Pot Noodle The Musical: artists working with commercial organisations

Convener(s): Janet Hodgson

Participants: Sarah Grange, Ellan Parry, Jen Toksvig, Claire Beresford, and others

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations: 

In case anyone doesn’t know, last summer, a group of theatre practitioners were brought together by advertising agency Mother London to create a musical on behalf of their client Unilever, who produce Pot Noodle. This had a very well-publicised run at the Edinburgh Festival, including TV advertising for the show.

We were very lucky that the producer and the designer of this show turned up for the discussion, so gained a great deal of insider info!

Key conclusions

  • The issue of artists creating theatre funded in different ways by commercial organizations was one that raised a number of concerns, issues, conflicting emotions and a great deal of debate
  • At the same time, it was recognized that commercial organizations are potentially an incredible new source of funding for artists, can help with the creation of new theatre and bring forth some interesting creative collaborations
  • Also, it was recognized that many organizations are now looking for other ways to communicate with their target audiences with the decline of conventional advertising. A lot of very creative and imaginative organizations would probably love to work with the theatre community.
  • However, it was felt that amongst the theatre community in particular (practitioners, as well as some audiences) ‘corporate’ is seen as a dirty word, associated with selling out.
  • It transpired that the fact that the Pot Noodle show didn’t raise a proper debate within the theatre community had been disappointing for some of those involved. Was it a wasted opportunity?
  • A number of ways in which artists could work with companies were discussed. Different models of involvement/interference(!) and the associated issues were explored.
  • It was recognized that because this is a new area, it’s somewhat of a challenge at the moment (…and often a headache because no-one really knows how to do it!)
  • On the one hand, there is a sensitivity about working with advertisers, on the other there isn’t a lot of money around for people to make new theatre. Is there a way forward? Is there a way to make this work so that everyone wins? 

Specific issues/questions for further discussion

  • Can something be considered art if a brand is paying for it?
  • Should practitioners charge more if effectively working for corporations?
  • It was felt to be quite different approaching an advertiser with an idea/script you have already had vs. them approaching you and asking you to create something on their behalf. With the latter it was felt you had more control (a parallel was drawn with Somerstown, the award-winning film that was funded by Eurostar)
  • Concern about ‘tricking’ audiences with subliminal advertising for brands – if people turn up to see a show to find out it’s effectively a big advert, they could potentially feel very exploited. It seems insidious.
  • Perhaps if the ‘deal’ between advertiser and the show is made obvious, they won’t feel so annoyed (e.g. perhaps in the Pot Noodle show there could even have been an ad break…it was recognized this kind of shenanigans would be particularly in keeping with the Pot Noodle brand, and not so much with other more serious ones!)
  • The way in which brands are featured within shows could also dramatically affect how the whole thing is received – it could be charming, funny, or naff and very embarrassing
  • Recognition that funders – even the non-commercial ones – have agendas that practitioners are forced to adhere to already. Is it any different if it’s a corporation?
  • Some people felt – get real! Theatre needs money. Who cares where it comes from! What’s the difference between a show funded by an advertiser vs. a music festival sponsored by one?
  • Pot Noodle the musical was a real first – an experiment – and the team reported a number of things they would have done differently.
    • They felt it was a shame they had not themselves been able to promote the show as a piece of theatre in its own right – all the publicity had to be focused on Pot Noodle.
    • They had also not been able to have a review with the agency and client since it finished – this may have been useful.
    • They felt they hadn’t necessarily always been respected and their opinions listened to as experts.
  • Overall, it was felt it would be useful to have a number of guidelines set up at the outset of any similar project so that all parties were aware upfront about how everyone would work. 

Things to bear in mind in developing similar projects

  • The brand itself – what is it/does it fit with the idea?
  • What is the product and how are the audience likely to feel about it?
  • What does the company want in return for the funding? How deep/prominent do they want their brands involvement to be. It could be:
    • Very significant – e.g. they want to write the script
    • Relatively small – they want a sentence to be featured within the show
    • They want to influence the tone
    • They may insist that the brand features in the name of the show
    • They may insist the product itself features in the show.
    • Etc.
  • There are no rights and wrongs, because each situation will be so unique. Ultimately its up to the team to decide how they feel about all of these things and make sure they agree how it happens upfront.


Pot Noodle team run a workshop for interested practitioners? (And get Mother to pay them a small fortune.)