My classical music Super Bowl commercial explained: we aren’t who they THINK we are

Posted on February 12, 2011

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(Hey there! For some reason, my blog theme is not letting me put spaces between paragraphs or use the tab function to indent the first line of a new paragraph, so I’m sorry if this is difficult to read. I admit to having bad grammar and poor punctuation usage, but I do know what a paragraph is?)
Yesterday here on this blog, I gave you my best shot at what I thought a Super Bowl commercial that promotes the whole of classical music to the American masses (111 million of us watched Super Bowl XLV last weekend) could, and in my opinion, should look like. (click this link to read the commercial concept before reading this explanation). But now, I want to defend my idea. My guess is that some classical music honks would rather it feature classical music, and perhaps have it be more “artsy” than that, but I’d like to explain why I think that a commercial like the one I’m suggesting could be just what the doctor ordered for the demographics that classical music has failed to reach successfully in the past 50+ years.
So-called classical music will probably never die in the big cities here in the States, but as many of you know, it’s institutions are dying right now in a lot of places. For two generations now, we have seen interest in classical music dwindle for a myriad of reasons, and among these younger generations, classical music suffers from a SERIOUS image problem. (Chrysler obviously felt the same about the image of their brand, and their commercial did an outstanding job of forcing us to think about that brand just a little bit differently going forward than we did before we saw the ad). But when it comes to image/public perception, just like NFL and NBA athletes shouldn’t be judged by the whole of society to be thugs, drug addicts and alleged rapists because of the mistakes of a few of their colleagues, classical musicians should not be assumed to be elitist, rich, weak, stuffy, soft, or un-masculine because of the upbringing and/or personalities of a few, either.
If you produce and direct a Super Bowl commercial for classical music and your resulting ad is one that resembles one of those Metropolitan Opera ads that we see from time to time in movie theaters (or something comprable), I don’t see any scenario in which that is anything short of a colossal waste of an opportunity. If your ad only reinforces what 100 million people already think about you- echoes of Denny Green’s “They are who we THOUGHT they were” speech that can be seen in the video clip above- and you have an image problem that is leading to your “slow, certain death” as one classical music blogger puts it, you’ve let mainstream America “off the hook” from having to confront their ideas about what the classical music experience is and who classical musicians and classical music fans are. The point of this commercial shouldn’t be to impress classical music honks or make them feel good for loving great music; it should be to get the attention of everyone who doesn’t currently pay attention to us for any reason.
In Super Bowl XLV, there were at least seven commercials with classical music in them, which means classical music was more common than beer commercials or monkey commercials this year. A commercial with classical music doesn’t make it stand out; it makes it blend in.
You would never expect that a commercial that begins with a young black man in a recording studio listening to music on his headphones would actually be a commercial for classical music. You’d also never expect two normal looking people in a coffee shop to be exceptional opera singers, you wouldn’t expect the hot blonde on the beach to be an opera singer (unless of course you’ve been to opera productions that feature hot blondes in leading roles like I have), and you wouldn’t expect the nerd on the beach and the hot blonde to not only know each other but walk away together comfortably as if it were perfectly normal to do so.
The American masses needs to see images of classical musicians that are in a studio listening to current music; images of normal women doing normal things like kickin’ it in a coffee shop, of beautiful people and dorky people hanging out at the beach, and of people who care about the welfare of their community. Believe it or not casual classical music fans and classical music haters, these things are not far-fetched and they do happen. Society would just rather dwell on the stereotypes (something we’re all guilty of from time to time). That’s why I think showing classical musicians in normal, every-day scenarios is an important image to put in people’s minds.
The American masses need to see that classical musicians can not only be funny but can laugh at themselves by admitting that yes, some of us are serious nerds and that yes, some of our biggest fans still fall asleep at concerts. Combine that with humorous moments with the old lady hitting on the shirtless young guy at the concert, the high comedy of old people awkwardly dappin’ up young folks and people attending a classical music concert in swimsuits and I think you’ve got enough humor to qualify for a memorable Super Bowl ad (again, remember that these things will all be carried out in the commercial with the highest possible production quality, so it will all come off really well).
As for the website piece of the commercial, as the marketing types always say, a “call to action” is important. I know that February is Black History Month, but classical music should also make a huge push during the month of February because once the Super Bowl is over, the rest of February is miserable for many sports fans. Football is over, meaningless NBA games are being played, the March Madness tourney isn’t here yet and Major League Baseball spring training is still a couple of weeks away. If the website featured in the ad called people to partner with classical musicians in their area for some kind of service project in February in exchange for drastically discounted tickets to concerts later that month with organizations that choose to participate in the project, maybe that’s a starting place. Then the resulting connection isn’t just musical; it’s a local, community connection that can be shared, and those are the kinds of connections that classical musicians need to learn how to start making (if they aren’t already).
It’s obviously impossible to completely and permanently change a country’s image of anything in one Super Bowl commercial. If that was possible, Super Bowl ad spots would be even more expensive than they already are. But if we could make even a dent in the not-necessarily-negative-but-not-necessarily-ideal image that our country has of classical music and classical musicians, the millions of dollars invested and the crazy busy February schedule will all be worth it.
This is obviously just an exercise in thinking and brainstorming. I’m not so delusional to think that I’m going to get to make my commercial, but at the same time, you may or may not have heard that classical musicians have a few fans that have some pretty deep pockets. Maybe if the right idea gets shared with the right person, a Super Bowl ad for classical music isn’t so unrealistic after all, which is why I hope you’ll share your ideas for a classical music Super Bowl ad in the comment section below.
But that aside, I want to encourage all of you musicians who are reading this to ponder this question of what you would do with that kind of platform because it exposes what you believe to be the biggest strengths and the biggest weaknesses in the classical music world. Then, once you’ve come up with what you’d do with that platform, find ways to make those things happen locally, without the platform, and with no one else watching. If you do, only good can come of it.
Thanks for sticking it out through two VERY long blog posts this weekend. I appreciate all of you who take the time to consider what I have to say worth reading each week. It’s humbling. Until next FRIDAY- the new day for Authentic Cadence blog posts- you stay classy, planet Earth. And let’s hope that next year, classical music ad or not, that we will still have Super Bowl to watch…
Like the post? Hate the post? Please leave comments with feedback, or email me at themusicalapologist@gmail.com. Follow me on Twitter for more takes on music, sports, faith, and who knows what else.
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