Jigglers Were About Spending Time Together, But It Sold Alot of Jell-O

Economist Tyler Cowen had a rather extensive conversation with poet and former NEA Chair, Dana Gioia, on a plethora of topics. The one that most quickly grabbed me was right out of the gate when Cowen asks Gioia about his success at marketing Jell-O. He said it took him 2.5 years to conceptualize and then sell General Foods on Jell-o Jigglers which ended up reversing a 25 year downward trend and doubling sales overnight.

Gioia says that while General Foods was the best food company around in the 1950s, by the 1980s they were foundering because they didn’t know how to re-imagine their products. If you grew up in the 70s and 80s, you may remember that there were all these recipes that involved using Jell-O in intricate ways. (My family had one of their cookbooks and actually made a few.)

Gioia’s approach was to greatly simplify the use to re-imagine the product and make it relevant to consumers.

…rather than creating an elaborate recipe, which was what we were trying to sell people for 40 years, simply a way that you could add water with your kids, put it in the refrigerator and have it ready as a finger food in one hour.

…it was the way of using three times as much Jell-O for an occasion in which people would never use Jell-O, which is to make your own gummy bears. It became a mom-kid activity. We sold every box of Jell-O in the United States for several months.

When I read that, it made me think in the 1980s Gioia was basically doing what we in the arts have only just started to do recently –focus on how our product creates connection with family and friends.

Gioia also talks about how he brought a poet’s humanities based creativity to solve problems for a disciplined, data-driven corporation:

I was a poet, but I needed a job, so, I went to business school, I got an MBA, and I ended up in marketing at General Foods which is a highly analytic company with a very military organization. It was absolutely fantastic at managing existing businesses with a maximum of efficiency. What they were not good at was, in a sense, reconceptualizing a business that was in trouble, because they would simply try to do more or less of what they had done before.

…but with each promotion at General Foods, actually the particular skills I had, which was in a sense of — I’m very good at reconceptualizing things, taking a solution that people have had, breaking it apart, and creating a new solution. I essentially brought creativity that was completely in command of the numbers, if you can understand. That’s a very fairly rare combination, and I was able to transform several businesses there.

Definitely lessons in there for the arts and culture sector as they try to reconstitute and reinvent themselves in the coming years. Cowen and Gioia go on to talk about poetry, religion, opera (“What is opera except the suffering of people with high voices.”) among other things throughout the interview.

Digging Deep To Find What Really Motivates Decision to Engage With Arts

Back in December, Advisory Board for the Arts featured a webinar on marketing the arts emphasizing emotional value to the community. Much to my chagrin, it took me until last week to get a post about the webinar written for ArtsHacker.

Among the interesting tidbits I came away with were the fact that we make choices based on emotional factors and then justify our decision with rational factors like discounts, durability, assumptions about how frequently something might be used, etc.

Importantly for the arts was the finding that for 1/3 our audiences, the arts are part of their core identity so factors like quality and historical significance are enough to convince them of the value of an experience. The other 2/3 need to see connections with other motivators in their lives to see value in participation. I was interested to find that a chart of these motivating factors used in the webinar were parallel to those identified by John Falk in  Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience which I had previously written about in an earlier post here.

The webinar focused on an approach used by Utah Symphony called Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique (ZMET) which involves discovering what emotional values motivate an entity’s biggest fans and then tries to build resonance with the broader community.

Now if you look at the image below on the webinar video your first inclination probably wouldn’t be that there is a huge crossover between orchestra fans and the KISS Army, but the image was still pretty evocative for a lot of people.  My bigger concern would be people considering this a little deceptive because the energy at the symphony and a KISS concert is so different.

In any case, one of the things they did to learn about what was emotionally resonant with fans is ask them bring  10 images to an interview that represent the symphony but do not include any pictures of symphony, musicians or instruments. So for example, someone brought picture of an Adirondack chair explaining they felt the same sense of calm in the symphony as they did in their chair at the lake.

There is a lot more detail in the ArtsHacker post, including time indexes about where things are discussed in the webinar so take a look.  It seems to me that approaches like ZMET and 5 Whys technique Toyota employed are valuable to sussing this information out for the very reason that people do use logic to justify their choices and therefore insulate themselves from their real motivation. Unless you use probing techniques, a simple survey will never reveal this information.


Show Me What You Love About The Arts Without Using Pictures Of The Arts

What Does Your Typeface Sound Like?

An appreciative nod to Thomas Cott for calling attention to San Francisco Symphony’s adoption of dynamic typeface as part of an effort to shift perceptions about the organization.  You are definitely going to have check out the article to get a sense of how dynamic typefaces differ from static ones. Until you see it, the following description may confuse you.

…an elongated serif typeface that, like music, shifts based on mood, context, and medium. The modernized brand is more friendly and accessible, widening the tent by targeting not just younger audiences, but an array of music aficionados, whether classical fans or not.

The team gave it a contemporary behavior, so “it can react, stretch, and skew and bend in reaction to sound.” Letters in the same word might be incrementally shortened or attenuated, so the logo, which reads “SF SYMPHONY,” arcs from left to right like a crescendo. Some words lean forcefully to the right for emphasis, like a pianist playing forte.

The full project information is on the website of their design agency, Collins. They have created a tool that will allow you to play with the typeface using your own audio input to see how it works.  Essentially, you can play music and then freeze the type at the point that seems the best visual reflection.

Obviously it leads me to wonder if this type of typeface manipulation might become more widespread in the near future. To some extent it makes design a little more difficult and requiring good judgment.  The best representation of a feeling via typeface may not work visually with images, nor may it be the most legible option for the full range of uses – what works on a billboard may not read well in smaller print format.

NEA Re-Opening Guide – You’re Not Alone

The National Endowment for the Arts has released their “Art of Reopening” guide. Looking through it, it doesn’t substantially differ from other re-opening guides about which I have written. In fact, it actually references many of them as additional resources that are available.

However, if you are just now getting to a place where you can start to think about reopening now that vaccine distribution has started, the NEA guide can be a good place to start your plans.

The bulk of the guide is a list of best practices supported by case study interviews conducted with arts organizations of various disciplines around the country. I am not going to quote extensively from the guide because I feel like I have written some of these topics to death by now. I did want to highlight the fact that the first lesson listed is to strengthen ties with your immediate community. While I have written that to death, I don’t feel anything is lost by repeating it until it people can’t remember a time it wasn’t a core tenet of their practice.

Another lesson learned I wanted to emphasize is:

The unexpected will continue to happen. Be transparent when it does. Adapting quickly to new circumstances and information, and communicating those lessons promptly and effectively to artists/staff, board members, donors, and the public will attract greater confidence in your endeavor.

One thing in the NEA guide you won’t find in any other guide is a survey of National Service Organizations (i.e. American Alliance of Museums, Association of Performing Arts Professionals, Association of Writers & Writing Programs, Dance/USA, Film Festival Alliance, League of American Orchestras, National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures, OPERA America, etc) about how their members were coping with the pandemic and what they were seeing.

You’ll find this in Appendix A. It can be worth reading to know you are not alone in the troubles you are facing.

For example:

NSOs also reported these key difficulties for members in reengaging with audiences or visitors:

◽Navigating local or state government reopening protocols (e.g., limitations on gatherings)
◽Securing union permissions
◽Audiences/visitors not following safety guidelines
◽Creating one-way flow in buildings not designed to accommodate routing
◽Cost of retrofitting and preparing safe venues for audiences
◽Accessibility issues that can result from reserved/advance ticketing policies

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