Good TV ad for an orchestra. Or turnoff?

Good TV ad for an orchestra. Or turnoff?


norman lebrecht

August 15, 2014

The St Louis Symphony thinks this is how to get a new audience into the concert hall.

The slogans on the soundtrack are persuasive:

– It’s a language the communicates with so many people emotionally.

– It can be very, very moving.

– You can always find something that you like.

– Once you realise how good it makes you feel afterwards, then you ca’t be without it.

Now hang on a minute.

These are all things we tell ourselves. To a young person who has never experienced a symphony concert they are blurry soft-soap. There’s not much in this to make someone feel: I need to have some of that.

Can’t someone, in 2014, come up with a better sell for an orchestra?


david robertson


  • Brian says:

    It’s a very earnest approach. The Met tries this too with their local TV ads. I think you could persuade more people by playing on the status symbol angle: “this is where smart, sophisticated people go for a night out. This is where you take a date on a fancy outing, etc.”

    It’s not as high-minded but the problem with the above video is there are a lot of other things in life that people find “moving” – movies, rock concerts, Netflix, etc. Orchestras are competing with all of those things.

  • Halldor says:

    People can, and have, come up with ways of marketing classical music that are more likely to engage new, unfamiliar and younger audiences. But the onslaught of abuse that you receive from established listeners (“superficial” “dumbing down” “lowest common denominator” “trendy rubbish” “patronising” “flashy” “tawdry”) whenever you try something different quickly becomes overwhelming.

    Pointless to argue that it’s not aimed at them: a depressing number of classical music fans would prefer the art to remain a cliquey, nerdish closed-shop that exists in order that they can congratulate themselves on their own superior level of culture.

    As Brian (above) implies, we’ll only be able to find a way around this when we can get it into our heads, once and for all, that classical music has no more right to exist than any other cultural manifestation, popular or unpopular; that it has no monopoly on expressing intellect or emotion; that it’s not intrinsically superior. Then, and only then, we might be able to find fresh, meaningful ways of communicating why the music genuinely IS special, different, and worth hearing.

    • DHollis says:

      “cliquey, nerdish closed-shop”

      Been going to concerts for some time but it never seemed that way to me.

      As a student, I spent what would otherwise have been beer money on the Philharmonia subscription series at the Royal Festival Hall. It was sponsored by British American Tobacco, as I recall. As a subscription series, I occupied more or less the same stalls seat for each concert and was quickly on speaking terms with several other subscribers.

      I was not a music student (Geology, in fact) but looked and dressed like a student and had a clear Northern (English) accent. Not a typical RFH customer then, according to some, but I never encountered any form of snobbery, or a cliquey, closed-shop type attitude, and I haven’t since. Perhaps because I was not actively looking for slights or expecting to be excluded in some more subtle way.

      Obviously I was a minority within the student population and I clearly remember the questions I was asked (“do you have a DJ then?” was a common one) but I also remember that many student colleagues would use a phoney “cliquey, closed-shop” argument as an excuse for not giving it a try. The cost would have been more convincing, but student grants were quite generous back then and they could always find money for other things.

  • harold braun says:

    I think it´s pretty good.At least it doesn´t try to sell something it isn´t in order to pandering to a dumbing down society.It´s about the unforgettable experience of a great orchestra(SLSO) playing under a fabuluos music director(David Robertson) in a wonderful hall(Powell Symphony Hall).As soon as you´ve tasted becomes an addiction.It is not about rap or some bullshit,it´s about great art.And as with all pieces of great art,you have to be a bit receptive.But then,your life becomes so much richer….!

  • Nick says:

    A short tv commercial has to grab its audience right at the start. This doesn’t. Yes, it’s an earnest endeavour but it really doesn’t get any message across except, “Once you realise how good it makes you feel afterwards . . .”

    Afterwards? How many people who are not concert-goers will even consider coughing up cash for a 2-hour concert – just for feel-good effect after it’s over? It’s a bit like saying you might not enjoy the needle part, but the high will make you feel great!

  • ML says:

    I honestly don’t mind at all. Anything good for the box office (even if they have to hire a certain piano play whom I truly dislike, just like the Lyric did) is good for the survival of an institution. If the Sound of Music or Show Boat help subsidize Rusalka or the Ring, that’s great. I have been very concerned with the crises facing several Midwest orchestras in recent years (e.g. Detroit & Minnesota).

  • Neil McGowan says:

    I would be calling the box-office for tickets after that ad.

    It gets to the heart of why we go to live orchestral concerts. It isn’t afraid to talk about the emotional impact, and the life-changing effect that concerts have on us.

