Unexpect Yourself’s unexpected backlash

The Philadelphia Orchestra’s new marketing slogan “Unexpect Yourself” has come under fire throughout the media and blogosphere. Karen Heller of the Philadelphia Inquirer blasts the campaign.

Although, I don’t agree that this is “the dumbing down of music that elevates the soul,” the latter part of that phrase is itself an expected and tired marketing phrase, I do remain very confused about the campaign and the accompanying micro site.

I can’t seem to find the answer to “what’s in it for me?” The only actions you can take are buying tickets (but why would I?), signing up for the newsletter (but why would I?) or listen to Beethoven 5 (now that’s not very unexpected!)

What is exactly the audience? Culturally active people who might not normally go to the symphony.

But the image of the micro site runs counter to what they’re saying. What do people expect when going to the symphony? Musicians in tuxes (check; see photo); music by guys who have been dead for 200 years or so (check; Beethoven, Brahms etc.); atmosphere of self-importance and grandiosity (check; “the most gifted and talented musicians ever assembled” which they undoubtedly are, I just don’t want it boasted); restrictive rules and behavior (check; ad copy that reads “you must,” “you need”), expensive (check; prices up to $130).

Anything but the same-old-same-old? I don’t think so. It reminds me something I wrote about in 2007:

And that’s what I wanted to point out: the notion that the continuing existence of classical music needs to be justified. It is no coincidence that one of the books Taruskin reviewed is named Why Classical Music Still Matters. There, Indiana crossed my mind. Specifically Indiana Beach. For years now, this amusement park has been airing commercials on Chicago television with the horrific line “proving once again, there’s more than corn in Indiana.” These simple words and the simple fact that a commercial is trying to prove there is more than corn in Indiana, create the perception that there really is nothing but corn. And perception is reality; it effectively reinforces the stereotype.

In the end, I do actually quite like the phrase “Unexpect Yourself.” But this is perhaps a case of an execution that doesn’t show a great understanding of the intended audience and doesn’t quite line up with the objectives set out in the campaign.

As Drew McManus writes: “Enough with the identity crisis and mixed messages. If you’ve sincerely identified a fringe audience out there waiting to be tapped, you should know where they are and how to reach them.”

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