More ASS in clASSical – Off their “Rockers”

The bar keeps lowering, but in this case it’s the whammy bar! It seems the lack of marketing creativity is so prevalent that it in itself is becoming creative! It’s time to be in awe of the latest believe it or not marketing connection being made between Pop and Classical, so strap on a plastic Guitar with 5 buttons to get those $70 Symphony seats sold!……..

So the Modesto Symphony is teaming up with a local Best Buy for a Guitar Hero competition to help promote their next concert.   Here’s how the Modesto Bee article about the promotion begins:

Think the symphony isn’t cool? Think it’s for the blue-haired and blue-blooded? Think it’s stiff and standoffish?

Think again.

And while you’re at it, think “Guitar Hero.”

Wait, did I miss something? So nothing says Revueltas, Rodrigo and Mendelssohn quite like a Best Buy “Guitar Hero” contest? I’m sure after pressing a combination of 5 buttons along to Aerosmith, kids are going to run home and beg mom and dad to take them to a Symphony concert! Now of course that sounds ridiculous, but the marketing folks at the Modesto Symphony are believing that this actually might happen:

“We were looking for ways to make the symphony a little more accessible and to excite people about classical music,” said Maureen Quinn, marketing assistant for MSO. “What better way than to reach across generational divides?”

Excite people about classical music? No better way to reach across generational divides? After reading this I had to look at the calendar to make sure it wasn’t April 1st!  If it does get a few new people into the hall, what do they think they’ll be expecting when it was a Guitar Hero contest that got them there?

For the concert they are promoting, Manuel Barrueco is the Guitar soloist (an actual Guitar Hero!) although he sits down to play, he doesn’t improvise or “shred”, he’s not going to wear glittered leather pants sans shirt (this I can’t confirm for sure) and he doesn’t sing, dance or jump into a mosh pit! Seriously what are they thinking doing a promotion like this?  But wait it doesn’t stop there….

So the winner of the contest wins a Guitar! No not a Guitar Hero Guitar, but an actual acoustic Guitar signed by Manuel himself. So little Johnny who wins it will probably show up at Best Buy the next day to ask where the buttons are, why there’s no whammy bar, and to find out how it’s supposed to plug into an Xbox360! In fact he’ll probably try to trade it in for an actual Guitar Hero bundle! Now all kidding aside, the web version of the Modesto Bee article has the image below which suggests what the acoustic Guitar they might win will look like…just where do they hide those strings?

Acoustic Guitar?
A 'Guitar Hero' contestant will win a guitar from Barrueco, and go up against conductor Jackson. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

There is just no follow through or reciprocal thought when it comes to promotions like this that are stuck on marketing just the “music” with a gimmick unrelated to the concert except in the most tenuous of ways.  Connecting Guitar Hero with this concert as a centerpiece to cross generational divides and to connect with a community makes about as much sense as trying to connect Ludwig van Beethoven to Eddie van Halen!  It will only prove just how far the divide actually is!  Would Best Buy advertise the Guitar Hero game at a regular symphony concert? I doubt it, it’s not their demographic and they would concede that. So why then would an orchestra advertise a symphony concert with a Guitar Hero contest, when it’s not their demographic? It might even make the few who take the bait angry after the concert because they were not told what to expect.  I mean if someone just “shredded” I Don’t want to miss a thing on a plastic “axe” at Best Buy then naturally to celebrate they will want to pay up to $70 to hear Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony right?…..Wrong.

I’m not suggesting that this kind of a thing can’t work in limited ways.   Before a family concert for instance, holding a Guitar Hero contest in the lobby wouldn’t be a bad idea to get more families to realize that there’s a total experience being offered (concert plus activities).  Or even holding a contest at Best Buy to promote a Video Games Live concert, now that might work, BECAUSE IT MAKES SENSE AND RELATES TO THE EVENT, but it’s limited at best.

Now promotions like this might seem cool, cute and are fun to come up with, but  in the end they are gimmicks that do little towards real ticket sales growth and to create relevance across “generational divides”.  True accessibility and growth in concert attendance rely on the total experience and environment being rejuvenated to be able to work for any demographic .  Now that takes real creativity combined with grass roots marketing such as calling, research, committing to a plan, focus groups, word of mouth, concert packaging, community outreach, relevant thematic programming, collaboration, new media development, incentives etc…It may not be sexy or cute to do it this way, but it works!  I will give Modesto the benefit of the doubt that they still do those things.  As far as attracting the younger set, it’s not so much the music that keeps people away as much as it is the social aspects including negative perceptions of what a Symphony concert is and the lack of networking and social opportunities.

At this rate I may have to start the ASS in clASSical marketing awards, although I’ll have to be careful with the trophy design, I wouldn’t want to offend anyone!

By the way, despite my objection to this approach to marketing, Guitar Hero is a total blast to play!

8 thoughts on “More ASS in clASSical – Off their “Rockers””

  1. Personally, despite having grown up in the video game age, I think Guitar Hero is the single most useless waste of anything I’ve ever had the misfortune of being subjected to. Give me a good early ’80s pinball machine anyday.

  2. Guitar hero does get kids interested in playing music. Despite the bad economy and all the bad news, the studio I teach at has kids lining up to take guitar lessons. Most played guitar hero and ended up getting a guitar. The game creates awful technique in young guitarists–lots of flat fingers.

    Most students, when I play classical guitar for them, are actually very interested in it. Especially the metalheads it seems; I can relate as my guitar career began playing Metallica and Black Sabbath. Just a bit of exposure to good guitar music could capture the attention of many young people.

    Besides, who wants to guitar hero dual with the symphony conductor? I’ll take on Barrueco though…


  3. Bill
    I’m going to make you jealous now, here in Springfield we have a place called 1984 dedicated to 80’s video games and pinball machines…all of which work like new!

  4. I actually do see a lot of connection between a classical guitar master and guitar hero concert. I don’t know how much guitar hero you’ve played, but in general I’ve found it gives a lot of people a new found respect for guitar players no matter the genre. They understand that playing an actual string guitar takes twice the skill and 100 times the creativity of guitar hero. I can’t imagine a more ready audience than guitar hero players. Just as Christopher says, guitar hero players work up a certain amount of “skill” and many are ready for the next level, be it playing an instrument, or just appreciating artistry.

    • Well, even if that were true, the promotion was to try and sell tickets to a Symphony concert in which the Guitar played in one third of the program, not to get people to learn Guitar, except for the lucky winner I suppose. It is marketing that is not sincere or true to the event. It might have been different if there was someone there giving free instruction or a demo on a real Guitar, to have them experience the real deal. I have no problem with Guitar Hero, but not as a marketing tool for a Symphony concert. I am all for innovation and creativity in marketing, but this was not creative and will not increase their audiences.

Comments are closed.

Send this to a friend