I feel a campaign coming on…

12 November, 2011    

“tell us about a recent campaign that you especially liked.”

There was something about the whole conversation that had, so far, left me cold and unengaged. It was like I was being interviewed via satellite and the delay between the motion of the questioner’s mouth and the sound that I heard was robbing the words of their meaning. This question was the point that did for me.

Marketers used to speak of campaigns. Just like the Generals of the First World War they would hatch plans, draw battle lines and hope to stage an assault. To overcome. For a while it seems marketers sought to emulate them. And this might seem a bit of stretch but language is powerful and wrought with meaning and if you apply such a word to what you do then you must ask yourself why. Why? Because if we are to see marketing as being comprised of campaigns then what are we? At war? Are we marauders or liberators? And how can we turn this use of language to our advantage. How can we marshal the metaphor.

Marketing is not a weapon. It is a strength. I’m sometimes left with the impression that artists view marketing as a dirty word. Again thinking of First World War generals “crevice is a dirty word, marketing isn’t.” [paraphrase BlackAdder Goes Forth, General Hospital] But you can see how artists, indeed a public in general come to fear, resent and reject marketing if we frame it in terms of campaigns, conquest.

Marketing is about the spread of ideas, about the exposition of a viewpoint and at worst the cajoling of perspective. Marketing is really about affording people empathy, giving them an insight into someone’s passion about a product or service. Its about communicating the vision of an artist, about starting a dialogue that will be solidified in the consumption of the art work. It’s communication.

Communication succeeds when there are rules, shared understandings – when interlocutors work together. Terms like Relationship marketing, and permission marketing may have been coined just to sell books – or they may represent a genuine hunt for a new language to talk about what we do. When you think about it even branding sounds a little brutal. But in a world where your marketing is only an unsubscribe link away from banishable, a click away from deletable, or a look away from forgettable, perhaps its time we reshaped our outlook and our language to what we do.

Let’s reframe our activity to more fully communicate the respect we have for our audiences, for the people who participate in the dialogues we begin and the ones that they find compelling. Let’s give ourselves a chance to be proud of the work we do. Marketing is not a single activity, its an approach that focuses on an idea and a set of people and seeks to communicate that idea and develop desire in the people. Its about building harmony between a need and the fulfilment of it. Its engineering fulfilment.

Arts marketing needs some new names for what we do – and if I felt anymore convinced of the fact I would surely launch a campaign.

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