Commitment phobia

Flickr: hectorir

Bloomberg offers an interesting article on a rising fear of commitment by consumers, in many aspects of their lives. Social and economic indicators point to rising lease vs. buy rates for cars, rising rent vs. purchase rates for homes, declining birth rates, and declines in long-term contracts (such as on mobile phone service). People also seem to be holding onto their possessions longer (cars, furniture, and the like) before replacing them.

The article suggests that all of these are indicators of fear and uncertainty. Not knowing what’s in store for your future can make you less likely to commit past the horizon line (to a mortgage, to monthly car payments toward ownership).

For arts organizations, this increasing concern about commitment and fear of an uncertain future could have impact on cash flows, contributions, and bottom lines. If positive cash flow requires significant advance sales or subscriptions, it’s likely time to ensure you’ve got alternatives (line of credit, deferred payments, etc.). If you want to lure such advance purchase, it might also be time to review your returns/exchange policy to make it easier for your audiences to change plans (or at least for them to feel more comfortable that they COULD do that if they needed to).

I’ve heard from many organizations that donors are showing a similar unease. While their wealth is returning, many are still holding more cash and assets than they used to in case the world changes. Similarly, many financial trends suggest that businesses are hoarding more cash than they used to, inspired in part by an uncertain credit market.

Should arts groups get skittish about programming in response to this commitment-phobic audience? Or should they be bolder than ever to inspire hope and excitement among their audiences? If your board isn’t talking about this, it’s a rather good time to start that conversation.



  1. Bill Prenevost says

    This goes along with my theory about the drop off in subscriptions since 2007. Yes, the trend may have started before the recession. But arts leaders edgy about the traditional subscription model have predicted (wished for) the demise of this proven means of income stability even longer. The depth and length of this recession is testing many of our proven ways of marketing. Still, let’s keep our various “loyalty programs” (as that is essentially what subscriptions are) recognizing that “less can still be more.” Nourish patron relationships, even if they’ve shifted from subscriber to single ticket buyer, because the trend may reverse when this era of financial uncertainty is officially over..

  2. Guy Palace says

    It is my experience that many, if not most, theaters have adopted better exchange policies and better subscription packages. Additionally, the actual trend for theaters appears to be more price raising during the run to entice ticket buyers to buy early than later. This would employ a more aggressive marketing dept. and places an emphases on my next point; the single/non-subscription ticket buyer! Theaters should NOT get skittish about their programming, rather the theater should stick to its mission and press the Diversity Dept. to get out there and promote. Programming-wise, now is the time to be bolder and to inspire hope and excitement and engage a new audience. And that new audience will most likely be the “commitment-phobic” public.

    When promoting their season, theaters should make it clear the “thread” of their productions as it relates to what the season will be all about. While the “connectivity/diversity” dept. reach out to acquire a new audience based on shows, talk to the audience in the seats. They decided to see this play, now which other play in the season would appeal to them? A) It’s not a challenge to get the theater goer to see one play, the challenge is to get them to come back for another play, B) Once you have them in your house, discuss with them the season and how the season progresses with your shows. Financially, we can make the commitment more attractive. But the phobia has more to do with “time” commitment than cost. And you break that phobia by making your audience want to be sure to catch (insert play name here) when it comes up. Then you can build on your New, and Improved, Subscription Packages!

  3. Andy George says

    It is of the upmost importance for arts organizations for one to simply treat themselves as a business. Like any business that doesn’t react correctly to the current economic signs, it can easily fail due to these type of downturns. However, many businesses in these types of economies find ways to hedge their losses, and possibly innovate some type of value out of a bad economic situation. I’m not sure how arts organizations would be able to do this, but from past historic records of the Works Progress Administrations (WPA), we can see that it is not impossible for the arts to thrive in a downturned economic climate. There just have to be backers somewhere, be it government or private donations, someone has got to champion the cause of the arts.

  4. Brittany Mcneal says

    I think it is important to build consumer trust and value. Your economical practices have to shift with the tide and the problem is that some organizations do not do as such. The market has change so the way one goes about selling and attracting people must change as well. They have to feel comfortable with their purchase and that in the end there is some gain.