Monumental, Explosive, Heroic, Epic, Awe-inspiring Fail

Here are a some adjectives taken from just a few pages of a current season brochure published by an American orchestra that made news recently for its fiscal difficulties.

Monumental, epic, extraordinary, awe-inspiring, perfect, breathtaking, ground-breaking, all-consuming, gorgeous, expansive, explosive, unmatched, sensational, powerful, striking, universal, sparkling, tantalizing, greatest, heroic, magical, electrifying, stunning, cathartic, spectacular, larger-than-life, dazzling, profound, once-in-a-lifetime, brightest, incredible, astonishing…

Here are a few adjectives that might reasonably describe failing, multi-million-dollar arts institutions that allow amateurs to craft the strategic communications on which they depend for survival.

Irresponsible, negligent, self-absorbed, insular, frivolous, suicidal, foolish, out-of-touch, boneheaded, unbusinesslike, presumptuous, oblivious, unrealistic, incompetent, blundering, obsolete, tragic, ephemeral, inconsequential…

Effective communications are not crafted by low-level staffers who’ve learned how to plug overblown adjectives into canned descriptive copy; nor are they crafted by seasoned promotional writers who’ve perfected the art of cranking out language their bosses find most flattering. They’re crafted by skilled, well-educated, professional strategists who – armed with plenty of objective market intelligence – know how to leverage the needs and desires of target audiences in order to motivate behavior.

At some point the arts have to decide if preserving amateurish, egocentric customs is worth the price, or if it’s time to get serious about earning revenue and growing audiences with rational, professional, customer-centered business practices.

Astonishing indeed.

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3 thoughts on “Monumental, Explosive, Heroic, Epic, Awe-inspiring Fail

  1. The sad part for me is that when they use this sort of language, it actually makes me want to attend less. It reminds me of the overblown movie reviews done by people you’ve never heard of that are excerpted onto movie posters for bad movies. Or even worse, when the language is there but no mention of a reviewer at all.

    Also if any word can be applied to any product in the world, chances are the organization has chosen the wrong word. I don’t want an organization to tell me how great they are. I want them to tell me in clear language what they are offering and how that relates to filling my desires or fill a hole in my life I didn’t know I had.

    If the organization forgets either side of that equation, or fills it with platitudes that could apply to almost anything. The message for me fails. They either don’t know what they are, or they don’t know what I want. Either way they show that they probably can’t give what they don’t understand.

    • Hi, Laneshe, It’s a good question. The short answer is that the language you speak should be the language spoken by the people you intend to persuade. Ad guru David Ogilvy has famously said, “If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think.” Nobody talks the way symphony brochures talk so the disconnect is glaring (check out your city’s current symphony orchestra brochure). The long answer has to do with knowing your intended audience so well that you speak their language intuitively. Most arts organizations don’t have meaningful personal relationships with their audiences so they use artspeak, which is an ossified mix of condescension, hyperbole, self-flattery and overwrought cliches. If you’re at a loss to know what to write, sit down with a friend who typifies your ideal customer and encourage them to come to your next event. The words you say naturally and colloquially are probably the best ones for the brochure. Now getting your boss to approve them is another matter entirely…

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