I've always seen art and entertainent as two different things. I don't think one is really better then the other, but I do see them as different.
Entertainment is designed to appeal to some core emotions, excitement, passion, that sort of thing. At the end of it you are supposed to either feel good or want more.
Art, or at least some art, can challenge your feelings. It can make you uncomfortable. You may not get the happy ending.
At my day job we recently had the opportunity to market a real work of art, Richard Wright's Native Son. The book and the resulting world premiere stage adaptation are truly important, vital, parts of the artistic landscape.
But it isn't exactly a "feel good" sort of event. If all you want out of your evening is a good time (a feeling I totally understand) then this wasn't going to be for you.
So that was one part of the situation. On the other hand, the show had significant financial expectations that needed to be met or exceeded.
It was a tricky spot to be in and the marketing team attacked that challenge by trying to create a sense of empathy around the lead character in the novel/play, Bigger Thomas. The whole idea around the play was that the audience was supposed to place themselves in Bigger's shoes and try to see the world from his perspective.
The goal of the marketing was to take that artistic intention and make it something the potential audience could feel.
Once the goal was clear, the marketing tactics followed. For example, if you go to the show's website and navigate around using the tabs on the right you'll see a lot of ways we tried to create that sense of empathy. For example, if you click on the Production tab you'll see a series of short videos that are designed to put you inside Bigger's head and hear his thoughts.
You'll also notice that the team worked hard to avoid any language that made the play sound like "fun" or even "enjoyable". It isn't. It isn't supposed to be. In fact one major review for the piece called the play relentless and profoundly disturbing.
It will also be one of the top selling pieces the theatre has ever had.
Now it would be dumb to say it got to that place just because of marketing. Talented artists made the play happen and it is their skill that made it special.
The role the marketing team played was setting the expectation and giving the audience the context they needed to know why the play was worth their valuable time and money.
Remember, those are things arts marketing can do.
The broader lesson here is that if you are given challenging work to market, no matter the art form, embrace it. Don't run away from the fact that it is difficult. Also, don't underestimate the audience. Time and time again I've seen audiences defy low expectations. Some of them (not all of them) want to be challenged. They want to have their worldview examined.
They can handle more then you think.
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