Can you sell an orchestra on TV? Don Draper can.

Holly Mulcahy, concertmaster of the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra has been reflecting on last week’s TV advert for the St Louis Symphony, which did not necessarily reflect the product in the best light. Here’s Holly’s take:

holly mulcahy

 

In today’s television advertising world, we see orchestras being used regularly to sell products from beverages to airlines, cars to computers. Orchestras have been portrayed as refined and or snobby to sell posh lifestyles and products or the butt of jokes to make an ironic point….all in the name of selling a product. That’s fine for the companies selling their products but it makes it twice as difficult to sincerely invite people to buy tickets to an enjoyable and meaningful orchestra concert experience. But usually when orchestras film commercials to sell themselves they often miss their target.

How do you sell something that can’t be taken home, eaten, worn, or driven? You sell the experience. But how orchestras see the experience is vastly different from how an audience or potential audience sees the experience. In almost all orchestra commercials or Youtube.com spots, the focus is on the orchestra and or conductor, rarely the audience.

This typical approach gets the music played, the musician and conductor action shots taken, and a general idea of some of the stars that might be seen at any given concert. But there has to be a more descriptive narrative to engage the viewer.

Absolutely show the orchestra doing what it does best, but show the audience! Show the audience enjoying the concert, show them wistful while listening to music, show the applause, show the immediate standing ovations, and most definitely follow the lead of what Hollywood does: show the exiting audience and let them speak. Nothing could be more powerful than a paying customer sharing how they just were moved by a performance.

Not that an orchestra is like a cruise ship company or airline, but think of how those industries share the experience to their target audiences. There are the pilots, the helpful staff, the shipboard amenities, but most importantly, there are the passengers who appear to be happy and enjoying themselves. You immediately identify with the couple on vacation, or you identify with the family taking in a show after a day of shipboard activities. You identify with the customers and their experiences enjoying themselves more than anything else.

Music is mighty on its own, but playing with people’s image of themselves enjoying something is a powerful tipping point.

During Season One of the hit series Mad Men, Eastman Kodak approached the fictional advertising firm at Madison Avenue with their newest product, “The Wheel,” a picture projector that never jams. The company wanted to show how great it was that it never jammed and figured that should be enough. But the main character of the show, Donald Draper, skillfully took the Kodak people down a path they didn’t expect and created a whole new approach for this product. Here is the scene:

This is just a mere example of how a perspective is shifted to the customer’s point of view. Suddenly a simple idea is shifted into an interesting narrative and it instantly makes it tangible, relative, and possible. I wonder if shifting perspective to show just how a live orchestral experience could be enjoyed would be a more powerful selling point than just the orchestra alone.

 

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  • joshg says:

    Fantastic piece.
    One small quibble, though. Whenever a Hollywood movie uses audience reactions or “man on the street” interviews in its TV spots, that movie is invariably terrible.

  • Some years ago the Dallas Symphony was running some spots that were audience interview soundbites after a performance. Good idea but it had a bit of an upper-crust country-club Aqua-net hair helmet look to it.

    I recall one matron saying how romantic and exciting the music was and how she couldn’t wait to get her husband home, wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

    • MWnyc says:

      it had a bit of an upper-crust country-club Aqua-net hair helmet look to it.

      That’s Dallas for you.

    • Joe Salerno says:

      “I recall one matron saying how romantic and exciting the music was and how she couldn’t wait to get her husband home, wink, wink, nudge, nudge.”

      Ms. Mulcahy does make some good points. I can’t help but think of Cialis commercials on TV. Since you can’t show what happens when one takes the stuff, you show a couple in a bathtub on the beach to suggest the results and feeling (benefit) of using the product.

  • Paul D says:

    Sometimes an orchestra should just get out and meet the people where they are, as demonstrated by the Utah Symphony’s recent tour of the state’s five national parks.

    http://www.utahsymphony.org/mighty5/the5

    • Nick says:

      It’s a great idea, but I believe it fails in one respect: it does not encourage people to get into the concert hall. And all symphony marketing has to have that ultimate objective. It’s one reason why I feel that orchestras who send groups of musicians to provide concerts in schools so often fail. You are on the student’s own territory where they are essentially in control. You have to find a way to get the students in to the concert hall so that can start to get the feel of the real concert-going experience. At the same time, you start to demystify the concert-going experience.