    Many people are instinctively interested in going to concerts – but they aren’t sure where to start. Suppose it is “too exclusive” or academic for them. Won’t they have to dress up in clothes they don’t even have?

    This ad strips it down perfectly – “go to this concert, for the amazing experience”.

  • Neil McGowan says:

    will even consider coughing up cash for a 2-hour concert – just for feel-good effect after it’s over?

    I can’t agree with you there, Nick. Many people feel a spiritual ‘lack’ in their lives – something that reminds them even why they are alive at all?

    The pledge this advert makes is that you will be moved by the concert and notice an improvement in your life afterwards. (With the unstated idea that attending more concerts will prolong and extend that effect).

    Or – as Handel said to a nobleman who thanked him for “a fine evening’s entertainment”:

    “Entertainment? Ah, I should be sorry if we merely entertained them! I hoped to make them better people.”

  • teacher says:

    Well, I teach music appreciation (in the US, no less), so I’ll play this ad next week and get some student reactions.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Please let us know what they think

      • Teacher says:

        Just to followup: I played this for some music apprec students, most of whom had some experience with classical music, mostly through dance (modern dance) or performing an instrument at some point in school. They liked the ad. They liked the trajectory from “slow appealing” music to the dramatic passage. They also appreciated hearing from performers themselves for the element of “human connection.” And they pointed out that the ad does not presume any knowledge of the music, simply “show up” and it will work on you.
        Some criticisms: the slow part was too long and might not hold attention; showing the conductor might turn people off because it’s too in-your-face about emotions.
        “We are artists, but this might be polarizing for people who are non-artists because they might not connect as easily.”

        There you go. 17 college students in the US — but not complete newbies to the genre.

  • Holly Mulcahy says:

    First of all, the length of the spot is perfect. Usually orchestras tend to go over a minute and up to 3 minutes, which is ridiculous. This spot gets a point across very quickly and then it’s done.

    Second of all, some of the quotes are really good. I recall first time patrons at a concert last year tell me that they loved how the music “washed over” them, and how it let their minds escape as the music took over.

    Third of all, I liked the casual and working shots of the music director, makes him seem approachable, sincere, dedicated.

    However, the biggest missing link in the 60 second spot that is missing is the important candid shots of audience reacting to the music. You never see this important selling point. True, there are times where they can be falling asleep or looking at their watches, but how valuable it would be to have a few shots of focused and engaged patrons followed by a candid interview of their impressions.

    It would be interesting to shoot this exact same spot but focus only on an audience and embed their quotes throughout. People need reassurance that their time out will be as awesome as promised, and a reaction from an audience member might have more impact than a maestro they may not have recognized yet.

    • Anne says:

      “True, there are times where they can be falling asleep or looking at their watches”

      Unfortunately, this is the image you often see when a classical music concert or, even worse, an opera is an incidental part of a movie or TV show. To make matters worse, the audience is often in black tie and the average age of the orchestra looks about 110.

      Doesn’t help.

  • Geoff Radnor says:

    How to make first-timers welcome at a “classical” music concert?

    My idea (one of several bouncing around in my 80 year-old brain) is to offer a “FREE”! first-timers a pre-concert get together to meet others in the same boat and to have a soloist or other great communicator chat with them and answer questions, just to make them feel part of the evening and not outsiders, welcome to “classical” music. Nothing too serious, a joke or two etc.would help.

  • Isaac Segal says:

    I’ve been going to concerts for over 50 years and been writing ad copy for more than half as long. I’ve done campaigns for the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Philadelphia Opera Company, and the Pennsylvania Ballet—and have struggled with the challenge of “selling” the arts more than just about anything else.
    I think part of the difficulty lies in the total lack of connection most people have with classical music. An astonishingly small percentage of people in the US have ever even heard a live orchestra, much less set out to attend a performance. Classical music is far less a part of the larger culture than it once was. Decades ago, names like Heifetz and Toscanini were recognizable even to people who may never have set foot in a concert hall. And although many of those who did attend concerts were there to burnish their social or intellectual credentials, they at least were buying tickets.
    But getting people into the concert hall is only part of the problem; the greater challenge is getting them to come back.
    Think about what going to a typical concert is like for a first-timer. It must feel like walking into a church full of rituals you know nothing about. What’s a concertmaster and why are they applauding him? What’s a “movement”? When is it OK to clap?
    Unfortunately, most orchestras do nothing to welcome classical neophytes, or to give them any kind of information about the concert experience.
    The result is to reinforce the perception that classical music lives in a cloistered and unwelcoming enclave that has little concern for those who are not already among the select. While the St. Louis ad tries to reach out, it does so in language that speaks only to people who already know what it’s talking about.
    I’m not sure that conventional marketing—like TV spots—is the answer. Classical music has to step off the pedestal and start opening doors and inviting people in. Simply having a conductor or performer talk about the music they’re about to play can have an immediate effect, breaking through the stiffness of the typical concert and helping to turn the audience from passive recipients to engaged participants. And it doesn’t have to stop there. How many people got turned on to Beethoven and Mahler by Leonard Bernstein’s TV presentations? Why can’t the same kind of content be on YouTube and all orchestra websites?
    This is not “dumbing down” the music; it’s “smartening up” the audience.
    Social media can also help. Why not create a space where people can ask questions about classical music, talk about their favorites, and share their thoughts and feelings about music and concerts?
    Classical music can reach many more people than it does now. But it has to reach out to them first.

