Written by Julie Stidsholt
Setting the Scene
“The Royal Danish Theater Hits Historical Low” (Strøyer, 2013). Such is the headline of one of many articles in Danish newspapers addressing the national theater’s fleeing audiences. According to their annual report, the ticket sales have decreased by 115,000 tickets between 2012 and 2013 (Det Kongelige Teater, 2013), marking 2013 as the year with the fewest tickets sold in history (Strøyer, 2013). The reason? No one is quite sure. The Royal Danish Theater offers cultural experiences within drama, ballet, opera and concerts. It boasts one of the best locations in Copenhagen; employs talented actors, dancers and singers; and the ticket price is as low as that of a movie ticket (Det Kongelige Teater, 2015a).
So why this lack of support? Let us delve deeper into that! But first a bit of history:
The Royal Danish Theater was founded in the center of Copenhagen in 1748 as the private theater of King Fredrik V, although it was still open to the general public. However, it was predominantly visited by the royal family itself, as well as members of the upper class. By the end of the absolutism in 1849, the Danish state was granted ownership of the theater. This required the theater to target a much wider audience by “serving the whole nation” (Det Kongelige Teater, 2015b). These days, the theater continues to be state-owned and receives just above 500 million Danish Kroner (corresponding to about 76,50o,ooo US dollars) in government funding each year. Attracting audiences is a persistent challenge, and it is beginning to threaten the future of the theater (Thomsen, 2014).
The Danes’ Theater?
Out of sheer curiosity as to why no one seems to take an interest in The Royal Danish Theater these days, I decided to call up the theater and get their view on the matter. On telling them I was professionally interested in the institution, they let me speak with their Chief Communications Officer, Eva Hein. I referred to their current situation and listened carefully. According to Eva Hein, the theater struggles to attract audiences that do not belong to the 60+ segment. In addition, recent surveys conducted for the theater show that the vast majority of the Danish population believes that “it is not offering anything [they] would find interesting” (Hein, 2015). In addition, the Danes tend to think of it as “old-fashioned”, “inaccessible” and “out of date”. She is convinced that this image is directly related to the theater’s decrease in ticket sales, and she explained how the brand management team is slowly but surely realizing that change needs to happen. If not, they will have a hard time defending the theater’s raison d’etre. As such, the theater’s focus has now turned towards more extensive marketing and branding. Among other things, Eva Hein emphasized that “making the theater more modern and accessible” and, more importantly, “entering into a dialogue with the population” are points high on their agenda (Hein, 2015).
So, what initiatives have in fact been implemented? According to Eva Hein, none yet, unfortunately (Hein, 2015).
I wondered whether inviting the Danes to take part in the decision-making process in regards to The Royal Danish Theater’s future repertoire might be a solution to increase brand awareness and ticket sales? This then led me to questioning whether the Danes would be interested in gaining this influence?
Let us get back to that.
Social Media, Online Communities and Co-creation
Social media platforms can help companies to “boost brand awareness […] and ultimately sales” (Barwise and Meehan, 2010, p. 3). The Royal Danish Theater happens to be present on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and is rather active on all three platforms. During the past thirty days, they have posted 32 updates on Facebook, 30 photos on Instagram, and tweeted 29 times. However, very few users seem to like, share, favorite, re-tweet or comment on the theater’s activities. Taking a closer look at their followers, it becomes evident that they count 32,836 on Facebook, 2,675 on Instagram, and 2,848 on Twitter. Overwhelming? Not overly, as the theater is supposed to serve the entire population (which makes a total of five million people). As such, the theater’s current social presence does not particularly boost brand awareness, nor sales.
Creating a space that might in fact do that may be a wise move for The Royal Danish Theater. As 21st century consumers are likely to tell companies which products and services they wish for (Kotler and Keller, 2012, p. xvii), the theater’s brand managers might give the consumers a chance to do so. As such, the brand managers at The Royal Danish Theater may consider shifting from “solo creators” to “cooperating moderators” in developing the brand (Hennig-Thurau, 2013, p. 238).
Marketers today should embrace technology and truly engage their customers (Berthon et al., 2012, p. 261). Companies such as Procter & Gamble and Ford have successfully done so by creating online communities in which consumers are invited to participate in product development. This has the effect that the consumers’ expertise is put to use, and as such, they become co-creators of the brand (Barwise & Meehan, 2010, pp. 2-3). Over at Forbes, they are saying co-creation is “the future” (Thompson, 2014), and gone are the days when consumers were mere passive recipients of brand value (Gensler et al., 2013, pp. 242-243). Today, interactivity is the key, and consumers have become part of the dialogue. A new type of corporate branding has even seen the light, namely “open-source branding”, that assigns an essential role to interaction among and with stakeholders (and thereby also consumers) in the co-creation of the brand (Vernuccio, 2014, pp. 211-212). To think in terms of open-source branding may be an option for the Royal Danish Theater in creating awareness of the institution.