      Better still, I suggest, get a group of your target new audience – the young, married couples with kids for a night out, older people with more time on their hands, etc. – into a lighter concert of popular classics. Forget long Mahler, Brahms, Beethoven symphonies for a night and make it an annual get-to-know-your-orchestra night. Feature movements rather than entire works and plenty of shorter works – Hungarian and Slavonic Dances, Waltzes, a bit of Albinoni and Vivaldi, short Mozart etc. Make sure there are a few works most will instantly recognise – the end of the William Tell overture (don’t bother with the first 8 minutes or so), etc.

      Make it casual. Encourage a dialogue. Subliminally introduce the instruments in the orchestra – let’s face it, many people really do not know what makes up an orchestra and why there are so many different instruments! Invite some on to the stage to hear the instruments and what they sound like when combined with others. Have the conductor ask,”Why did you like that piece we just played?”

      Have the cameras capture smiles as they recognise tunes they did not realise they’d recognise and laughter as the conductor cracks a joke. Then, as the audience leaves the concert hall, ask the telling questions, “Did you enjoy it?” “What did you like best?” “Would you come again?”

      It all sounds overly simple, and it has been done before. But it often works. Make orchestral music ‘fun’. Although we live in an age of individualism, I believe people in general have a sort of herd mentality. They like to be seen to go with the latest fads and fashions. Make the orchestra the latest in’ thing.

      There will still be lots more work to convert that enthusiasm into subscribers. But it can be a revealing start.

      • MWnyc says:

        It’s a great idea [the Utah Symphony tour of national parks in the state], but I believe it fails in one respect: it does not encourage people to get into the concert hall.

        Well, to be fair, these performances happened several hours’ drive from Abravanel hall in Salt Lake City. (Utah is a big state.) So here may not be a lot of point in trying to get those particular audiences to, say, become subscribers.

        But that tour is as good a way as any to motivate those folks to attend anytime they have to make a trip to the state capital (or maybe even to make a special trip).

        And since the orchestra is called the Utah Symphony and not the Salt Lake City Symphony, the tour is very good for helping give people in the rest of the state a sense of being stakeholders in the orchestra.

      • Joe Salerno says:

        “Better still, I suggest, get a group of your target new audience – the young, married couples with kids for a night out, older people with more time on their hands, etc. – into a lighter concert of popular classics. Forget long Mahler, Brahms, Beethoven symphonies for a night and make it an annual get-to-know-your-orchestra night. Feature movements rather than entire works and plenty of shorter works – Hungarian and Slavonic Dances, Waltzes, a bit of Albinoni and Vivaldi, short Mozart etc. Make sure there are a few works most will instantly recognise – the end of the William Tell overture (don’t bother with the first 8 minutes or so), etc.”

        I agree with these suggestions, and many are addressed in the model used by the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra (Houston): on site child-care for families with small children that lasts long enough for the parents to have a concert and dinner; mix of new and familiar music; longer and shorter selections; surprises along the way-one audience member gets to sit in the orch for a short selection; surprise selections not listed on the program; and a mini-recital by the brass section at intermission. After concert receptions where you can meet the soloists, conductor, and players. I’ve never seen St. John the Divine Church (and it’s a big church) not packed to the gills, including balcony, for a ROCO concert. And they don’t even use TV spots. If they did they would need a much larger venue.

        • Nick says:

          I find all that highly admirable. Outreach concerts are very important for all orchestras. But their basic and vital objective is to get bottoms-on-seats in their home base. Without that, there could sadly be no orchestra to undertake outreach programmes.

          • MWnyc says:

            I don’t think anyone here would dispute that. In fact, I think most of us would take it as a given.

            But you seemed almost to be suggesting or implying that for the Utah Symphony to do a tour of the state like this one is a frivolous use of resources until all the concerts in Salt Lake City are packed.

  • Tito Munoz says:

    She is concertmaster of the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera, although she has performed as a guest concertmaster with the Columbus Symphony.

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