Deadly Arts Marketing Cliché #10: Anniversaries

In my book I make a point of singling out the hoary old clichés that arts marketers use to promote their products to diminishing audiences of aging fans.  These worn out words, phrases and images are part of an arts marketing lexicon that we seldom question, but I thought it might be interesting to dust a few of them off, take a closer look, and ask if they’re helping or hurting our cause.

Marketing, as we all know, is all about knowing what potential customers want and describing how our products satisfy those desires.  So, using this as the ultimate test, I’m going to scrutinize ten of my favorite arts marketing clichés here and in subsequent posts and ask if they’re the right language for attracting new audiences.

First up: Anniversaries

If marketing is based on knowing what people want, the only reason we would ever mention an anniversary in our earned revenue generating messages would be because potential audiences told us they wanted to celebrate our anniversaries by buying tickets to our events.  Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve done a hell of a lot of research to determine what target audiences want, and never once has anyone said they want to celebrate my organization’s anniversary by buying a ticket.  Never.

Anniversary celebrations are rampant in the arts and they’re often used to anchor marketing campaigns, but when it comes to earned revenue, there is very little about anniversaries that could be called persuasive.  When it comes right down to it, the audiences we most need to persuade (younger, more diverse, etc.) don’t care about our anniversaries and even if they did, they wouldn’t necessarily find them compelling reasons to buy tickets and come to our events.

So why do we crow about anniversaries?  Well, back in the old days when marketing was more about getting the word out to pre-motivated fans than satisfying the actual desires of new audiences, anniversaries were great publicity angles that could get us a feature in the Sunday paper.  We put a lot of energy into anniversaries because they meant something to our traditional support systems and celebrating them publicly was a good way to “get the word out” or “generate awareness” or “publicize” the season.

Now of course those traditional support systems are changing.  Media are increasingly user-controlled, funders are less willing to give, and loyal long-time patrons are dying.  At some point we have to ask if the clichés that worked for them are still a good idea, or if passively reminding the world that we’ve been around for 25 years is an effective way to motivate new audiences to participate.

Motivating new audiences means understanding their needs, wants and desires.  If we want to persuade new audiences, we have to allow what they tell us they want to determine the content of our messages.  If we do it right, empty, non-strategic clichés like anniversary celebrations will never make it into our marketing campaigns.

Next up: Artsy Wordplay


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