Sunday, June 17, 2007

Is this the right way to market the arts? Not for me, but at least it's a start. I guess.

These ads were done by GSD&M in Austin. As you can see, they are exceedingly clever.

While that cleverness is a good thing, they are not what I would consider to be examples of "good" marketing for the arts.

Why? Simply because their big point is that the arts are necessary but underfunded.

Not until you get pretty far into the copy, do you discover why the arts are actually worth funding.

Here's an excerpt from the AD COUNCIL site about the subject these ads are supposed to address:
An impressive 89% of Americans believe that the arts are important enough to be taught in schools, and that it fulfills an important role in a well-rounded education. And they are right; studies show far-reaching benefits of an arts education:

• The arts teach kids to be more tolerant and open.
• The arts allow kids to express themselves creatively.
• The arts promote individuality, bolster self-confidence, and improve overall academic performance.
• The arts can help troubled youth, providing an alternative to delinquent behavior and truancy while providing an improved attitude towards school.

Unfortunately, the truth is that the average kid spends more time at their locker than in arts classes. This PSA campaign was created to increase involvement in championing arts education both in and out of school. Parents and other concerned citizens are encouraged to visit to find out how to take action on the behalf of the arts and arts education. The campaign stresses that some art is not enough and reinforces with the tagline: Art. Ask for More.
But who do these ads actually talk to and what do they actually tell us?

They alert people with the mildest knowledge about dance, classical music and American Jazz to the less-than-secret truth that kids today don't know much about those subjects.

(Big whoop - I also remember a study that showed students at the University of Florida could not identify the state of Florida on a map of the United States.)

Worse, the ads do it with a self-congratulatory joke.

Are they funny? Sure. Are they well art-directed and written? Yes and yes (and they've won a few very hard-to-win advertising awards). But people who don't know the figures in the ads will miss the jokes. And I don't care what the focus groups said in a white room over soggy sandwiches and luke warm sodas, I'd bet a ticket to a Broadway show that those people will not be likely to care more about the arts after they see the ads than they did before.

And let's face it, every year we hear how much shrinking arts spending.

School band programs that get dropped. Art classes that get canned. Theatre programs pushed aside to make way for football jerseys.

So what should the ads be about?

Since the ads are meant to get us - as a society - to put more $$$ into the arts, the ads should tell us something we don't know about why the arts are valuable to us - as a society.

So, I go back to the block quote above and this is what I think these - or any ads about the need for arts funding - should be about:

...studies show far-reaching benefits of an arts education:

• The arts teach kids to be more tolerant and open.
• The arts promote individuality, bolster self-confidence, and improve overall academic performance.
• The arts can help troubled youth, providing an alternative to delinquent behavior and truancy while providing an improved attitude towards school.
Don't you think these three points are all excellent reasons to fund the arts? I do.

And I believe if you want to get a country that's at least half Republican to reconsider the value of an arts education, the last two points are especially convincing because they show that the arts add value to all parts of the educational system.

Which brings me to my last question: Why the hell isn't the TCG lobbying like crazy for more theatre funding based around these findings?

But here's what really pisses me off: I know - as a working creative - that the people who did these ads don't care if these ads are the right message for this category.

The people who did these ads did them for their portfolios - to show how clever they are. And the ad agency let them do the ads this way because it gave their creatives a chance to stretch after working on more corporate clients who make them do rate ads for Southwest Airlines and other bullshit to keep the lights on.

Perhaps I'd be less bitter if I had done them - they are funny.

But it's the WRONG MESSAGE and, according to the people who hired GSD&M to come up with this campaign, the ads received more than $118 million in donated media.

That's wasted money to my way of thinking since it means a lot of people saw the ads, got a laugh and then went on with their day.

Frankly, I think we can do better. I know I could.


Jeff Shattuck said...

I SO agree with you. The hardest thing I faced in advertisinng was watching all the time, effort, money and ego that got put into 'clever' ads that under real world experiences no client would ever pay for. Further, these ads are, in my opinion, stupid. The first one is maybe the teensiest bit clever, albeit in an irrelevant way, whereas the second two are plainfully desperate attempts to tell the some joke two more times. I have NEVER heard anyone utter a 'bless you' after hearing the word Tchaikovsky. Further, the big T is mentioned in a rock song so I figure most people have some idea who he is. As for the Martha ad, I mean, it's just pure shit. Not funy in the least, or clever at all. Actually, ditto for the first one. People don't really think Louis Armstrong walked on the moon; sure, they might mix up his name with Neil's, but that's the extent of it. Most important, as you poinnt out, the reasons in the copy as to why the arts matter are what the ads should be about. But some egotistical creative couldn't think of anything 'clever' and 'relevant' and so here we are, 3 lousy ads, a crapload of moey wasted and smugness all around at GSD&M. If ads like this ever end up in my book, shoot me.

RLewis said...

My ad would take the 9/11 Panel's money quote, "A Failure of Imagination". No matter what line of work we enter after school, creative thinking is the best advantage and maybe even life-saving. Growing up to be an actor or artist is beside the point - it happens to only the smallest percentage of us - but a better world only gets closer when more folks can imagine it first. The Arts as a national security issue.

Dave Tutin said...

IMHO these ads commit cardinal sin #1. They refer to "people" in the headline in all three cases. That's not what they mean. Who are these "people"?

These ads should say "YOUR kids will be fucking stupid if they don't get the right education." Not literally of course - make it entertaining by all means.

It's too late for the parents themselves - they already left school. So a campaign like this can only be aimed at those parents who want their kids to be smarter and more broadly educated. I could even add to that 'than they were'. And here's my other problem with these ads: They are elitist in the extreme. Anyone clever enough to get what they are talking about is already smart enough to know their kids need the arts!

Education is needed across all social levels. These ads don't say that.

If the arts help kids be "more tolerant" we are talking about kids who are intolerant. If the arts let kids "express themselves" we are talking about kids who lack outlets for self expression. If the arts can help "troubled youth" we are talking about
troubled youths.

These ads address none of this. They simply put the reader down for lack of linguistic skills! Sorry, no, they put down these mysteriously anonymous "people".

All I can say is that of I had been the creative director and these ads were put in front of me I would have rejected them.

I agree Malachy - sad to see $118 million of ad space wasted on this crap. Funny or not. And what a wasted opportunity not to create ads tailored specifically to the particular donated medium in which they would appear. Instead, the tonality and elitist flavor is constant throughout the campaign.

And what a waste not to have some ads aimed at the kids themselves! Making kids aware of what they may be missing is the quickest route to change - even faster than talking to parents.