Art on the Mart (1)

[December 15, 2009]

Considering how often the word “creative” or “creativity” pops up in agency life, I recently started wondering how organizations devoted to the classical arts are marketing themselves in digital space. Many of those involved claim to have achieved rare creative insight through classic works of art, music, dance and theatre. Surely here’s a group destined to give site designers and architects carte blanche to explore new solutions.

Tempering my expectations, however, was the realization that marketing departments manage Web site design, not the artists themselves. I might more reasonably expect a site built for an orchestra, for example, to follow standard marketing precepts than be exemplars of inspired creative thinking.

A tour of sites devoted to major American symphony orchestras confirmed my suspicions. While none of them are absolutely horrible, for the most part they confirm the most often-voiced criticism of the classical music industry. Predictable, pretentious and just plain dull, none conveyed even a scintilla of the drama, color, sound and heights of human emotion so unjustly encapsulated in the bland term “classical music.”

In fact, these sites are more likely to remind you of a Hallmark greeting card than of music created by some of history’s most unconventional minds. At their best, as in the case of The New York Philharmonic, they at least convey an open, welcoming feel without, you’ll notice, actually saying “welcome.” As always, the most effective marketing messages are those emerging naturally from a carefully cultivated context of image, word, design and architecture.

Equally successful is the layout, which has the common sense to realize the eye needs a clear path to follow. You’re caught up at first with the marquee image, then shift effortlessly to an array of links to digital audio, podcasts, radio broadcasts and video links.

No such site would be complete without a calendar hyperlinked to upcoming events. Atypically, the New York Philharmonic’s calendar is prominent, clear and accessible without being obtrusive. Figuring, rightly, that a calendar needs no explanation, none is given.

Finally, below the marquee, is the all-too-familiar featured article grid, here kept to reasonable proportions. After all, if everything is featured, nothing is featured, a simple principle that seems to have been scratched out of standard marketing textbooks in the ’70s when no one was looking.

Again, there’s nothing here even remotely commensurate with the actual experience of the music. Still, I have to concede it took a lot of artistry to develop something so clear, articulate and easy to use, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain. My only real concern is that social networking links—to Twitter, MySpace, YouTube and Facebook—seem casually tacked on at the bottom. Want to reach out to a younger demographic? Don’t bury its very lifeline below the fold.

So, drained of emotion as it is, The New York Philharmonic site is relatively effective. In my next few posts, I’ll take a look at comparable sites across the wide spectrum of arts marketing.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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