Deadly Arts Marketing Cliché #5: Travel Metaphors

Poetry is not marketing.

Poets use language to evoke images, ideas and feelings in reader’s minds. The goal is usually some sort of transcendent synthesis that creates a connection between the writer, the reader and whatever broader realm the poet wants his readers to inhabit.

Marketers use language to describe how their products will satisfy their customers’ desires. The goal is to motivate customers to buy the product.  Big difference.

The brilliant marketer Scott Boilen didn’t use poetry to sell the Snuggie.  He showed people sitting on their couches eating popcorn and flipping channels without having to unwrap their blankets because that’s exactly what his customers wanted.

I got an email from an arts organization the other day that wanted me to “take a journey around the world” by subscribing to a concert series featuring composers from different countries. It was an attempt to use a poetic metaphor – in this case travel – to sell me tickets, but as I just mentioned, poetry isn’t marketing so it didn’t work.

It didn’t work because: 1. The poetry sucked. Any good writing teacher will tell you to steer clear of overwrought clichés – and travel metaphors in the arts are about as hackneyed as you can get.  2. It didn’t describe the product in terms that reflected my desires. I wouldn’t want to go to a concert hall to travel around the world even if the idea were fresh and original.  3. When it comes right down to it, it’s not a trip around the world, it’s a classical concert series fercrissakes. If I want a vacation, I’ll call my travel agent.

Traditional sales-dependent art forms are in big trouble, but for some reason we still allow ourselves to publish vapid, self-indulgent amateur poetry in our marketing materials when we should be speaking a direct, persuasive, customer-oriented language that motivates new audiences. The only reason anyone should ever use a travel metaphor in a promotional message is if their research revealed a hunger for metaphorical travel among the audiences they were targeting:

“Our focus group participants expressed a strong desire to engage in imaginary travel to foreign countries by listening to music from time to time that was written by international composers.”

Sounds silly, doesn’t it?  Of course it does.  It’s absurd.  The likelihood of those younger, more culturally diverse audiences we’ve been whining about expressing such desires is ludicrous. Try slipping some of your own fanciful promotional poetry into that sentence and see if it fits.

Our focus group participants expressed a strong desire to celebrate live theatre.”

Or better yet, do some research to find out what your fence-sitting audiences actually do want, then sell them your product by telling them in direct and un-ornamented words and images exactly how it will fulfill their desires.  It is impossible to write inane promotional poetry when you’re talking to real people in real language about the things they told you they really care about.

I know some of you are arguing with your computer screens right now, “But, but, but we’re the arts! We’re not selling Snuggies, we’re selling transcendent experiences. Our marketing would be dull and lifeless if all we did was satisfy the mundane desires of couch potatoes.” And you may be right; poetic metaphors may be necessary to fully express what’s so special about the products we sell. But it’s not up to us to assume what new audiences want, or tell them what they should want or, god forbid, try to awaken wants they didn’t even know they had. That’s a job for poets who aren’t looking for a cash return on their investment. The rest of us have to start where Scott Boilen starts – on that couch in front of that TV – and learn what’s going to motivate people to get off their lazy, polyester-wrapped asses and come to our events.

Poetic metaphors may help to make our language more expressive, but when it comes to travel, the only journey we should care about is the one that begins on that couch and ends at our venue doors.

Next up: “…set against the backdrop…”


4 thoughts on “Deadly Arts Marketing Cliché #5: Travel Metaphors

  1. I love your blog. I see my own past mistakes in each of your posts, but you manage to take the sting out of my horrified realizations by making it all so darn funny.

    I just shared a link to this post on my Facebook page, “Caroline Whiddon Consulting” and hope that some of my friends & colleagues will start following you as well. Cheers!

  2. From presenting to the telemarketing group at our orchestra, I learned that a caller cannot overcome an unstated objection to buying a ticket. The caller has to draw them out and patiently address each one. Yet there are so many unstated objections to classical music, most of which we’ve heard or overheard before… boring, slow, sitting still, formal, grandparents, etc. Why can’t we just assume some of these and address them in front of new audiences or one-on-one to build street-cred? Why can’t we do this once on the cover of a brochure?

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