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Creative Museum Marketing Ideas

This article contains shining examples of cultural organisations who hit the nail on the head with engaging campaigns that proved extremely memorable to the public. 

These creative museum marketing campaigns were pushed primarily on social media, but what we want to note here is the planning, organisational connections and brand consistency that was behind each shiny, viral campaign. Each campaign is rooted within the institutional mission of each organisation and worked to garner interest in the respective organisation and subsequent offerings. 

Tate – 1840s GIF Party 

Tate Britain hosted a major mass participatory digital project as a part of their Tate Late programme in February 2014. This project involved asking the public to submit animated GIFS from 5 selected artworks housed in the 1840s gallery. 

  • John Brett, Lady With A Dove: Madame Loeser 1864 
  • Albert Moore, A Garden 1869 
  • John Singer Sargent, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose 1885–6 
  • Joanna Mary Wells, Portrait of Sidney Wells 1859 
  • James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Harmony in Grey and Green: Miss Cecily Alexander 1872–4

What was so interesting about this campaign was Tate’s playful and crowd-sourced means of engaging with the public. The intention for this campaign was to “warm” the Tate brand according to the evaluation report for the project. Tate went about this by commissioning several artists to create GIFs that served as inspiration for the public and then an all-call was put out to the public asking for unique GIF submissions.

This project was part of the Tate Late programme which aims to bring younger audiences into the gallery. It therefore makes complete sense that Tate would run a campaign that is specifically targeted at engaging digitally-savvy young people. They also followed the digital marketing textbook by linking their campaign directly back to their collection; they get an A+ in our book. 

The press attention and social media figures that this campaign pulled in were remarkable. According to the evaluation report, the public GIF submissions were re-blogged and liked 85,000 times, with one GIF reaching 77,000 alone (with that number having surely increased from the time of the 2014 report). It’s also worth noting that a large proportion of the participants were from overseas which contributed to international press coverage and the Tate collection being shared worldwide and accessed on an international scale. 

Tate gets high marks from us for the following reasons:

  • Campaign medium (social media) directly targeted the desired age group (15-25)
  • Highly focused on the Tate collection
  • Playful yet powerful approach
  • Campaign was carefully planned and integrated into their strategy to bring in a key audience
  • Embracing new technology (GIFs)
  • Accessibility; audiences all over the world could participate in the challenge even if they couldn’t physically visit the 1840s gallery.

Rijksmuseum – Museum Marketing Flashmob

The Rijksmuseum is a fantastic museum with a fantastic collection of art and fantastically massive ships. If you haven’t been, put this incredible place on your bucket list – its worth it! Something that the Rijksmuseum also does super well is marketing/publicity. Two campaigns both around the same painting have been tremendously successful and will serve as our next insane campaign examples.

In 2013, the Rijksmuseum re-opened after a 10-year renovation. After a massive closure like that, it’s imperative to drum up some publicity and get people excited about the re-opening and remind them why they want to visit the new and improved museum. Rijksmuseum put the stunt in PR stunt by staging a full-on flashmob tableau of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch in a Dutch shopping mall. The video of this unfurling went absolutely viral with millions of viewers in countries all over the world watching Rembrandt’s painting come to life. Actors leaping from balconies and a giant frame being dropped from the ceiling? We are so in. 

This campaign was so successful because the Rijksmuseum went completely out of the box and literally brought a painting to life. They brought a masterwork to the public, to people that had perhaps never been to, or even heard of the Rijksmuseum. The creation of the video that documented the stunt was, we’re sure, carefully planned out to then distribute to various media outlets to showcase the ingenuity of their campaign and raise awareness of the museum re-opening. Rembrandt’s The Night Watch is such a famous painting that the museum has a whole room dedicated to it – it could be considered the Mona Lisa of Amsterdam!

Flash-forward to 2019 and the Rijksmuseum is in the midst of another amazing campaign around Rembrandt’s masterpiece. This one is called, Operation Nights Watch. The Night Watch has gone through some, well, shit to put it frankly. It’s had its edges trimmed off, acid thrown on it, layers of varnish added and removed and has lived in poor conditions for some time. Now that the museum has re-opened, researching The Night Watch was a high priority for museum staff. During an intensive research project like Operation Night Watch, most museums would be apt to take paintings up and away to the conservation wing for private examination by a few highly specialised conservators. However, the Rijksmuseum has decided to do things a bit differently. They have decided to leave the painting hanging in place in the gallery and construct a glass box around it with all of the research equipment. This transparency allows museum visitors to see exactly what goes into a research operation like this one and information on wall panels is also provided on why this process is needed. 

However, the Rijksmuseum has truly kept to their fashion of doing things on a viral international scale and has created an entire website and campaign dedicated to showcasing the TLC being taken out on one of their most prized paintings in the collection. The website includes a behind the scenes tour of the research process for adults as well as a specialised one for children. They’ve also hosted live-stream videos of the research project to allow the public to see the process on an even more intimate level!

For both of the campaigns surround The Night Watch, Rijksmuseum gets top campaign marks from us for the following reasons:

  • Bringing art to life… literally
  • Bringing important masterworks into public places
  • Exploring performance mediums
  • Highlighting typically closed practices
  • Normalising research/restoration practices
  • Using digital means to spread awareness of research methodologies. 

