As promised in my last post, here’s another ad from Jason Nicholson at Austin Symphony. I don’t know if it’s a good ad yet because we don’t have numbers to go on. It was developed for the local daily newspaper and Jason hasn’t yet been able to draw a direct causal line between its placement and incremental sales – which is fine. Mass market ads can’t always be tracked for measurable ROI.
I will describe several things I really like about this ad, though, because it’s an extraordinary illustration of some of the strategic directions we’ve been discussing on this blog.
The most striking thing about the ad is that it devotes promotional real estate to the audience and the product in equal measure. If fact, you can draw a line right down the middle and see that Jason has given exactly half of his attention to his customers. This is a welcome departure from an arts marketing tradition where nearly all photography is devoted to depicting the art, artists and institutions. Most commercial advertisers feature their customers in their ads. The arts should, too.
Also striking is how directly the ad answers the question, “What’s in it for me?” Jason learned through a process of interviewing his audiences that they were moved to buy tickets by different personal, social or professional impulses and he opted to make those motivators explicit in hopes of motivating others with similar impulses (hmmm). Back when demand for classical concert music was strong, we could afford to make ourselves the central focus and allow these motivators to be implicit, but the more dependent we are on non-avid audiences, the more obvious we have to be.
As we were discussing this ad, Jason told me that he always starts with copy that includes the word “you” and that his visual strategy grows from there. Here the copy is clear and bold and the visuals reinforce and amplify the primary you-oriented message. If you’re looking for one simple method for making your marketing more audience oriented, do this: Start every message by saying “you” and let it help you make your marketing more about them.
And, finally, I love the fact that this ad gets attention by inviting viewers to read the little flags above the audience members’ heads. It’s an eye-catcher that grows naturally out of the persuasive strategy and that’s a refreshing alternative to customary arts marketing practices that tend to have no strategic underpinnings, i.e. “Celebrate Live Music!”
Is the ad beautiful? Maybe not. But beautiful and marketing aren’t the same thing. Given the relative ambivalence of new audiences and the intensity of the competition the arts are facing, we may want to opt for effective in our marketing materials and allow beauty to happen when the art and its audiences actually come together.
Is the ad effective? Well, that remains to be seen. Jason has some preliminary evidence to suggest that it’s very effective. But to me, the good news is that he and his ASO colleagues are pursuing an evolving strategy that places audiences at the center of their marketing efforts, which, as any persuasion geek will tell you, is exactly where they belong.
I look forward to hearing more from Jason (He’s got an incredible new season brochure concept in the works.) and I hope to hear from other’s who’ve listened to their new audiences and found ways to break out of the it’s-all-about-us arts marketing mold.
Since you raise the issue of “real estate” in the ad, I looked at the image more closely and, to my eye, it’s not quite as you described. While 50% of the image is indeed of the audience (and I too like the “balloons” above their heads), I’d say that perhaps only 20% belongs to the symphony – while the remaining 30% depicts an empty chasm between the audience and the musicians. This moat, coupled with the orchestra being dimly lit, concerns me. I realize how difficult it is to photographically capture both an audience and any onstage event simultaneously, but to be fully effective, the image should have been truly equal in distribution, while bringing together both halves of the concept. Indeed, I wish that there wasn’t such a clear break, since everyone in the arts talks about wanting to eliminate barriers between artist and audience. Perhaps some judicious Photoshopping was in order.
I don’t wish to be perceived as criticizing Jason or the Austin Symphony, but if you hold them up as examples, readers have to be able to respond. I love the impulse and the concept here, but the execution needs to be finessed.