theatre [Case Study]
Theatre meets Mixed Reality - The story of how WOWSOME helped take quality Indian theatre to a larger audience with Mixed Reality as an Experiential medium - in partnership with Zee Theatre. A comprehensive Case Study
14 min read
“All the world's a stage.”- William Shakespeare
The art form of theatre has existed for millenia. It has entertained, educated, inspired and led billions of people around the world. From the Roman amphitheatre to the Ram Leela, theatre has played a pivotal role in the story of humanity.
In August 2017, Zee decided to write its part in this story, by making quality theatre accessible to a new generation of urban Indians. This is a story of how WOWSOME helped Zee realize this vision.
The Indian film industry is the most prolific in the world - producing 1,000+ feature films each year. As a medium, films have seeped thoroughly into the Indian subconsciousness. We dream of Bollywood, converse in dialogues, and think in tropes. Similarly, television reaches more than two thirds of the Indian population and plays a huge role in shaping the culture.
In contrast, Theatre remains a relatively exclusive medium. A theatre performance cannot be replicated across thousands of screens across the country simultaneously (a recording of a performance might be referred to as replicated, but that isn’t theatre anymore).
Theatre patrons, or Thespians as they refer to themselves, have always belonged to a relatively sophisticated socio-economic strata. Exposure to quality literature and social circles determine how accessible quality theatre is for the audience.
Most importantly, location matters the most. Mumbai and Delhi are the hubs of theatre in India. Finding quality theatre experiences outside the metro cities is a difficult task.
Zee theatre took upon themselves the mission of overcoming the above challenges. They intended to create theatre performances featuring contemporary themes, familiar characters and endearing storylines. The plan was to bring these performances to all major cities across India. The long term goal was to take Indian contemporary Theatre to new heights of quality, appeal and accessibility.
Creating quality theatre is an expensive affair. Theatre Production, Marketing, Management and Creative aspects require a high budget. Due to the non scalable nature of the medium, these costs increase linearly, as you increase the number of performances.
In the initial stage, securing external sponsorship was crucial for the enterprise. Government and Private Patronage is an old economic model for theatre, and Zee wanted to try a novel approach for sponsorships.
Traditionally, brands aren’t too eager to associate themselves with theatre. Some reasons are the oft political nature of the performances, public perception of the artists, geographically localized performances and lack of consistency of the experience.
Zee Theatre suffered from none of the above issues. It would take place across the country, feature familiar actors (often seen in TV and Web Series), wasn’t a political platform and promised to offer a consistent experience. Despite this, integrating a Brand into the theatre experience was no piece of cake.
Typically, Brands rely on advertisements, or promotional content in media. The medium of theatre does not lend itself to interruptive advertisements or commercials as cinema, television of the Internet. Paid/sponsored content - a model that web series’ are quickly adopting, would have meant a creative compromise on the storyline and the characters.
WOWSOME - Solution Design at its best
During the initial stages, Zee Theatre was trying to rope in Brands for sponsorships and partnerships. However, due to reasons discussed above, it was becoming a difficult task to get Brands on board. This is where WOWSOME stepped in.
We proposed solutions that would integrate the Brand seamlessly into the theatre experience. Our solutions would not require paid promotions in the storyline, nor would it mean advertising during the play. At the same time, our solution would ensure that the audience were thoroughly exposed to the Brand and its message.
To achieve the objective, we proposed an Experiential Marketing solution - where we would create an experience for the audience, which would feature the brand. Experiential marketing is a popular paradigm, which we have covered quite comprehensively on our blog. To know more, consult the following blog posts:
Our Experiential Marketing solution would create an immersive environment for the audience - with Mixed Reality technology. It would help the Brand create User Generated Content, and would help Zee Theatre create a unique, novel theatre experience.
Maruti Ertiga, a relatively new Multi Purpose vehicle, was one of the interested Brand partners. Cars naturally lend themselves to long distance driving, or racing. Our first solution was a gamified mixed reality experience for the theatre audience.
The solution involved a 60 second gameplay, powered by IoT (Internet of Things) sensors. At the end of the gameplay, the players would pose for a picture inside the gaming booth. This picture would be augmented with the Brand’s message and content, using our Mixed Reality technology. Finally, it would be made available to the players, as a souvenir.
Our solution eventually evolved as the deal between Zee Theatre and Maruti Ertiga progressed. We used a unique solution design process to define the creative and the technical aspect of the solution. The process is described in the next section.
Finally, we helped Zee Theatre close the Brand sponsorship deal with Maruti Ertiga. Our Mixed Reality experience would form the core of Zee Theatre's brand activations, and would fulfill Maruti Ertiga’s brand objectives seamlessly.
Our Solution Design Process
To create a winning solution, we set out to understand and define Zee Theatre and Maruti’s needs. Members of our Creative team have extensive experience in theatre. Their domain expertise enabled us to accurately identify these needs.
A theatre play is a relatively low fanfare, moderate audience engagement affair. A single theatre performance happens only once, and there are no instant replays. So, the theatre audience usually arrives early at the venue, sometimes up to an hour before the performance commences.
Boredom leads to a bad experience for patrons as there is no audience participation before the show begins. Keeping the audience engaged and entertained before the play began was thus very important for Zee.
Introducing the characters
Most of the audience was familiar with at least one of the actor and their past performances. Teasers and promotional material for the play communicated quite effectively the nature of the play, as well as introduce the characters and the storyline.
