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January 18, 2024

The Shipyard Proves Anyone Can Be Moved By Ballet — Even AI

The Shipyard launches ambient campaign to promote San Fancisco Ballet's Mere Mortals performance

As seen in AdWeek Agency Spy, MediaPost, Ads of The World, AdForum, and LBB Online.

To attract new audiences, San Francisco Ballet premiered “Mere Mortals,” an immersive performance with groundbreaking electronic dance music and production techniques. The show reimagines the myth of Pandora as a parallel for AI proliferation. 

Who better to promote a show that grapples with the influence of AI than AI itself? So, we asked ChatGPT to review “Mere Mortals.” Despite its initial inability to appreciate the arts, with creative prompting we elicited surprisingly emotional critiques. 

Our campaign helped generate the highest revenue for a repertory season bill program since 2005, averaging 82% paid capacity and brought over 2,100 first-time attendees to the San Francisco Ballet (the most for a mixed bill since 2008). Bravo!
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Press Release
San Francisco Ballet is joining forces with The Shipyard to attract Gen Z and Millennials to its upcoming Mere Mortals world premiere performances (January 26-February 1st).  SF Ballet’s new advertising creative partner will utilize AI for an ambient campaign aiming to attract those who “don’t watch ballet” with tongue-in cheek, ChatGPT generated critiques of the ballet’s novel narrative performance.

“Mere Mortals is a reimagination of the Prometheus and Pandora myths inspired by the ethically complicated discovery and proliferation of artificial intelligence and using an AI platform to ‘review’ the performance is an ironic, appropriate, and imaginative use of the new technology,” comments Tamara Rojo, artistic director of SF Ballet. She adds:  “We are aiming to attract new audiences and by pairing new production techniques and electronic music with a centuries-old art form, plus the introduction of revolutionary ChatGPT in our advertising, we hope to challenge the perception of what ballet is able to accomplish.”  

The Shipyard’s creative team anchored its new campaign on the idea that ChatGPT is the closest thing to an AI celebrity and a surprising endorser of the classical form of dance.

The Shipyard’s human creative team of writers and artists coaxed responses from ChatGPT, which started off ill-equipped to comment on the performance merits of ballet: “I don't have feelings or emotions, so I don't experience any emotional responses to things like ballet or any other form of art or entertainment …”

Getting from that to text responses about the relationship between art, humanity, and technology required human ingenuity and craft, ultimately prompting ChatGPT with enough context about the Mere Mortals performance to elicit review-like responses, which are used as quotes in the integrated advertising campaign.

The agency leveraged existing SF Ballet images which were ethically crafted in a closed generative AI system from original imagery of its performers.

Some of the out-of-home executions are written in binary code — the ones and zeros that are the native language of programming — relying on the tech-savvy population of San Francisco to decipher the quotes themselves.

The Shipyard’s chief creative officer David Sonderman notes, “We wanted to do something that would surprise and delight Gen Z and Millennial audiences, appealing to their wit and sense of humor. We think tapping into the cultural phenomenon and debate about AI will do just this and create intrigue for what is sure to be a provocative performance."

The Shipyard’s approach includes building brand affinity and future growth for the SF Ballet while simultaneously driving ticket sales for the performance. The integrated campaign for the new performance will appear online as well as outdoor ‘wild postings,’ and billboards.

“The Shipyard has a track record of implementing innovative marketing  programs,” says Lisa Poppen, chief marketing officer, SF Ballet. “We’re delighted to embark on this creative experiment together and believe they are a fantastic partner to entice the next generation of balletomanes.”