Marketers not preachers

Should we really care about Glyndebourne’s influencer post about opera-going fashion?

This weekend one or two us have got a little worked up about a tweet Glyndebourne put out, driving followers to a fashion bloggers tips for attending the opera.

Cue the cries of ‘Charlatans!’ I was one of those who not only rolled my eyes but helped spread the indignation across the internet.

It seemed a questionable thing to be putting out there.

Whilst one section of the industry is reaching out to new audiences by trying to play down perceptions of elitism articulated through attire, one of the sector’s world-renowned brands is embracing the very thing so many others berate the sector for and doubling down on it.

In case you weren’t already aware, it annoys the actual fuck out of me.

It’s annoying because I want us to be talking about the artform (whether its classical music or opera), not conforming to stereotypes which effectively distance new audiences from it.

Nobody talks about what to wear when they go and see a movie. If we’re trying to normalise the artform, why talk about fashion tips for attending opera?

The business of ticket-selling

In fairness, Glyndebourne does this quite a lot. A Google Image Search reveals a number of fashion-related content sites tapping into Glyndebourne buzz in order to drive traffic and relevance.

But there is another perspective I had overlooked. Cue Philhamonia Marketing Chap Tim Woodall’s tweet last night.

An interesting dichotomy emerged when I read that: one from the arts organisation perspective, and the second from mine.

Organisations like Glyndebourne are in the business of selling tickets. Their tickets give people access to experiences, of which seeing an opera is one element of a trip to the Sussex site. The rest is, whether we like it or not, eating food and drinking alcohol in the grounds beforehand.

The fact that when I attended I had a couple of sandwiches from Waitrose and shared a bottle of something reasonably-priced with a pal says more about my budget constraints than it does about Glyndebourne’s aesthetic.

Tim’s tweet (above) and the response from Will Norris (formerly OAE now Southbank Sinfonia) reminds me yet again that for the majority of arts marketers, selling tickets is what is important.

And, just as the Southbank seeks to increase reach by drawing people in with various retail and food outlets, so the likes of Glyndebourne have to capitalise on every asset at their disposal and reach out to various different interest groups.

To put it very crudely, if someone has the money to buy a ticket for an experience they can say they’ve been to even though they’re not especially interested in the core content, then are the marketers really going to turn their noses up at who’s buying the ticket? If the image-conscious are the ones with a budget they don’t mind denting, then why not target them?

Who’s catering for the choir?

It leads me back to some thinking I’ve been chewing over recently. If organisations are targetting those who are different from people like me (ie fully signed-up fans), then where are people like me feeling as though our values in the artform are being acknowledged?

Some will say that people like me don’t need to be persuaded because we will always love the artform, that it doesn’t matter about the negative impact targeted marketing might have, because the priority is ticket sales. I’ll buy tickets because of the works and the performers; others might consider buying tickets because of some other entirely different reason.

But the more I recognise this alternative perspective, the more I wonder where people like me are catered for in marketing and journalism.

I don’t consider myself a scholar, but I’m knowledgeable. I resent being described as a classical music geek or nerd, but I know stuff. I advocate based on that knowledge and experience. But that’s neither needed nor wanted because its not useful to selling a ticket quickly.

Maybe what this really means is that I should set myself up as a fashion blogger. Maybe that’s where I’ve been going wrong all these years.

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