When consumers are actively involved in modifying a company’s products and services, they are referred to as “creative consumers” (Berthon et al., 2012, p. 263), and successful companies have found their ways of benefiting from their consumers’ creativity. With the innovative “LEGO Ideas” community, the world-famous children’s toys company invites consumers to pitch and share their ideas for new LEGO models. The concept is that if an idea gains 10,000 supporters, it is eligible to be reviewed by the LEGO Board. The board then decides which ideas end up becoming actual models available for purchase (LEGO, 2015).
YOUR ROYAL DANISH THEATER:
Inspired by the co-creation activities by Procter & Gamble, Ford and LEGO, as well as the concept of open-source branding, I suggest the introduction of “Your Royal Danish Theater”, an online community that invites the Danish population to generate and share ideas in relation to future theatrical productions at the theater. As in the case of LEGO Ideas, users can vote for their favorite ideas. To ensure that the ideas are consistent with the theater’s interests (Hennig-Thurau, 2013, p. 238), representatives from The Royal Danish Theater will then evaluate the ideas with the most votes, and ultimately decide which of them become reality.
I wondered if this community would in fact be supported by the Danish people, and so I thought: Why not ask them? The purpose was to find out whether they might be interested in gaining an influence on the future repertoire of the theater.
To reach as wide an audience as possible, the busy New King’s Square in the center of Copenhagen was chosen as the location for getting in contact with the Danes. I decided to ask fifty randomly selected people passing me on that Tuesday afternoon, and to keep up until this goal was reached. As it turned out, 8 answered “yes”; 36 answered “no”; and 6 answered “I don’t know.”
I asked the 36 no-sayers if I could ask them one follow-up question, namely what it would take for them to show an interest in The Royal Danish Theater. Of the 36, 25 did not agree to answer that question. Of the eleven that did, 6 emphasized better communication or advertising; 2 answered that nothing could; and 3 answered they did not know.
Interestingly, 8 people, or 16 %, were positive towards the idea.
So, returning to the question raised at the beginning of this text—whether the Danes might be interested in gaining an influence on the future repertoire of The Royal Danish Theater—the answer is that they might. Needless to say, however, 50 people cannot be considered a representative section of the Danish population, so further research indeed needs to be done within this area.
What is particularly interesting is that 6 of 36 no-sayers were willing to show an interest in the theater, provided the theater communicated or advertised better. As such, The Royal Danish Theater may be wise to do so, along with the possible introduction of the online community.
Before the online community can become reality, The Royal Danish Theater needs to be on board, you might think? You are right. Having been in close contact with the theater in the past weeks, they seem likely to be. I collected the contact information of the eight people that were interested in gaining an influence on the theater’s future repertoire, and a few days later, I sent them a brief e-mail, asking if they would still be interested in a possible co-operation with The Royal Danish Theater. Of those 8, 6 e-mailed me back saying yes. These will soon be invited to take part in an initial meeting about the online community—and might later find themselves to be co-creators of the national scene of Denmark; interacting, generating ideas, and taking part in the brand building of The Royal Danish Theater. And who knows, maybe someday they will inspire other Danes to do so too?
Kotler, P. & Keller, K. L. (2012). Marketing Management. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.
Barwise, P. & Meehan, S. (2010). The One Thing You Must Get Right When Building a Brand. Appeared in Harvard Business Review (2010), Vol. Unknown, pp. 1-5.
Berthon et al. (2012). Marketing meets Web 2.0, Social Media, and Creative Consumers: Implications for International Marketing Strategy. Appeared in Business Horizons (2012), Vol. 55, pp. 261—271.
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Hennig-Thurau et al. (2013). Marketing the Pinball Way: Understanding How Social Media Change the Generation of Value for Consumers and Companies. Appeared in Journal of Interactive Marketing (2013), Vol. 27, pp. 237–241.
Vernuccio, M. (2012). Communicating Corporate Brands Through Social Media: An Exploratory Study. Appeared in International Journal of Business Communication (2014), Vol. 51, pp. 211–233.
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[Accessed: February 8th 2015]
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[Accessed: February 10th 2015]
Det Kongelige Teater (2015a). Rabatter. Det Kongelige Teater. [online]. Available at:
[Accessed: February 11th 2015]
Det Kongelige Teater (2015b). The History of the Royal Danish Theatre. Det Kongelige Teater. [online].
[Accessed: February 6th 2015]
LEGO (2015). Lego Ideas – How It Works. LEGO. [online].
[Accessed: February 7th 2015]
Hein, E. (2015). Telephone interview conducted with Eva Hein, Chief Communications Officer at The Royal Danish Theater, on February 6th 2015.