However, Zee preferred if the characters were introduced again to the audience, in a deeper, more direct way just before the play began. Such audience participation would set the stage for the storyline of the play, and act as a bridge between the actor and the character they were playing. It would set the audience expectations for the play.
Creating Brand Content
User generated content is the modern goldmine for Brand marketers. Pictures, Videos and other content created before the performance could not only be used to promote the Zee Theatre’s performances, but also utilised by Maruti Ertiga in their brand efforts.
Furthermore, since the branded user generated content would be shared with the theatre audience, Maruti Ertiga’s brand messaging would have seeped deeper into the audience, fulfilling their branding objectives.
Having considered the problem from Zee Theatre and Maruti Ertiga’s perspective, we considered the point of view of the typical theatre audience members and identify their needs and wants.
Photograph with the performers
Autographs belong to the previous century. In the smartphone age, user generated contents such as selfies and photographs have become the new autographs. People want to document memories when they meet their favorite celebrities, and they want to share it with their friends and family.
A sizeable percentage of Zee Theatre’s target audience weren’t frequent theatre patrons. In particular, audience members in the 45-50+ age group would not feel comfortable going up to an artist and asking him for a selfie.
Similarly, the public perception of a theatre artist is different from a movie star. Most people would not hesitate to ask Shahrukh Khan for a selfie. Many of the same people wouldn’t feel comfortable asking Naseeruddin Shah for a photograph.
Ertiga Memories - the WOWSOME Solution
After understanding Zee Theatre, Maruti Ertiga and the theatre audience’s needs and challenges, we came up with a solution for engaging the audience before the theatre performance. The solution bridged the gap between the actor and the character and brought the characters and the audience together in one frame.
Benefits of our solution
- Kept the theatre audience entertained and engaged
- Introduced and set expectations for the characters in the play
- Helped them create memories with the characters
- Exposed the audience to the Brand messaging
- Helped Zee Theatre and Maruti Ertiga curate Brand content
- Generated Leads (Contact information) of the patrons for further marketing
A closed booth/kiosk was set up at the venue of the theatre performance. The booth was active at least an hour before the play started. The booth contained a screen, a registration smartphone, a laptop and a Mixed Reality camera. The booth was lit adequately to ensure an optimum Mixed Reality photo capture and user generated content creation process.
The visitors (audience member) visited the booth. They were asked to fill out their basic personal details on the registration smartphone ( Name, Mobile Number, Email address). Once they had entered their details, a QR code was generated on the smartphone.
The screen inside the booth asked the visitors to show the QR code to the screen. The booth camera captured the information on the QR code and began the experiential marketing brand activation.
The visitors were now instructed on how to participate in the experience. The screen displayed a set of instructions. Next, the screen displayed a visual feed of the visitors inside the booth.
A character from the theatre play was superimposed on the camera feed on screen, along with the visitors. The visitors were now asked to pose with the character for 3 different pictures.
The character would pose with 3 expressions in a series. Each pose would last for 3 seconds, at the end of which a picture of the visitors was snapped along with the character.
The entire mixed reality experience would last 10 seconds.
After the 10 seconds, a Cinemagraph of the visitors and the character together would be generated and displayed on the screen. The cinemagraph would be uploaded to a cloud server. A link to the cinemagraph will be sent to the visitors on their SMS and Email.
The cinemagraph would include a branded hashtag from Maruti (#ErtigaMemories) and feature the brand messaging.
Learning Experience for WOWSOME
A cinemagraph is a novel content format. An amalgamation of a video, an animated GIF and an image, a cinemagraph is perfect for capturing short moments and representing the stories within. Creating a cinemagraph using Mixed Reality devices and technology ups the ante further.
Green Screen Shoot
Chroma (Green screen) shoots for a short cinemagraph were unheard of in the industry. Sourcing production material for this new format, figuring out the artistic and technical intricacies of the medium and arranging production around the same was a process that yielded tremendous insights.
Integrating the footage with our software and generating content in real time was another challenge. Most green screen shoots with Chrome take several weeks or months to render the output. We had 10 seconds. Technical workarounds, new processes and talent helped us overcome this challenge.
Finally, we were able to streamline the processes of production and make it very efficient. Between Season 1 and Season 2, we reduced the production time by 66% !
Lighting is the name of the photography game. Ensuring the proper greenscreen lighting setup inside the booth was vital for the quality of the cinemagraph. Since this particular style of cinemagraph was never attempted in Mixed Reality before, we pioneered the process, through careful consideration, trial and error.
The campaign, titled #ErtigaMemories was highly successful. For Season 1 of Zee Theatre, we did
- 13 activations
- In 8 cities.
- Engaging 576+ people
- Generating 1,500+ cinemagraphs.
- Generating 700+ interactions on Social Media
As a result of our campaign’s success, we were asked to create a similar experience for Season 2 of Zee Theatre. The campaign for Season 2 was conducted in 5 locations across India.
Zee Theatre wanted to transform the Indian theatre landscape and make theatre more accessible. To scale their work at a large level, they needed Brand sponsorships. However, the unique nature of the theatre medium posed difficulties in securing Brand participation.
After considering the needs of all stakeholders, WOWSOME proposed a mixed reality experiential marketing solution which would synthesize the needs of the Brands and Zee Theatre with the audience’s experience. To implement the same, we encountered several technical and production challenges, where we did pioneering work. Our Mixed Reality solutions were critical to closing the deal, and ensuring the Zee Theatre theatre performances actually happened. Our solutions were a roaring success with the theatre patrons.
To know about more such mixed reality marketing activations, do check our other case studies: