Marketing. Part 1 of another likely series

25 Aug

I tend to associate the sides of buses with marketing for films that I don’t really want to see, rather than for operas that I might, so I was slightly startled when I saw the ENO advertising their revival of Magic Flute on two consecutive London buses that passed me yesterday.  I was even more startled by the content.  There was a picture of, I assume, Pamina, beside the word “Babe”.  Next came a picture of, I think, one of the animals that Tamino tames, beside the word “Beast”.  Finally there was a picture of the Queen of the Night next to “The Magic Flute”.  I’ve been trying to work out the point of it all.

The first thing which struck me was puzzlement.  I thought that the inference that most people, not knowing anything about the opera, would draw is likely to be that it’s about a young woman and a beast with the flute either rescuing the woman from the beast or turning itor her into something different.  At any rate you’d think that the beast might play some sort of major part in the opera.  The last time I saw the opera (and, indeed, the last time I saw the ENO’s production), it didn’t.  The second thought was a recognition that there was sort of Disney-esque quality to the opera that might support that sort of marketing.  The third was of how unbelievably tacky it was, together with disappointment (though not surprise) at ENO marketing opera like this.

So who is this aimed at?  Well, one thing I can be sure about is that it wasn’t me.  But ENO doesn’t need to aim this at me.  It has other ways of telling me that Flute is on and they can be pretty sure that this advertising is unlikely to make any difference to my decision not to go (I think the production is probably the best all-round Flute I’ve seen, but I’ve seen it rather a lot of times and there are other priorities in my life).  They can also be pretty sure that, even if I do think it’s tacky, that’s not going to stop me coming to see the operas at ENO that I do want to see (though it might be something else to stop me joining their Friends).

I suppose that it might serve the purpose of telling the occasional opera goer who doesn’t keep a particular eye on the listings that this opera is on.  And that sort of person might well be interested to going, but I think they might know a bit about Magic Flute and be puzzled by the content.  They might also find it a bit tacky – such people tend to be quite conservative in their tastes.

Is it aimed it at people who don’t go to opera at all?  Possibly. I suppose that advertising on buses makes opera seem more “accessible”.  And using Disney-esque language makes it seem less frightening.  Can someone remind me where the distinction between “accessibility” and “dumbing down” is, because I have a funny feeling that we may be crossing it somewhere round here?  It certainly won’t appeal to the “cool” or “hip” generation, or whatever they call themselves.  Now the Hytner Flute strikes me as a really accessible production with some enchanting moments in it, but it’s not exactly Snow White and the Seven Dwarves or Beauty and the Beast (it isn’t particularly “cool” or “hip” either, I suppose).  If I went expecting something like that, possibly with my kids and assuming that I’d got past the prices that ENO now charges, I might be a tad disappointed that it’s not a bit more like what the ads had led me to expect.  It’s possible that I might be so enchanted by it that I’d buy a subscription to everything else straight away, but I might equally feel let down and confirmed in my view that opera’s a bit boring and not for me.

Or maybe the purpose is just to raise awareness of the brand and I’ve fallen into the trap by blogging about it.

And, actually, it’s even more insidious, because while I’ve been writing this, I’ve remembered that my niece and nephew are about the age that I was when I first saw Flute and fell in love with it and, in particular, Thomas Allen who was singing Papageno.  Maybe I ought to take them along – it’s a better production than my first and Duncan Rock should be pretty good.  And then I get to the prices and, I’m very sorry, dearly though I love them, it just costs too much.  Has ENO not thought of using some of its marketing money towards some half price seats for children for some operas?

Anyway, I’m glad I’m not in marketing because I think my ethics might get in the way of success.  I hope it works and I wish the ENO lots of new audiences as a result of it.  I can’t help feeling, though, that there might be other ways of getting them.



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