Saturday, January 12, 2013

More Bad Ads Coming Your Way

As if the lady in red wasn’t enough, Presidente’s monthly letter in the concert program promises similar efforts, which were confirmed by the series of ads projected in all their stock photo glory on the big screens prior to Thursday’s ASO concert. The one for the next concert is already appearing on artsATL, “Scottish uncorked”. It makes the tenuous connection between Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3, referred to as the “Scottish”, and an anonymous hand decanting what I guess is supposed to be scotch but could also be chardonnay or an IPA. Does a bottle of scotch get uncorked? Do they even serve scotch at the WAC vending carts? If not, will they start? Or at least give free samples? Now there’s something that would boost attendance.

If the ads are intended to appeal to potential concert-goers who know nothing about music, how would they know the ad was about music? You only get it if you already are familiar with the reference, in which case what you would prefer is an ad that actually gives you some useful information.

But the worst of the ads was for Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet (coming up early February). A blubbering tear- and mascara-stained visage is shown in extreme close-up. It’s repulsive and if they have any sense they will go back to the shelved ad and won’t put the “different” ad out on the street. Can you say, "We run a major artistic institution but have no aesthetic sensibility?" Thanks, I knew you could. Let’s give the benefit of the doubt and assume that it’s a well-meaning attempt to emulate some of the minimalist ad art used for European opera and which is being successfully imported by the Met. But opera’s a different product, folks.

This obviously cheap and amateurishly-conceived ad “campaign” flips the bird at anyone with basic knowledge of the symphony concert experience. Whoever signed off on this deserves to sit through a loop of Anne Hathaway’s Les Mis performance for about three hours. And they need to stop looking for marketing concepts at the Love Shack. I’m sorry if that’s harsh, but this is the big leagues, not the promotion of the high-school musical.

Hey, they’re asking for feedback.

It's possible to inject humor into marketing and indeed it's very effective to do so. You want something that draws people in by making them say "I've never been to symphony but these look like fun people - maybe I should give it a try." A really cute spot could be a riff on "Gangnam Style", maybe with the ASYO, but there's an art to doing that kind of spot well, which means it costs money to execute it properly. I'm perfectly serious about this - NASA-Johnson did one that is hilarious but gives people a behind-the-scenes look at the Space Center and some of its personnel. It's humorous but in no way diminishes the integrity of what's behind it - which is most definitely rocket science.

Anyhow, how’s this for an ad campaign – you find several Atlanta-area visual artists (we have a wealth of them here). You give them the assignment to come up with ads for the season’s concerts and trade the exposure for their work for the ad art. If you really get creative (and are willing to work), you identify the artists through a competitive process and then eventually auction the art works used in the ads at a benefit event. Conversation about the symphony; their collaborative approach (no art form can afford to be an island in this town); the music and the related striking images occurs, along with heightened civic pride in our artists and arts organizations. People will support that on multiple levels. It’s synergy and everybody wins.


  1. In the details of the Mendelssohn concert, it says that they actually are doing a complimentary scotch "tasting" for ticket-holders (over 21, of course) starting at 7:00 before each concert. Depending on the size of the samples, there may be a number of patrons snoozing it off and providing extra sound effects by the time they play the work! Good point about the lack of corks in most (all?) scotch bottles, too. I guess someone felt that they needed to bribe folks with booze attract an audience for this program. Personally, I can't stand scotch--it tastes like you're drinking a peat bog!

    I also found the tear-stained, runny mascara-faced image to be mildly disturbing. I wish I could remember the exact wording overlay. It said Romeo & Juliet in one color, but there were also two or three adjectives in smaller, red print in front of the name "Juliet," one of which was "sexy," I believe. Given Juliet's age of 15 or 16 in the play, we may be heading into the direction of soft child pornography here. What's next?

    1. Taken from Paul Murphy's address to the ASO Board, here's what the musicians think: "... we must all be wary of the diluting or hijacking of our core mission -- a great symphony orchestra providing the highest levels of artistic accomplishment through our performances of great classical music."

  2. Laurie Cronin for ASO publicity coordinator?

  3. Yes!!! I totally agree with using Atlanta artists! I can imagine the artwork described but don't think I want to see it.

    I would imagine the samples will be very small and as usual with things like that there will be a mob scene to get the sample taste. That has no appeal to me what so ever. Creativity would welcome! Really a well done creative ad would be just fabulous! You cannot tell me they don't exist in Atlanta.

  4. These ads were probably conceived to jump-start audience building --- which was Romanstein's second task (his first was hammering the musicians into compliance with WAC's deficit reduction scheme). Okay ... SR was in office over 2 years before he decided to get serious about the deficit. His 3 year report card is looming ... and he's already behind about 3 concerts ... which explains why the new 'fun' ad campaign feels so rushed and obvious (scotch for the Scottish Symphony; crying and sex for R&J) ... why the publicity is disconnected from symphonic art ... and why the ads' creative content is shallow and prurient: SR is in a hurry to get results.

    Branding, audience-building and ticket sales are not the same things. SR has decided to go for ticket sales.

    For 2 years SR has been saying publicly that audiences are 'up 3%' ... This exact number was published during the lockout negotiations in the summer and I personally heard SR throw out that exact number again at the Atlanta Press Club in late fall. So it's my opinion that ASO Management needs a new number. They were caught out on their assertion that Verizon Amphitheater 'has added 'significantly to the symphony's bottom line'. Hence the shock and awe ads.

    Personally, I can't wait to see what they do with Bach ... or Durufle.

    (Still curious why SR's letter in the program to symphony-goers is suddenly appearing translated into Spanish -- although nothing else in the program is in Spanish, not even program notes ...? What's up with that?)

  5. For what it's worth, my husband fancies himself a scotch drinker and the bottle does indeed close with a cork cap (not a wine cork, more like a stopper). Perhaps not all do, though. I don't mind the idea of the tasting tie-in. It's a common tactic these days: If you booze it, they will come. (Or so goes the thinking.) Sometimes it works.

    I haven't seen either of these ads, I don't think, but I will say that many arts organizations go in bad directions when trying to come up with advertising that is cool, edgy, young, hip, fun, whatever.

    1. My single malt has a cork.

      Pairing concerts with wine tasting or light fare on a La Boheme evening adds to the whole experience. I've been to lovely pre-concert gatherings elsewhere that were in keeping with the program ... saw some good art and costume exhibitions. I think Laurie's idea about collaborating with local artists is a good one. We've also got local breweries, good theater and dance ... thriving cultural festivals. Why shouldn't ASO management concentrate on ways that the symphony can connect with this city ... show how great music, specifically the symphonic art, exists to illuminate larger issues of the human condition ... ?

      The symphonic story of Scheherezade, for example, could provide a crowning set piece for a symposium (for lack of a better word) about women's issues ... the whole arts building is filled with empty lecture rooms and exhibit spaces. I thought an opportunity with Adams' A Flowering Tree was missed in that respect.