Voodoo Advertising

Have you ever, especially recently, been to a conference/retreat/seminar on marketing or advertising and thought you just hadn’t learned any new techniques or strategies in a long time?

You ain’t alone. The New Yorker had a story this week about the troubles Madison Avenue (though few ad agencies are located there any more) are having persuading people to show interest in the products they are touting. Successful advertising seems to be more and more a function of having no idea why something works but doing exactly the same thing that worked the last time and being happily surprised if it works again.

Why is no big secret. It used to be that you would go to an agency and they would put together a campaign that would be televised on the three networks and you would reach 80% of the US population in a week. Today not are there hundreds of television channels, but a great portion of the public are ignore them for the internet and other pursuits. (As I pointed out in an earlier entry, today’s top ranked shows draw the same percentage of the total audience watching television as the #40 ranked shows in the 1970s.

People quoted in the New Yorker article talk about the need to differentiate yourself in a sea of sameness. However the article also acknowledges that people are becoming savvy (or gaining the tools) to allow them to avoid being exposed to said flurry of promotional efforts. Says one, “It’s easier for Toyota to figure out a new way of producing cars than it is for McCann-Erickson to figure out a new way of persuasion.”

Of course, ad agencies still are fairly successful at creating a need people don’t know they have.

“It encourages people to buy all sorts of products, from shampoo to automobiles, for reasons that do not always make sense. (Why do city-dwellers drive Hummers?) Keith Reinhard, who … wrote the “You deserve a break today” campaign for McDonald’s in 1971, a classic of manipulation which Advertising Age named the No. 1 jingle of the twentieth century. “The consumer was not looking for a better hamburger,” Reinhard explains. “They were looking for a break.”

This may be where the arts are lagging in marketing themselves. They are being too straightforward. They are saying they are all about entertainment, intellectual stimulation, economic benefits to the community. Bah! I can get my entertainment online (erm, let me rephrase that, I can order DVDs and play games online), I don’t need to be intellectual! Dumb is in!

Perhaps an ad campaign needs to borrow from McDonalds and show people escaping the hectic pressure of city life and finding solace and sanctuary in a museum.

Another point of the article underscores what I have said in numerous entries–you gotta track and assess the data about your consumers.

Jim Stengel, the global-marketing officer for Proctor & Gamble, … said, “I believe today’s marketing model is broken. We’re applying antiquated thinking and work systems to a new world of possibilities.” Agencies, he said, needed to produce advertising that consumers ‘want to stop and watch,’ but also to collect better information about consumer behavior. (My bolds)

While there is much about the article that is interesting, it is also heavily about the owner of a particular ad agency. If you are looking for information on trends, a quick scan past the biographical stuff will help you cut through the length of the article. (Though if you ever wondered how the AFLAC duck commercials came to be, it is an interesting and entertaining read.)

One note to undermine my impression yesterday that the popularity of shows like 24 is a good sign that some people have good attention spans-

Network dramas and situation comedies have more sex, more action, more urban appeal. Susan Lyne, the former president of ABC Entertainment, says, “Anything that is complex narrative storytelling – one-hour dramas, narrative miniseries, character-driven movies for television – advertisers don’t believe there is an audience under fifty for these kinds of shows.”

Drat!

More Blogging for Tickets

Slight Sidebar before I start-Check out the Discussion over at Artsjournal.com on making a better case for the arts. An interesting collection of folks you don’t normally see writing there.

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So my entries about Impact Theatre’s offer of free tickets to people who would blog on their shows has gotten some notice.

Elisa over at Worker Bees Blog tried to add a comment to my blog only to find she was denied. Then I found out I too was prevented from commenting despite having the option left open. It was only after removing the banned IP addresses from my blog that I could post. My apologies to those who have tried to comment. (Of course, now I will get a lot of Texas Hold Em poker ads in my comments I am sure.)

Anyhow, Elisa posted her thoughts on the matter on her blog. I can pretty much see her point on most of her comments. The only thing I don’t entirely agree with is her first one — partially because if I understand it correctly, she is paid to blog for other theatres. Granted, she is in the minority of bloggers since most are not paid and most of what she writes is promotional rather than critical reviews/critiques.

The other thing is that I would imagine there are plenty of bloggers out there who are willing to become unpaid shills for something they believed in. Just read a handful of political blogs. Very few of them practice thoughtful reflection about issues and happily repeat what they heard someone else say. (Though there are a great number of those I don’t agree with who do string together very intelligent thoughts) Just as there are patrons who will love your organization no matter what ill-conceived thing you toss together, there are going to be bloggers who will rose color everything you do.

Of course where Elisa is right is that you want someone who doesn’t subscribe to your agenda because their good opinions of you will only count if they are seen as credible and discerning. Then again, just as people gravitate toward critics with whom they agree, bloggers would certainly gain the same following so there is a place for the you-can-do-no-wrongers.

I think the rules the theatre is setting up regarding number of words and readership is simply a good indication of who new technologies are always envisioned in the context of what we know. Like the houses of tomorrow or projections of the future that simply add a futuristic patina to our present lives.

Since we are used to getting press packs from print and broadcast media that celebrate the reach, exposure, market penetration, etc that we will get for our buck, that is how we look to measure success. It is easy to forget that with this new medium, the rules, expectations and measures of success may be changing. It is well known that word of mouth is much more powerful than paid advertising. Therefore, it probably isn’t a matter of how many people read a blog as how many of those who do read a blog link to/cite the entry themselves and are read/cited in turn thereby increase your exposure.

