Performance Pressure: Arts companies need to lift their game when it comes to reaching out and growing their audiences
Some of the most inspiring creativity we see each year comes from the world’s leading theatre, dance and opera companies, as well as orchestras and art galleries. Yet there’s a marketing dichotomy taking place. For such a creative industry, stand-out creativity is very rarely used to promote the arts. This is highlighted by the fact that 10 per cent of Americans say that they are interested in attending the arts but haven’t been persuaded to do so.
A scan of last year’s thousand-odd Cannes Lions award winners, celebrating the best creative campaigns globally, confirms this. In the major categories, just four arts campaigns – for the Dali Museum, Zurich’s Art Museum, London’s Tate Gallery and the Art Institute of Chicago – were awarded. The fact many leading arts companies are government or not-for-profit organisations with limited marketing budgets is no excuse, as the Cannes Lions has seen many winners in that space.
There are some lessons in this for marketers. First, no matter how good, or how creative and innovative, your product is, you can’t skimp on creativity when it comes to your marketing efforts. In 2016, the UK’s Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) research determined that creatively awarded campaigns were six times more effective than those that weren’t.
Many arts organisations fall well short of breaking even via ticket sales alone, and depend on government, philanthropic and corporate funding to survive. Yet clever and differentiated creativity can go a long way to closing that gap.
The Art Institute of Chicago’s highly awarded creative campaign was to promote its Van Gogh exhibition. Rather than treading the well-worn arts marketing path of showing some images of the artworks with a clever headline and tagline, the institute chose to do something far more interesting. It brought Van Gogh’s three versions of The Bedroom to life by creating an actual bedroom you could walk around and sleep in, allowing attendees to immerse themselves in the art. It was even listed on Airbnb. The campaign went viral, with more than 500 million media impressions, and the subsequent publicity saw the largest number of visitors to the institute for many years.
It was also a reminder that brands can no longer get away with “one-way” conversations in which they tell consumers all about themselves and expect them to be interested. Much like personal relationships, consumers are looking for a two-way conversation with brands, where they feel listened to and involved, and where brands evolve themselves to continue to attract consumers.
Because what the consumer wants to buy is not just the performance on stage, or the ability to view a famous piece of art, but the experience that goes with it, the social nature of it. Having dinner with friends beforehand and a drink at a nearby bar afterwards; the ability to share it via social media, to read up about it on an app. And for the tickets and the parking voucher to also be on that app. One of the challenges for arts organisations is that while the visitor sees this as one linked consumer experience, the venue, box office, parking, restaurants and bars are often all separate companies with their own view on what that experience should or shouldn’t be.
Many venues ban photography during performances, for example, limiting attendees’ ability to share their experience on social media. It’s a marketing channel that is heavily relied upon by sporting codes and the food industry to attract new customers. As major tenants of these venues, the smart arts marketers need to work closely with their counterparts to create seamless consumer experiences – customer experiences that live up to the creative campaign that convinced them to come along in the first place.
One Australian arts organisation that has done this well in recent times is Bangarra Dance, whose performers are of proud Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds. Like the Art Institute of Chicago, it has used creativity uniquely to drive awareness of its brand. In 2015 it created a feature film that debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. And for the past three years Bangarra has projected a short film on the Southern Pylon of the Sydney Harbour Bridge as part of Vivid Sydney, a light festival that attracts more than two million visitors each year. This year the campaign will extend into various digital channels and platforms, telling the stories behind the film.
These glimpses of leading creative arts companies using stand-out creativity to attract more customers begin to break the marketing norms that have existed for years. As do moves to create best-in-class experiences once customers decide to attend. It’s a lesson not only for the arts, but for sport and entertainment as well.