Staying Culturally Relevant Part 2

Cultural institutions can rely on a core audience that values the enriching experience that museums, galleries, and performing arts provide. How can institutions build loyal audiences beyond their core “cultural believers”?

Field Day’s consumer research – as well as numerous other studies – show that the wider public and especially younger generations want to be both enlightened and entertained.

I’ve identified four methods that cultural institutions can take to engage new audiences:

  • “entry point” programming,
  •  multiple programming streams,
  • revised positioning,
  •  or a complete rethink of the core product.

Each method has its advantages and challenges. In my last article, I looked at the first two options (which you can find here). Today I’ll look at the third approach.


“We need creative that really hooks people and captures the emotion of the experience!”

That’s the ask we get from most of our clients, and it’s a fair request. After all, isn’t it what all marketing should strive to achieve? But how does it apply to cultural marketing?

There are two challenges here:

First, the emotional connection will be vastly different for those who are already predisposed to enjoying “high culture” and for the general public who want edutainment. What appeals to one group might alienate the other.

Just this week the Toronto Symphony Orchestra ran an ad on social media that featured a stylish photo of one of the upcoming female guest soloists. While the ad likely attracted people who wouldn’t normally buy TSO tickets, a number of people were critical of the approach, asking what fashion photography had to do with classical music.

Secondly – and this is the bigger concern – the marketing can’t misrepresent the actual experience. You can’t turn the proverbial sow’s ear into a silk purse. If you’re a museum that’s offering a contemplative “artifacts behind glass” experience, you can’t ask your creative agency to crank up the “wow factor” in the advertising. You may draw a wider audience by doing so, but if the experience doesn’t live up to the expectations you’ve set, then you’ll have lost those customers for good.

In my next post (on May 10th): the fourth and final method – the one with the biggest hurdles to leap but potentially the greatest long-term reward.

Andrew Arntfield, President, Field Day Inc.

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