Arts marketing sucks.
Sorry to be so blunt, but it’s nothing I haven’t said here before.
It sucks because it’s old-fashioned, out of date, cliché-ridden and naïve. The language of arts marketing was developed for 20th century arts lovers who are now dead or dying, but we’re still using it on 21st century non-arts lovers who don’t find it relevant or persuasive.
It sucks because it’s narcissistic, presumptuous and condescending. If new audiences thought we were as wonderful and important as we constantly tell them we are, we’d be successful beyond measure.
It sucks because it lacks strategic integrity. Genuinely persuasive marketing is built on sound market intelligence and rational methodologies, but arts marketing is built on tradition, wishful thinking, creativity and the tastes and opinions of arts insiders.
It sucks because it’s artificial. Nobody talks like arts marketing. The language is so far removed from contemporary colloquial human communication that if anyone actually spoke it they’d be ridiculed, shunned or locked up.
It sucks because it’s meaningless. “Celebrate Live Theatre” and its cousins are perennially popular phrases that, in addition to being hackneyed and rhetorically impotent, suggests things that no human being would actually do – let alone endeavor to do by buying a ticket to an arts event.
It sucks because it’s off-putting. Orchestral concerts are about people gathering to listen to really good live music, but they might as well be about sweaty, overdressed men gesticulating with tiny white sticks. We don’t sell art, we sell the trappings of art, and for new audiences those trappings can be deal breakers.
It sucks because it’s all about us and not about them. Good marketing should be as much about the customer as it is about the product. Arts marketing is almost exclusively about the organizations, the artists and the events.
It sucks because it’s quasi-professional at a time when full-on professionalism may be the only hope for survival. There are a lot of people in the arts, including leaders who should know better, who still believe that marketing is a qualitative, common sense function that any creative person with a passion for the arts (a.k.a. amateur) can do.
So why the pointed diatribe? Because someone suggested to me yesterday – and this was by no means the first time I’d heard it – that the answers to our audience development problems lay in changing our programming to make it more appealing to new audiences. That if new audiences don’t want to buy the art we’re selling, we should produce and present art that new audiences want to buy.
Forgive me for for having the temerity to suggest that there’s nothing wrong with art the way it is, but if the marketing sucks, shouldn’t we fix the marketing before we start trying to fix the art?