The Ad That Wasn’t

May 30, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

Bringing in new customers is a challenge for any organization, especially museums.

In the first season of thirtysomething, Michael and Elliot, who run a small ad agency, have to come up with a campaign for the local arts center, which is trying to broaden its base. They struggle, they founder, they fail. The best they can do is a poster with a photo of a hard hat guy and the caption, “Yo, it’s my arts center.” The city, sensibly, rejects their proposal.

But how can a museum reach people other than those they usually reach? Among current museum-goers, according to a survey of 40,000 households,
  • 92% are white
  • 70% are over the age of 30
  • 81% have college degrees
  • 82% have incomes above the national median
  • For history museums, age was even more skewed – only about a third were under 50.
Enter Jenny Burrows and Matt Kappler and their “Historically Hardcore” Smithsonian campaign.

(Click on the image for a larger view.)

I wish I could report on the success of this campaign in bringing a younger and more diverse audience to the museum. But unfortunately, this campaign, like the one in thirtysomething, was fictional. They did it as an exercise, and the posters lived only in cyberspace, where they flourished briefly. Reddit put them on their front page. Burrows was thrilled at first, then cautious. As she writes on her blog,
I decided it was probably time to get in touch with someone from Smithsonian, just to cover my ass. Well, they were less than pleased about the attention the posters were getting and requested that I take them down immediately.
She scrubbed the posters of any Smithsonian traces. You will never see them on the sides of buses or the walls of the Metro. The Smithsonian, apparently, has no desire to appeal to a hardcore constituency. Our great national institution will continue to round up the usual subjects.*

HT: Total Drek

*thirtysomething was great TV, but it played to the same demographic as museums, though perhaps a bit younger. The show often seemed to be written about, by, and for English majors from elite universities. Here’s a bit of script I found. Gary and Susannah, new parents, are talking with two couples whose children are slightly older – Michael and Hope, and Elliot and Nancy.

Why would I make something like that up?
Seriously. I swear. I put them both in
front of her, right? Runaway Bunny and Ulysses.

And let me guess: she went right to Ulysses?


And put it in her mouth. You
forgot to mention that, right?

So big deal. Listen. Janey, by the
time she was five months old had
eaten most of the major early work
of Saul Bellow,up to and including
Henderson the Rain King, but hey,
I don't like to brag.

Oh, I'm sure Emma's as bright as a button, Gary.

Hey, hey, what was that woman on the Lucy Show
that was always bragging about her kids?

SUSANNAH [definitively]
Caroline Appleby. The kid's name was 'Stevie.'

GARY [turning to her, clearly surprised]
I... I thought you hated pop culture?

Lucy isn't pop culture. Lucy is God


Anonymous said...

your link needs a trailing 'l' to work:

brandsinger said...

TR was not shot "mid-speech."

Jay Livingston said...

Thanks for the corrections. The missing "l" (I need to work on my copy-and-paste skills) is important, as it prevents the link from working. I've fixed it, and it should work now.

Anonymous said...

>TR was not shot "mid-speech."

as long as we're splitting hairs, there's also the thing that "got with so many chicks" could be more accurately described as "raped half of Asia."