UPDATE 2/12, 3:30pm: Since I’ve heard them all before ((expected)), I didn’t feel the need to stream the pieces on the site described below. However, in an e mail exchange about something entirely different, a colleague at another orchestra wrote the following:
And I just read your blog post about the eye-scaldingly horrible Philly Orchestra campaign. You know what’s really unexpectifying? Clicking the Tchaikovsky 4 button on the media player and hearing Mahler 6.
Right. So that happened. OK, here’s my original post:
I really don’t want to kick the Philadelphia Orchestra when it’s down, but can we at least talk about the white people?
The promo microsite, which was sent to me by my friend Ben Wyskida from The Nation last night, is part of the orchestra’s new “Unexpect Yourself” campaign; “Unexpect Yourself,” a phrase Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Karen Heller has called “unnatural, forced, and heretofore unused in the English language, suggest[ing] something confined to boudoirs or bathrooms.” This is also confusing: “To stay relevant, you must embrace new ideas and new things.” Relevant to whom? Relevant to what? And the orchestra is refusing to answer questions, reports Dan Wakin in The New York Times, and let’s all remember together how much I believe in that as a strategy.
But getting back to Preppyville, U.S.A.. Here are the four photos that flash through the site. My thoughts in YELLOW.
The unfortunate thing, is that idea for the campaign is really not bad: “going to see an orchestra concert does not have to be a special occasion” is a good message. I often self-reflect on what it would take to make something a traditionally-defined special occasion for me at this point; all the things I do for work would be special occasions for the large majority of the country. (Can you imagine the poor boy who tells me “I bought us tickets to CARNEGIE HALL Friday night!”?) Even things like going out to dinner, getting a pizza, renting a movie, and buying new clothes are just Things I Do now. Remember how exciting Allowance used to be?? To clarify, I love going to concerts, going out to dinner, certainly getting pizza, Netflixing movies, buying new clothes, and getting paid, but they’re just slightly less special than they were growing up. Maybe going to a concert should be in the “getting take-out in New York City” category: an enjoyable undertaking for sure, but not as precious, cheaper and without as much planning. (Unrelated: I should see if I can go a week without writing “special” on this blog.)
I don’t live in Philly, so perhaps I can’t see the big picture of what is being done to support the “Unexpect Yourself” tagline. The main reason that I, personally, don’t rent a convertible and go somewhere for a spontaneous weekend, or buy someone flowers for no reason, is cost. Will there be $20 tickets for every Wednesday night concert, or something similar? Then sure: I’d try it. (The description on the microsite does mention $10 tickets, but it also mentions $130 tickets.) What about Casual Friday concerts, or a “wear jeans to the symphony” campaign? Actually, both those things could be accomplished via a “show-don’t-tell” strategy: all the photos you disseminate of your audience for a season involve patrons wearing casual clothes. During World War II, British news stations weren’t allowed to begin or end segments on The Blitz with footage of destroyed buildings. We could all learn a little something from good old-fashioned propaganda.
I didn’t ask Ben where he found this microsite, but strangely, it’s not linked to from the orchestra’s homepage:
So perhaps this was all more strategic than I could have imagined (and I’m not being sarcastic, here). It’s entirely possible that this microsite was meant for a very specific group of people in Philadelphia, and the photos were chosen to reach that specific group. Maybe not-quite-rich white people who are Bored With Their Lives are the ones to go after. There’s actually something to that, and I hope the Philadelphia Orchestra goes all the way with it.