Audience Development and sexed-up arts marketing

I wasn’t planning on blogging today, but I read an article that had my mind buzzing:

Sexed-up arts marketing campaigns a rip off

Xenia Hanusiak, a composer, performer and music reviewer wrote this opinion.  Here are a few excerpts to discuss –

When we are promised ”the experience of a lifetime”, or ”a night of passion” and neither manifests, is there recourse? And if so, from whom do we seek it?

I have to agree with her here.  Unless the show is so amazing that we talk about it in the future, maybe we need to be more honest with our marketing.  I can say as an audience member that I have been hoodwinked more than my fair share taking a chance on these “experiences of a lifetime” hype and instead getting a mediocre production.  These performances are entertaining to pass the time, but they aren’t necessarily full of passion.  The arts need to be upfront about the type of experience they are sharing.  Not all performances and art are going to be mind-blowing, but that is okay.  The art is still worth sharing, but perhaps we need to package it for what it is instead of using language that oversells and deceives.  I’m guessing the problem is that every artist thinks their offering is the “greatest” or the “most spectacular” art that is being offered.  Perhaps we can use our audiences to get some honest feedback before we start promoting to the general public.

In the arts, offering proof before making a claim is a difficult proposition. We are, after all, in the business of subjectivity – one man’s passion is another’s poison. What’s more, in contrast to the commercial market, where product launches and marketing campaigns often go hand in hand, arts marketing is prospective. It is not unusual for marketing, with images and text ranging from confronting to salacious to divine, to arrive in subscription booklets six months before the creative team even sets foot on the rehearsal stage…

So, is using scantily clad models for your opera subscription false advertising when they won’t appear on stage? Is promising ”the greatest show on earth” or ”the experience of a lifetime,” an unsubstantiated claim?

I’m curious to hear what you think about this.  I do feel we need to be a little more responsible in how we sell our offerings.  Even though we do not have an organization that regulates our marketing, this should not mean that we don’t have an obligation to sell our art in an honest light.  Think about the audiences that are getting duped.  They will feel the old bait and switch has happened to them.

Or take the practice of misrepresenting from reviews for marketing purposes. All too often, the following occurs. A review reports that the entertainment at hand has all the ingredients for a thrilling night, but the production fails. Marketers cut and paste the single word ”thrilling”, magnify it on rooftop billboards and splash the out-of-context word on full-page advertisements.
I am in total agreement here too.  Taking a review out of context is distasteful and can ruin your reputation even more than a bad review.

Many similarly pernicious marketing trends exist, but my biggest gripe is the recent trend in classical music to popularise its product like a pop experience. This, in my view has been one reason for the public’s ambiguous response and falling attendances.

The disconnection promotes a disingenuous relationship. Why not take the road of it’s ”the real thing”? It is, after all, centuries old, it will never be hip – so represent it for its authentic self and perhaps people will respond. Arts marketing that promises to make Lady Gaga out of Beethoven doesn’t just mislead through hyperbole. It disrespects artistic authenticity.

This is where I part ways with her line of thinking.  I do feel that the classical music world needs to package the experience in ways that are relevant to today’s audiences.  If Mozart were alive today, do you think he would have settled for the same old boring classical music wrapping that we have been producing for decades?  Heck no!  He would have been a creative “pop” sensation in all that he did to sell his music.  The “real thing” can be “hip again” if we showcase it the way it was originally meant to be showcased.  You see, classical music was only put in a stuffy wrapper after the elite highjacked the genre.  Before then, the classical composers of the day were the rock stars of the day and they would perform for everyone and anyone.  They were flashy in their own way.

Classical music can be exciting again. I get excited when I see Beethoven produced in a more modern fashion.  It’s still the same amazing music that it will always be, but if it is performed in a way I can stand up and cheer, which some movements deserve that type of response, I bet more diverse audiences will be able to relate to it again.  As I mentioned in the past, traditions are only traditions because “we” make them so.  Change the traditions then!

For the most part, I agree that we need to be responsible for the marketing that we put out there.  I understand that you think you need to super hype it up in your marketing language to attempt to get an audience these days.  However, there will be more harm done to our industry than good if we continue to not present our art with more honesty.  Audiences will start to take “sensational” to mean something more mediocre.  “The once in a lifetime experience” will become the “last thing I want to attend again.”

This means, there is no replacement for high quality art.  If you have something that is high quality, something buzz worthy, this is when it is completely okay to “sensationalize” your marketing, because it will be the absolute truth and nothing but the truth.

What do you think?  Please feel free to comment by leaving a reply. 

Cheers to happy and loyal audiences,

Shoshana Fanizza

Audience Development Specialists


“Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.”
~James Stewart


Filed under arts management, arts marketing, Audience Development

2 responses to “Audience Development and sexed-up arts marketing

  1. Honestly, I don’t think vague descriptions like, “Sensational!” sell very many tickets anyway. It is all about showing, not telling. What makes it sensational? What is unique? Being specific will be more honest and more interesting to audiences.

  2. Hi Kendra,
    Your response was the topic of my last blog. I completely agree that the tired old marketing language is not cutting it anymore. We do need to describe what is special about our events to get more people interested.
    Thank you, Kendra, for stopping by!

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