Why we go to the arts: a sociological approach to arts marketing

April 15, 2016

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Published in General News

Why do people go to the arts? Why do they go to a museum or a show?

François Colbert, professor of marketing at HEC Montréal, explained that while some people go for art’s sake or for entertainment, a great number of people have other motivations.  

“Sometimes the reason people decide to go to a museum is simply to tighten social bonds. That is, simply to go out with someone. Or perhaps a couple with children buys a subscription to a theater to have time alone five or six times a year,” he explains.

Mr. Colbert, who is the founding editor of the International Journal of Arts Management, spoke at the School of Management last Wednesday about marketing the arts and client satisfaction. In an interview about the implications of recent studies for arts marketers, he emphasized that there is a significant segment of consumers that are driven by a certain social or peer pressure, for example that they want to be seen in cultural events to acquire recognition or learn about art in order to belong to a particular community.

“Some segments feel intimidated and need to be reached in different ways. I remember an interview where a woman, when asked why she and her husband didn’t go to classical music concerts, answered ‘I don’t have a long dress and my husband doesn’t have a tuxedo’. That´s perception. They perceived they don’t belong there.”

Another thing Colbert has found is that arts marketing cannot give people values concerning art when education has not already done so. And these are directly related to how much an individual, a family or a community values education. “Most people who go to the arts are educated people, and this proportion is more or less the same in every industrialized country.”

But marketers can do many things to reach new audiences. The BBC Proms, a series of concerts in the UK, made the best seats in the house the cheapest of all and allowed people to bring food and drinks to listen to the symphony orchestra. They sold it as a family event. Another company that has opened its market to a wider social classes is New York’s Metropolitan Opera. “The Met is a leader in service to clients and they were the first to showcase their productions in live transmissions around the world. And that is much more than a promotion strategy,” he says.

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