Unexpected Consequences

The Philadelphia Orchestra recently underwent a comprehensive brand repositioning, encompassing a new marketing strategy, website design and online campaign, with the goal of increasing single ticket sales. Like many orchestras, they have been facing a shortage of funding, an aging core audience, and a perception that the are no longer relevant in an ever-competitive marketplace for entertainment dollars.

I was curious to see the results, as the campaign touches on a number of my longtime passions; graphic design, wordplay and classical music. As a longtime subscriber to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, I have a good sense of the demographics involved and the unique challenges faced by orchestras as they try to engage new audiences.

To meet these challenges, Pennsylvania branding agency Annodyne came up with the concept and tagline “Unexpect Yourself” to roll out the new marketing campaign.

Which is unexpectedly terrible.

Coined phrases have their place in marketing. They can engage an audience in a fresh way when they roll off the tongue, are memorable or particularly euphonious. This is none of the above. While strategically off-base, it also has phonetic connotations that are clumsy at best and downright unpleasant at worst.

Extricate. Expectorate.

These are the words that come to mind, like trying to pull one's foot out of a bucket of sludge. Not the association one wishes to conjure up when branding a world class orchestra. Classical music and the attendance of live performances thereof elevates us. It's not always easy to appreciate, a bit like reading a challenging novel. It can be daunting, but it is ultimately rewarding, and upon becoming familiar, quite a bit of fun. To convey this, the website compares attending an orchestra performance akin to taking a road trip. Which is about as different an experience from a classical performance as I can imagine.

Apart from the clumsiness of the tagline, the campaign is off base because it does not accurately address the offerings of the Philadelphia Orchestra. A quick glance at the schedule reveals a typical greatest hits lineup of classical music clich├ęs.

Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky.

These are all brilliant artists, but they are the equivalent of turning on your FM dial and hearing Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones in rapid succession. They are many things, but unexpected is not one of them.

The campaign has created a backlash in Philadelphia and the arts community.

Which, to be honest, is not wholly unexpected.