Art Adverts Start a New Wave
by Greg Solman Advertising strategies gearing up for next season take art out the wilderness. CityArts surveys the new media tacticians who bring Broadway shows, museums and other art venues to popular attention. Art and its patrons all benefit from millennial art advertising's new tactical strategies. Part 1 of a two-part series. New Yorkers with long memories can't shake the specter of the TV commercials for the original runs of A Chorus Line and Evita-the same commercial execution, using identical snippets of song for maximum numbing effect, running for what felt like years. The Evita spot became so famously infuriating a fixture it occasioned one of SCTV's most inspired commercial parodies: Andrea Martin starring in a road show of Indira and-ingeniously intermixing infomercial annoyance-Joe Flaherty as a bandoliered, yodeling Slim Whitman. Marketing the performing and museum arts today seems like science fiction in comparison. You might be up late watching a WNET symphonic performance when an on-screen icon prompts you to hold up your Shazam-enabled smart phone. The app will sample the sound from the TV, identify the performance and give you the option of downloading the MP3 or ask you a question to win a coupon for a matinee in your neighborhood, having already correlated the cable or satellite box with your ZIP code and assiduously segmented demographic information on your probable age, gender, income, past buying habits and even whether you prefer cats or dogs. Why? Well, maybe dog lovers like Wagner and cat lovers Stravinsky. Who knows? They've got their reasons. Most importantly, the phone will be connected to the sponsoring organization's seating chart, allowing you to pick a seat for a performance, charge your preloaded credit card and download an electronic ticket you can present at the concert hall by flashing your smart phone at a scanner. If that interactive/invasive process seems more like something for you than your remote-control-challenged mother, you're not far off. In fact, the growing generational divide between patrons of the arts and their media consumption habits was the blue-haired elephant queued up for tickets in the living room at the Arts Reach conference at New York University last March. Put bluntly: Can you reach the graying and balding with tweeting and social networking? Exceptions notwithstanding, there's no mistaking certain demographic trends. Big-ticket performing arts companies-the symphony orchestras, the chamber music societies, the Broadway belt that needs tourists to shell out $86.28 for the worst seats in the mezzanine-count on a privileged sector of the baby-boom generation and older. Trends indicate that those might be the last generations who take a daily newspaper. Newspapers' Internet-edition paywalls are, for most publications that have tried them, useless for converting paid subscribers and generating revenue. Yet, printing is prohibitively expensive and readership is sliding in favor of eyeballs online, where banner ads aren't making enough money, despite the audience. Facebook boasts hundreds of millions of users, obsessively checking in several times a day-that's reach and frequency. But the company's IPO revealed that although half of Facebookies use mobile devices to access the site, they are devices for which there is no Facebook advertising model?yet. More than 44 percent of Americans have smart phones, but they skew young. The elderly have gone from the poorest group in America to the wealthiest, with the disposable (literally, some critics would argue) income to pay $262 to watch a play. But arts companies need to refresh their audience with Gens X and Y and millennials to survive as something more than museums of tourism. "While the traditional media audience has moved on, the rates have increased," objects Doug Mobray, president of Mogo Arts Marketing in Corte Madera, Calif., pointing to a counterintuitive direction of newspaper ad rates and readers. "The cost per impression has increased substantially." The decline of print readership, exaggerated by the generational split between baby boomers and older and nearly newspaper-free youth, is the "first and most obvious change," says Tom Greenwald, executive creative director at SpotCo, one of New York's specialized arts marketing agencies. "It used to be a foregone conclusion that the lion's share of a media budget would go to The New York Times," he says. "Now you might advertise there just to please the stars and agents, but the campaign is going to be mostly online banner ads and social networking." Greenwald says a lot of live entertainment still targets the 55-year-old woman; though she might not be constantly on Facebook, she's probably online somewhere, and sites such as broadway.com can gear their initiatives toward that demographic. She may not be tweeting or playing Facebook games, but she will find some online point of purchase. Greenwald says more than half of Broadway ticket sales happen in online transactions rather than phone sales. "It's gotten to the point where they don't even put phone numbers in the ads," he points out. Now Greenwald oversees Facebook campaigns that celebrate the 20,000 fans of Chicago with ticket giveaways. Samuel L. Jackson tweets to Twitter followers about The Mountaintop. A "nun" from Sister Act performs a video blog. Most shows, Greenwald says, use a combination of "social networking presence and refreshing websites. The great thing about the Internet is that it is an extension of the show. In the tradition of those Evita TV ads, you can run video content with sound." He "roadblocks" (commands all of the display ad space) select sites. Banner ads can be programmed with Flash and HTML to sport animation and sound. Live clips can be constructed from B-roll of the shows themselves, but they can be cinematic and even conceptual. Advertising on TV is now supplemented by so-called earned media-working the morning news shows least likely to be DVRed. "It's expensive to buy TV," Greenwald says, "but everyone works it." Soliciting the South Park generation for The Book of Mormon means a website with a working doorbell and online campaigns imploring fans to "Like us on Facebook" and "Follow us on Twitter." It's not as if Spotco abjures traditional outdoor advertising or print, but "spending $110,000 on The New York Times won't pay off," Greenwald declares. Clint White, president of New York's WiT Media and lecturer at Sotheby's Institute of Art, acknowledges the arts audience is "growing older, absolutely. But the good news is that those patrons are converted and believe in chamber music-or theatre or causes or art-and all have made it clear that they're interested. All we have to do is tell them what's going on and they'll sign up. It's the other [younger] audience that has to be introduced."
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