Today I read that the venerable Pittsburgh Symphony is suffering a precipitous drop in ticket sales for their classical concert series. So I went to their marketing materials to look for signs of trouble, and there I found this brochure.
What’s most striking about this sales collateral is its startling resemblance to Hartford Symphony’s brochure. Check it out:
Two orchestras in the news for declining ticket sales and both chose images of women playing instruments with blobs of paint coming out of them. What are the odds? Clearly, these marketers have tapped into some universal longings that transcend geography. People in Pittsburgh and in Hartford, it would appear, have a burning hunger for women playing instruments with artsy blobs of paint coming out of them.
I would love to have been in those focus groups when young, culturally diverse respondents began talking about their pent up longings for women playing instruments that churn out paint blobs. How fortunate these marketers must have been to have gotten such rich data that gave them such clear direction.
And look at those tag lines. In Hartford, the focus group participants said they had a yearning to be transformed, while in Pittsburgh, they expressed a poetic desire for art that is somehow also play.
“When I look for ways to spend leisure time and money, I respond to abstract, artful imagery that symbolizes my deep-seated desire to morph into a different plane of reality through some sort of mystical process that includes young female musicians, musical instruments, colorful bursts of paint and an eventual transformation into something light and carefree like a butterfly.”
“When my friends and I plan our social outings, we give careful consideration to the complex, semantic interrelationships of art and play and we’re just nuts for poetry so when someone uses clever double entendres that combine these two interests, we jump at the opportunity to buy what they have to sell.”
It’s fascinating to think that new audiences in these cities would have expressed yearnings that come so close to matching the artsy images and cutesy phrases that out-of-touch arts administrators like to put in their classical music brochures.
The focus group research that I’m familiar with, meanwhile, tends to reveal more concrete desires. Rather than talking about abstract metaphorical yearnings, people talk about having a good time with friends or family, seeking entertainment that’s memorable and enriching, enjoying food, drink and art, doing something special, etc. And since motivating these people is a process of leveraging their desires, effective strategic messaging usually involves reflecting these desires and demonstrating how they can be satisfied by purchasing the product. You know, like showing people having a great time enjoying one another’s company at a concert.
I’m not privy to the research that the folks in Hartford or Pittsburgh did to understand what motivates new audiences to buy classical concert tickets, but I can’t help thinking there are young, culturally diverse people in those markets who would be better motivated to participate if they saw themselves and their actual, stated personal yearnings reflected – and satisfied – in local orchestra marketing materials.
I applaud your restraint in not pointing out the absurdities inside the Pittsburgh brochure. I’m fairly certain there are clouds of paint and butterfies coming out of an oboist’s backside on page 4. What were they thinking?