How do you completely miss the point with your audience development plan? The Phildelphia Orchestra’s new “Unexpect Yourself” campaign provides ten easy lessons in how to get it wrong:

The Unexpect Yourself minisite. It’s as if they knew deep down that this was too lame for the orchestra’s homepage

1) The design is bad

A violin-shaped vignette? That’s exactly what people expect when they think “classical music” which is exactly why you shouldn’t do it. The whole execution is horrible – it looks ugly, dated, predictable, low-budget and unimaginative. It says “a trip to the symphony will be exactly as you’d expect it to be.”

2) The photography is bad

The pictures are all grainy. Where are the beautiful people that I aspire to be and to be with? Why is there no movement in the picture of the orchestra? What does it say about the ensemble’s opinion of itself that they’ve chosen to be pictured sitting back, looking pleased with themselves instead of entertaining the audience? Why is the audience applauding instead of being entertained?

3) It is patronizing

Classical music is complicated and challenging. That’s what I like about it. I have to pay money, travel, sit still, put my iPhone away, stop talking and open myself up to a profound experience. I’ve got other stuff I could be doing, so it had better be worth it. You don’t convince me to do it with something as unsophisticated as a slide show comparing a night out at the symphony with an unplanned road trip, which, if you think about it, is quite unlike a night at the symphony in a number of significant ways.

4) They make it your problem:

To stay relevant, you must embrace new ideas and new things. You need a spark–a new place to visit. There is one place that will always remain timeless.

So, to be clear, the Philadelphia Orchestra has no plans to follow its own advice. They get to be timeless. You, on the other hand, are on the brink of disappearing into a black hole of irrelevance if you don’t move with the times. Timeless times. People don’t go to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra, and that is somehow people’s problem.

5) They made up a word

Made-up words have a place in marketing. Trademark law and the Internet have stimulated linguistic innovation by placing constraints on the vocabulary that can be owned. Slogans don’t need made-up words. Mostly, they don’t even want them: Hulu, Vevo and Lala are all easy to remember, but they don’t mean anything, hence the need for taglines made out of real words that mean stuff.

Lala – where music plays
Vevo – music evolution revolution*
Hulu – Watch your favorites. Anytime. For free.

*To be fair, this isn’t great, but then the more accurate “like YouTube but more annoying” wouldn’t have made it past the committee stage.

6) They made up a terrible word

If the verb “to expect” means to anticipate, then what does “unexpect” mean? Don’t expect much? Lower your standards and the orchestra will seem better? There’s no positive resonance here. Mostly, I’m just thinking “expectorant”. F-

7) The music is completely expected

If you’re going to say “preview the Orchestra’s unexpected sounds” you might want to come up with repertoire that was a bit less predictable than Beethoven 5, Brahms 1 and Tchaikovsky 4. That’s not just ununexpected. It’s a parade of clichés.

8) It’s remote from the orchestra’s core marketing activities

This isn’t a new way of branding the orchestra. Their site doesn’t mention it. You’d be forgiven for thinking that they were embarrassed by this lame-ass attempt to be hip. They do take the time to tell us that February is subscriber appreciation month, though. Old audiences are still welcome at

9) Consultants did it

It might have seemed like a safe bet to get an online agency to promote your brand outside of your normal real-estate. How much harm could they do? Plenty. It is moronic to let consultants loose on a brand they don’t understand. Either they weren’t supervised, or they were misdirected. Either was a mistake for the orchestra, who now get to deal with the fallout of looking old-fashioned, aloof and foolish all at once.

10) The consultants were morons

Annodyne is the name, although asinine might be more to the point. They seem pretty pleased with themselves, if this is anything to go by. Still, unless the plan was to generate blog posts about how objectionable the campaign is, I’m pretty sure that their ridiculously trademarked Annotrak™ metrics will show this didn’t work because of a fundamental misconception about single ticket sales: the problem isn’t that people have never been to the symphony. The problem is that they have been to the symphony, and they didn’t have a good enough time.

As I’ve written before, there’s plenty that can be done about that.



Post a comment
  1. Holly #
    February 11, 2010

    Obviously, you unexpect too much. Those crazy cats with the Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaik.

  2. kriskeloo #
    February 12, 2010

    I thought a lala was a lady’s front bottom.

  3. February 16, 2010

    Hilarious post and then I read the Lala comment and laughed all over again. I do not get why those guys in Brotherly Love-land don’t get it, but this campaign really takes the cake. It’s a damn shame because they are a fine orchestra and the Kimmel Center is an incredible hall.

  4. anon #
    February 21, 2010

    Not only — the Tchaikovsky clip was Mahler, not Tchaikovsky. It’s gone now.

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