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Art is known for pushing the boundaries in a number of different ways. But what happens when museums carry this mindset over into their marketing campaigns?
One of the biggest challenges facing any museum is fighting against the preconceived notion that museums are “boring”. The cliched museum is a silent, intimidating space that doesn’t offer much in the way of fun, and while many museums successfully break this mould, the stereotype still exists for many people.
To cut through the stigma and entice new, diverse audiences, it is important for institutions to carefully consider how they develop and deliver bold, powerful marketing campaigns. And while not every campaign idea that involves “blue sky thinking” is worth implementing, there are certainly some quirky and off the wall ideas that retain a special place in our hearts.
I want to take a look at some of my favourite museum campaigns that fall firmly outside the box, in order to show just how impactful the right kind of marketing can be. Let’s take a look.
Whatever your view on dating apps, it’s impossible to deny this technology’s place in modern culture. Gone are the days of locking eyes across a crowded room. Now eyes are met via a screen, before the inevitable judgement of swiping left or right.
And when it comes to dating apps, Tinder is by far the most widely known. With 50 million registered users, and upwards of 10 million daily active users, the app is famous for spearheading the move towards a more digital dating landscape.
Tinder is also primarily used by young people. 45% of users are 25-34, and a further 38% are aged 16-24. So when the Royal Ontario Museum identified a need to attract younger visitors to its establishment, they turned to Tinder as their unorthodox marketing channel.
In order to tell young people about their Friday Night Live event (#FNLROM), they signed Teddy the Dinosaur up to Tinder, complete with a witty and charming profile. His likes included “meat, interesting smells, and hunting prey” while his dislikes involved “runners, making the bed, and meteors”.
This roarsome campaign came in response to a decrease in engagement that the museum had identified across its other social channels – particularly Twitter. Responses to posts had dwindled and user-generated-content had dried up, requiring a more novel approach to marketing. Not only has Teddy served to be a great PR stunt for Royal Ontario Museum but he also demonstrates the importance of finding a niche away from the general noise of core social platforms.
When the Tate Britain museum aimed to engage more with their fans over social media, they came up with an ingenious campaign that quite literally brought famous works of art to life. The campaign – 1840s GIF Party – was created in order to advertise Tate Britain’s 1840s gallery. The challenge? For social media users to turn 1840s masterpieces into animated GIFs.
The digital mass participation project received more than 500 submissions, and saw some of the entries re-blogged more than 100,000 times on sites like Tumblr. In fact, the whole project successfully increased the Tate Collective’s Tumblr followers by 25,000.
(Want to know how to make great GIFs? Check out this article).
The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco appealed for help from its visitors and followers in order to draw attention to an exhibition of antiquities from China’s famous Xian Terracotta Army.
The museum made an announcement that it had ‘lost’ its Chinese terracotta warrior – an elaborately made up and costumed actor – who was last seen wandering around the Bay Area. Using Facebook, YouTube and Google Maps, participants were asked to help the warrior make his way back to the museum. The establishment also posted flyers to spread the word of the missing warrior, beginning with “LOST: Male, 2,122 years old, doesn’t speak English”.
Not only did that campaign force fans to gain a clear understanding of where the museum was located, but it also challenged the stigma of museums being boring and predictable.
Running through the streets of a big city dressed as an inflatable dinosaur isn’t something you would necessarily associate immediately with museum marketing, but it certainly worked for the Museum of Nature in Canada.
With a troop of inflatable T-Rexes at their command, the museum sent dinosaurs out to engage in a range of activities in Ottawa, from riding a bus and riding a ferry, to going for a run and taking part in a yoga class.
The promotion went viral, with more than a million people viewing content of the dinosaurs frolicking through the city. Unsurprisingly, this weirdly wonderful marketing campaign helped to increase visitors to the museum by an incredible 1600%.
Recreating famous works of art has become more of a common pastime in 2020 thanks to lockdown boredom, but long before the spread of COVID-19 a joint project between Europeana and Culture24 encouraged individuals to engage with artworks by making themselves the star.
The project, entitled VanGoYourself, challenged people to mimic a range of paintings and then upload their efforts onto the campaign’s official website. Users simply find a painting that they like from the online collection, copy the pose using household objects, and take a selfie, which they then upload.
The high viral element, combined with a visual and fun interpretation of art in a fresh light, acted as a powerful tool to get people interested in particular artworks.
Similarly, Mar Dixon created the MuseumSelfie campaign as a Twitter account and a hashtag, both of which went viral. The campaign aim, as the name suggests, was simple: encourage participants to take a selfie in, or related to, a museum, and share it. Sometimes these participants were members of the public, other times they were museum staff working behind the scenes. The results were fun, visual, full of personality and incredibly varied.
As the head of many museum projects, workshops, campaigns and more, Dixon aimed to use technology in order to bridge the gap between museums and their visitors. She has been involved in a range of other successful projects such as #AskACurator and #LoveTheatreDay, all of which aim to show off the varied cultural content held by museums and other artitistic institutions. Such campaigns go a long way in showing how phenomenon like the selfie can actually help museums, rather than hindering them.
Museum marketing doesn’t have to be costly or outrageous in order to be successful, but it does have to be creative. After all, creativity is one of the key attributes of any museum or gallery, so it should also be present in how they showcase themselves.
The right marketing might come from an unlikely collaboration – like when the Louvre in Paris teamed up with AirBnB to offer a night’s stay in the museum – or through a popular platform. However a museum is marketed, the campaigns that make a splash will be the ones that defy expectations.
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.
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