    • Andy Lim says:

      “Social media can also help. Why not create a space where people can ask questions about classical music, talk about their favorites, and share their thoughts and feelings about music and concerts?” –
      isn´t this actually already happening a bit at slipped disc?

    • SVM says:

      I dissent from the commonly held premise that the “rituals” were off-putting. The principle is simple — you are not to cause any noise or disturbance during the performance, including the moments before, after, and between pieces of music. This means no telephones, no fidgeting, no eating, no coughing, and please no waving of fans (if you think you are hot, think how uncomfortable it must be for the performers under the stage-lights!), &c.; it is really simple (yet some people either cannot or will not be sensitive to the noise they make). If you are unsure when to applaud, wait until the performers make an unequivocal invitation, normally manifested by the conductor turning round to the audience after a reasonable silence. Yes, there are more subtle “rituals”, which are strictly optional, and overlooked by most — indeed, at the BBC Proms, *I* am often made to feel in an oppressed minority for shouting “heave” when the lid is raised, and applauding the leader when he/she plays the A. But “ritual” is a good thing, and develops instinctively in the course of almost any communal activity; after all, a concert can and should be a spiritual experience.

      • Nick says:

        “Think about what going to a typical concert is like for a first-timer. It must feel like walking into a church full of rituals you know nothing about.”

        I could not agree more. The “orchestra” experience needs to be demystified and going to a concert made as welcoming as going to any other form of leisure activity. Note: I am NOT saying this means being noisy, dumbing down, applauding at the wrong place etc.

        “’ritual” is a good thing”

        Agreed – but only when you know what those rituals mean.

      • Isaac Segal says:

        Sorry if I did not make myself clear.
        It’s not that many of the rituals of the concert hall have no purpose. It’s that newcomers don’t even know how they’re expected to act. And that uncertainty can be off-putting.
        The remedy can be something as simple as a handout that asks “First time at the orchestra?” and explains the conventions of concert hall.
        By the way, it wouldn’t hurt to reappraise some of these “rituals.” (This is probably going to get me in trouble, but I’ll say it anyway.) Why is is OK to applaud an aria in the opera house but not a movement in the concert hall? The practice is not set in stone: Applause between movements was common in Mozart’s and Beethoven’s time—to the extent that movements would be repeated if the response was especially enthusiastic. Haven’t we all sometimes wanted to applaud a particularly well-played or emotionally-charged movement? What’s wrong with allowing audiences to spontaneously express their appreciation?

  • This must be a web-only venture. One minute is exceedingly long for TV commercial now, either to buy air time for or even as an ad that a TV station might run for free as a donation in kind to the Symphony.

    Much about this commercial could be fine tuned for a better result but we don’t know what the budget for producing it was, do we? This may be good for what they spent.

  • Marcel Lockhart says:

    Wanna get laid instead of laid off? Spend your time sophisticated instead of roaring for idiots at a soccer game! Come to our concerts!

    Book your Valentine special now, non-alcohilic deals available for minors.

    Procatively or intelligently addressing young people might be better than an advert as shown above.

  • Marcel Lockhart says:

    Wanna get laid instead of laid off? Spend your time sophisticated instead of roaring for idiots at a soccer game! Come to our concerts!

    Book your Valentine special now, non-alcohilic deals available for minors.

    Provocatively or intelligently addressing young people might be better than an advert as shown above.

    • SVM says:

      What about older people? Do they not matter? Or are our tastes completely set in stone after our 20s (I am still in that age bracket, so I do not know)?

  • Andy says:

    It’s good that the commercial ended as it did. The one time I experienced the St Louis Symphony Orchestra live (in 2012), whenever the musicians stood to acknowledge audience applause, they stared morosely into the auditorium, obviously and painfully unhappy, providing miserable counterpoint to the joyous music they had just performed. I felt that I had somehow contributed to the musicians’ sorrow. Could this ad, therefore, be considered false advertising?