Exhibition Inquisition

The stuff you look at, but don't see.

Museum Marketing: The Horse

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Field Museum

The Field Museum loves owned media particularly social media (the stuff you don’t pay for).  It has a brand new website, facebook, twitter (Sue the t-rex even has her own), flickr, and yes it still has a myspace.  With all this owned media, you would think they would be paying for much promotion.  Despite all its social media the Field still likes to pay major ducats for marketing campaigns and advertisements.  These campaigns range from creative and innovative, to downright awful (and probably grossly expensive).  There was that time the loop was invaded by theme park pirate sculptures, then there was the time with unicorns into the St. Patrick’s parade, there was also that time they converted buses into wooly mammoths, and also that time they projected a mermaid on the buildings along Michigan Avenue (sorry couldn’t find a link for this one).  The Field is like case study book for a marketing class.

Let’s explore.

The current temporary exhibition at the Field Museum is The Horse. The show is organized by the American Museum of Natural History (they love to rent out shows) in collaboration with The Field, as well as with the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, and the San Diego Natural History Museum (an eclectic bunch).  The marketing campaign for show can be seen in bus shelters (way popular placement for the Field), as well as whizzing past on top of taxi cabs.

Trojan Pig.

Behold, a horrible illustration inside a bus shelter of a giant wooden pig being pushed up to an ancient city gate by a bunch of men.  Get it, it’s a Trojan pig.  Except it wasn’t a Trojan pig that helped the Greeks get inside the city of Troy, defeat the Trojans, and win the Trojan War.  Oh right, it was a horse, the Trojan Horse.  A HORSE.  So what does a pig have to do with a horse? Nothing.  And I guess that’s the point.

Let’s look at another example from the Horse campaign: Jacques-Louis David’s famous painting Napoleon at the Saint-Bernard Pass also called Bonaparte Crossing the Alps.  Except wait, something is different about this image.  Oh right, Napoleon is riding a cow.  Isn’t he supposed to be riding a horse?  The clever minds behind this campaign switched out the horse for a far less majestic farm animal, the humble bovine.  This switch-a-roo is hardly original, as a quick Google image search provided me with Napoleon riding a motocycle, Napoleon riding Dino from the Flintstones, and Napoleon riding a Zebra.

Messing with old masters is such a cheap trick.

The tagline for the campaign is “The Horse: legendary, alluring, irreplaceable.”  Now I wasn’t an advertising or marketing major, but I was a PR major, and I also watch a lot of Mad Men.  But I don’t need either of those things to know that these ads are bad.  First of all they are not simple; they are actually kind of confusing, and require some figuring out.  Sure they’re funny—I guess.  But the brief impression they leave you with does not remind you of a horse (mostly because there is no horse in the picture) and you forget the purpose of the ads and also about the show.  Sure the Trojan Horse and several of Napoleon’s horses are legendary, but I don’t know what “alluring” in the tag has to with the visuals.  Mostly these ads have to do with the “irreplaceable” listed in the tag.  Got it, horse equals irreplaceable.  Cow does not equal horse, and pig definitely does not equal horse.

What’s the price of this marketing campaign?  Well it was designed by a huge ad firm DDB, so it wasn’t cheap (even if the Field got a discount).  How does this affect a museum visitor?  Well admission costs $22 for adults and $15 for children.  Children being defined by the Field as 11 or younger.  Seriously 11 or younger.

The ad isn’t memorable, but the message is.

The Field’s marketing campaigns aren’t always so bad, or jazzy.  Above is an ad from last year’s Gold exhibition.  It’s not overly clever or flashy, it’s smart and informative.  Obviously the end of the rainbow makes someone think of gold. AND the rainbow ends right at the Field Museum, so you have the additional value of the exhibition’s location (the Field) being provided in the ad.

– H.I.

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