And yeah, good luck trying to quantify that (though I am sure Google will come up with a way.) Of course, if you are doing live performances, the ultimate measure of success is pretty much the same–how many butts are in the seats.

Emarketing Effectiveness

I was taking a gander over at Artsmarketing.org and found a link to an arts e-marketing study that was done in England. While buying and attending habits of people in the US may differ from our European cousins, I found the suggestions about how to employ email and websites to good effect and the findings of the study to be quite thought provoking. Also, one of the really valuable pieces of information they provided was how to interpret the data logs from your website to determine how many hits, return visits, etc you are getting (pg 59-60) if you don’t have access to report software like Awstats. (And even if you do, it is tough to recognize what the heck you are looking at.)

Among their key findings were:

E-marketing can be seen to be cost-effective and valuable. However, there are many areas of potential development for participants and for the industry as a whole.

The ‘typical’ arts organisation (i.e. benchmarks for an arts organisation) will:
– spend less than 3% of their direct marketing budget on e-marketing activity
– spend less than 1p (marketing costs only) to attract each visit and each unique (different)
visitor to their site
– spend less than 3p (total online spend e.g. including maintenance) to attract each visit and
each unique visitor to their site
– spend less than 40p (marketing costs only) to achieve one ticket sale
– spend less than 10 seconds of staff time working on e-marketing to attract each visit
– spend 30 seconds – 1 minute to attract each unique visitor to their site
– attract between 2,000 and 8,000 unique visitors each month to the web site
– attract 30 – 45% of the visits to their site from unique visitors – different people
– receive 2 – 3% of all bookings online
– receive �2 – �4 more per ticket bought online than per ticket bought offline
Of those who visit the ‘typical’ arts organisations website (benchmarks for visitor statistics):
– 15 – 25% will return within the month, making 55 – 77% of the total visits to the site (the
Pareto effect works online!)
– they will visit 3 – 6 pages on the site each visit and will stay for 2 – 6 minutes
– each unique visitor will view just under 20 pages over any one month
– less than 2% will ‘convert’ to live visitors i.e. make a booking online (this is just slightly lower
than results found by other industries)
– less than 2% of them will sign up for further communication

The Arts Marketing Association felt that their research was somewhat incomplete simply because a number of organizations declined to participate because they had no idea how to access the web data needed or felt uncomfortable doing so. (They survey actually did provide instructions about which numbers to refer to.)

This lead to a fairly easily made conclusion that arts organizations were under utilizing their websites as a marketing resource and that the number of conversions to ticket sales or involvement with an organization could be increased if more attention was paid to designing and maintaining an effective site.

As much as I have been harping on the power of blogs and the internet for spreading the word about issues and ideas, I am ashamed to admit that I am hardly any better than the respondents in the survey and haven’t really taken a look at who is visiting my organization’s webpage or ticketing site. (And even worse, I know how to do it. I check the report on the people visit my blog regularly.)

Ladder Against the Wrong Wall?

So if you have read my recent entries (and lets face it, there haven’t been many) you will know that my theatre is currently working on a production of Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses.

The director has been trying to assuage my concerns about the money we are spending to keep the water separate from the wood floor and the electrical lines by confidently telling me that if we can’t sell a show with a 30’x25′ pool of water, we can’t sell anything.

Problem is, I fear he is right.

We certainly have “a gimmick” that the musical Gypsy informs you that you must have. Two separate news stations have come out to film the show and the entertainment writer from the largest newspaper on the islands wrote a feature story. When one of the news anchors was editing the story, women were looking over his shoulder with interest because the clips featured very good looking bare chested men engaging in a spectacular water battle. The anchor of the most watched 6 o’clock news commented on air at the end of the segment that ticket sales would probably skyrocket after that clip.

Unfortunately, they didn’t. First performance we didn’t even fill half the house, the second performance we filled fewer seats and the third performance we slightly out sold the second. The next three performances have less than 40 seats sold between them. I expect sales will pick up as we approach the dates, but I don’t foresee any problem getting tickets.

It is difficult to blame the small audiences on lack of exposure. I did quite a bit of paid advertising along with the free coverage we got. My thoughts turn to three tough questions Ben Cameron (Executive Director of Theatre Communications Group) posed that the Artful Manager reprinted
“-What is the value of having my organization in my community?

-Harder: What is the value my group alone offers, or that my group offers better than anyone else? Duplicative or second-rate value will not stand in this economy.

-Hardest: How will my community be damaged if we close our doors and move away tomorrow? ”

I am in a position to do a lot of good in the community and a new window of opportunity opened just today. However, there seems to be a bit of mounting evidence that paying a lot of money to fly and house people from the Mainland and other countries is not providing value for the community.

By the same token, for the last three years, there hasn’t been anyone really concentrating on educating people about the value of the theatre in the community. I am not talking about convincing people they ought to love us because we are illuminating them in their ignorance. Rather, I mean giving us the same value in the community as the corner store, the firehouse and the Little League field. Become a place were people gather and look back at it as a cornerstone of their lives.

I am already seeing the possibilities as members of niche communities are coming forward offering their assistance to spread the word about upcoming performances.

Like everything else I write about in this blog that is a work in progress…we shall see.