Frye Art Museum – #SocialMedium

Moving over to the United States, in 2014, Seattle’s Frye Art Museum presented ‘#SocialMedium’, an exhibition that showcased the most liked works in the collection. Frye Art Museum handed over curatorial power to the entire internet by setting aside a two-week period to determine which works in their permanent collection received the most ‘likes’ on social media and then displaying the works that received the most traction within a special exhibition titled #SocialMedium. Participants were able to vote via Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr where images of the collection had been posted. The museum also offered visitors the option to physically vote at the museum although most of the voting came from online participants. 

One of the most interesting facets of this campaign is the international canvas on which this exhibition was painted. People from all over the world could vote and were actively encouraged to do so. The goal of the Frye Art Museum was to have a show that was entirely curated by the internet.

By utilizing a unique understanding and global perspective, these voters were bound together by a single collection and in turn, the Frye Art Museum realized what a marvel it was to be able to connect so many people around the world through a single work. Frye Art Museum realized the capacity that social media has to reach people across the globe and they used that power to bring the museum into a setting in which it had the ability to impact many young people who perhaps thought that museums weren’t relevant to them. 

In their 2015 Annual Report, Frye Art Museum states that although #SocialMedium was organised by the museum, it was curated by 4,468 guest curators. The museum’s employment of social media for such an integral part of the museum’s curatorial work was a huge show of acceptance of rather new connective platforms (at the time, 2014). For the museum staff to join together and put their faith in these platforms, and in public opinion is an example of a truly participatory artistic endeavour. 

Frye Art Museum gets a round of applause from us for the following reasons:

  • Organisation-wide participation in a social media campaign
  • Making their collection accessible and interesting to an international audience
  • Using four different social media platforms to maximise engagement
  • Actively engaging with likes and comments from participants around the world
  • Showcasing the power of crowd-sourcing and social media engagement to the greater Seattle area. 

ArtFund – “See everything”

This video campaign was launched by the national charity for art, ArtFund in 2016 as an effort to promote their National Art Pass. They employed American filmmaker Alex Gorosh to take on the impossible task of seeing all of the art in London in one day. That’s right, ALL of the art, in one day. This is quite clearly a herculean task, but the way that ArtFund cut the video together showcases the fun and goofy way that Gorosh goes about it, whilst highlighting the impossibility of visiting all of the 92 museums in London in one day. During the ten hours that Gorosh spent on his task, he visited 13 museums and walked more than 22 miles. He also saw more than 140,000 works of art. Now if those figures don’t shock you, then this one will. In London’s 92 museums and galleries, there are 20 million works of art! On his grand tour, Gorosh saw less than 1% of all of the art in London.


This campaign was, and is so successful because it highlights the impossibility of seeing all of the art in London in one day, even if that was someone’s sole mission. The ArtFund’s National Art Pass gives the card holder discounted entry (often 50%) to most major museums and exhibitions. The “See everything” campaign is so genius because it visually highlights the necessity for the pass as it demonstrates that multiple visits (aka
£££) are necessary to really “see everything”. 

ArtFund does a really fantastic job at creating engaging videos that hit the nail on the head when it comes to driving a campaign home and really selling the necessity of arts and culture to society at large. Other notable videos/campaigns are:

  • “What is the perfect work of art?” – which explores the variety of opinions amongst the general public when it comes to artistic success. 
  • “Miss nothing” – which highlights not only paintings and objects, but the unsung heroes of the UK’s museums and galleries (shiny floors, yummy blueberry muffins etc…)

The three campaigns named above are all aimed at promoting ArtFund’s National Art Pass, but these videos do a brilliant job at showcasing the value and necessity of the pass in a very fun and quirky way. We will go over media usage within a marketing context more in week 2 which focuses on social media, however, it’s worth noting now with these brilliant examples that videos and images have a tremendous ability to reel viewers in and situation themselves within the context of the campaign. The videos above are filmed in UK museums and display a diverse range of people. All of this contributes to aspects of the video being relatable to viewers who could then in turn become National Art Pass holders. 

ArtFund gets a digital standing ovation from us for the following reasons: 

  • Very fun and playful take on marketing videos
  • Strong links to museums and collections
  • Using media as a means to convey messaging
  • Very robust and active YouTube channel 
  • Campaign is clearly linked to promoting a valuable product 

Let’s be absolutely crystal-clear about something. All of these campaigns were created by large museums and organisations that have loads of money and resources at their disposal. We recognise that commissioning artists to create GIFS are creating whole websites dedicated to research projects may not be within your organisation’s remit or budget. However, there is a lot to learn from the planning and execution of these campaigns as well as how they were received by audiences worldwide. As the title suggestions, these are “insane campaigns”. Insane how? Insane in that they are extremely memorable, successful and all went viral. 

Learn from how Tate Modern used a nuanced form of digital picture manipulation to speak to an entirely different audience. Consider how the Rijksmuseum brought a hidden process to light through digital means. Take a leaf from Frye Art Museum’s method of creating an entirely crowd-sourced exhibition. Model your videos and imagery after ArtFund’s with their quirky twists and playful nature. 

Your organisation may not have the time of the tools, but if you follow the blueprint from these success stories, your will be sure to start your campaigns off on the right track. 

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