Every arts and culture organisation I know has a key strategic aim to reach new audiences, be they different to current audiences, more of the same types of audiences or vague and undefined.
I find this hilarious.
Hand painted mechanical slipping slide of a skeleton removing its head, c1880s,
from Martyn Jolly’s collection of Magic Lantern slides.
I’ve worked in a few different sectors in my life, studied marketing at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, even taught marketing subjects at Universities. So it’s fair to say I’ve seen a campaign or two. But you don’t need to have 14 years experience and postgraduate qualifications in marketing to know what insanity is. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Why then is arts and culture marketing so homogenous?
I grabbed the key images of 2019 productions in some of Australia’s main theatre venues to see if my generalisation stood up. I’ve presented them below as anonymous image sliders because my aim here is not to bag out any one company, creators or venues. I was simply curious to see if there was any variety in the promotion of stage shows. So I looked across commercial, independent and main stage productions, starting with the images used to represent the shows. Please excuse the dodgy screen grab quality of the images.
Aside from a few design elements from the more adventurous organisations, I think it’s safe to say that the promotional aspects of these productions is very same, same. For a start:
- Photos! Only one or two graphics, and, unsurprisingly, some of the more commercial outfits have attempted to develop brand marks.
- People! Headshot, headshot, profile headshot, group headshot, headshot with prop.
You can’t point the finger at unadventurous programming either. Think about any other goods, services or experiences you might want to sell to customers – soap, batteries, cars, cola. In fact, generally speaking the more uniform the product, the greater the importance of marketing to provide differentiation and value through positioning.
There is so much solid research and data on effective marketing and communications, and there is so much imagination and creativity in our sector – so what is going on? The risks can be anticipated and minimised, the CEOs and Artistic Directors can be convinced, the budget doesn’t have to be huge. I know it’s not laziness – theatre marketers are some of the most hardworking, dedicated professionals I know.
I know this is one aspect of what are much much larger campaigns for each production. But these are the announced key online images. Any I hold serious doubts as to whether the copywriting or online videos will be any more radical in their content or messaging.
I plan on exploring this topic in a PhD at some point in the next few years, but in the meanwhile I challenge all arts and culture marketers. Try something different. If it works yay, and if it doesn’t you learn and improve.
Go on, just try. I DARE YOU.