#TBT: Should You Be Selling “The Arts”?

Happy #TBT. To celebrate, we’re sharing an oldie-but-goodie post from Jim: Should You Be Selling “The Arts”?

Back in the ’90s, banks got this idea that people didn’t want to do business with just a bank. They wanted to do business with an organization that could give them their mortgage, be their stockbroker, set up their 401(k) and issue them a credit card.

They went from being banks to providing “financial services.”

I guess that’s fine, but ask yourself this: When was the last time you said to yourself, “You know, I’d really go for some financial services right now.”

You think these would still be popular 50 years later if they'd been sold as a "personal transportation vehicle"?

You think these would still be popular 50 years later if they’d been sold as a “personal transportation vehicle”?

Never. It was never when you last said that.

I saw an outdoor advertising campaign today that read, “Discover the Arts” in your local city, and I had that same empty reaction to the term. Sure, some people support “the arts” generically, but that’s a thin slice, and really, “the arts” aren’t what move people.

General Motors has the same problem. It’s too, well, general.

By contrast, all I have to do is say “Corvette” and for some people, the drool begins to form on their lips.

The point is that people don’t respond to generalities; they respond to specifics. Few people get fired up about team sports, but a lot of people bleed Dodger Blue or the color of their own favorite team. Just a handful of high-minded people are actually moved by the concept of “modern dance,” but Alvin Ailey’s dance troupe brings the house down. It tends to be just purists and insiders who think about “the theater,” but I’ve sold tens of thousands of tickets to a show called Wicked and millions more to thousands of other specific shows.

And so while I applaud the general goals of campaigns to get people to enjoy “the arts,” I also suggest that these campaigns keep the goal, but change the tactics. You can’t sell a generality to anybody who isn’t already convinced. Sell them not “theater,” but a specific, mind-blowing show like Avenue Q. Don’t tell them to go enjoy the virtuosity of classical music; tell them that this incredibly cool young conductor named Gustavo is conducting some great music under the stars at the Hollywood Bowl. Don’t tell them to enrich their lives with “the arts.” Show them what you mean when you say “rich.”

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