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The (Impolite) Science of Marketing Exhibitions: 'Grossology' and 'Bond, James Bond' have been hugely popular exhibitions. Are they 'dumbing down', or a smart way to achieve audience development and commercial goals?
Andrew Williamson: Science Museum Grossology and Bond, James Bond have been successful exhibitions at the Science Museum this year with 450,000 visitors passing through them. But did they represent clever programming to broaden audience reach or were they just a lucky break? The seminar aimed to consider:
§ The use of marketing to address “dumbing down fears” – both real and imaginary; § A strategic marketing approach to exhibition programming and audience development; § The tactical marketing exploitation of exhibitions in order to meet both commercial and Museum objectives.
The exhibitions strategy at the Science Museum is to use 4% of the floor space to draw people in to the rest of the museum. The common aims of the exhibitions were to appeal to a traditionally non-museum audience, to position the exhibitions as synonymous with the museum’s brand values, to not alienate the existing core audience and to be commercially viable. The Science Museum was accused of “dumbing down” during the runs of these exhibitions. The phrase is commonly understood to mean being overly commercial, simplistic or trivial, moving away from a traditional or core product, losing intellectual integrity, which undermines the brand.
The Science Museum’s response to these accusations is: • The museum can’t be static – to succeed it must appeal to different people in different ways; • “Entry products” are needed to obviate the fear some people feel of science; • If the brand is protected, then accusations of “dumbing down” do no harm; • The brand is the biggest asset the Science Museum has; why would it want to damage it?
“Dumbing Down” is therefore simply the need for a different product to meet the needs of different people. The marketing role at the Science Museum is to act as brand guardian particularly in the areas of exhibition programming and exhibition positioning. There are in essence five areas of marketing involvement: audience research, programming, integration, marketing campaigns, evaluation.
Audience research: the museum gauges perceptions of both visitors and non visitors. A good understanding of the audience (both actual and potential) helps to build a product which both addresses audience fears (‘science’ and ‘museum’ are both deterrents as words) and delivers against their expectations. The Science Museum undertakes the following regular research: • Entry/exit visitor surveys (monthly) • Non-visitor attitudinal survey (annual) • Social focus groups (quarterly)
It also undertakes specific research targeting concepts for the museum and temporary exhibitions such as quantitative research and concept focus groups. High level research has been telling them that “the museum isn’t relevant to me”. It has also been telling them that if they put on the “right” exhibitions they could appeal to a much broader audience. Research data provided a platform from which top line programming decisions could be made, concerning target audiences and themes. Research also informed brand, throughput and the potential visitor experience, revenue potential, and provided a “Dumbing Down” risk analysis by planting real and imaginary programming ideas and testing both visitor and press response.
Programming: Research led to the programming of both Grossology and Bond. In the case of Grossology the Science Museum actively sought an interactive and educational product for children. Bond, James Bond was what the public had asked for. Without the research platform the Science Museum would probably have turned them both down. Once programmed, the museum sought to integrate the exhibitions as far as possible into the “core” of the museum’s product. This manifests itself in education events and events for children referring to other areas of the museum. The marketing campaigns for Grossology and Bond have successfully driven visitors and delivered museum objectives by focusing advertising and PR messages to deliver against visitor throughput, commercial objectives and visit dynamics. Grossology and Bond have delivered a broader audience in geographic, demographic and socio-economic terms than traditionally achieved. Both exhibitions attracted a large number of incremental visitors (specifically to see one of the exhibitions) Grossology 125,000, and Bond, James Bond 195,000 which amounted to 15% of the total number of visitors through the museum during the period. The marketing activity had an impact on commercial success by actively targeting off-peak visits through the timing of advertising, tourist activity and third party promotional activity.
Third party promotional activity has been particularly important. Grossology achieve promotional relationships with McDonalds, Cub Scouts, women’s magazines, Daily Mail, libraries, local and regional media. Bond, James Bond built partnerships with Kodak, British Airways, Warner Village Cinemas, Classic FM, Total Garages, student groups and local and regional media. Visitors have also spent time in other areas of the museum. The Grossology visitor’s average dwell time was around 115 minutes, 75 of which were spent in the exhibition. With Bond, James Bond, the average dwell time was 150 minutes, 105 of which were in the exhibition.
In terms of evaluation, Grossology was well received.
Andrew Williamson has been Head of Marketing & Communications at the Science Museum since December 2001. He has a broad marketing background gained within a variety of sectors, ranging from fmcg to financial services, utilities and strategic consultancy. He has a very simple view of marketing, that it is the “commercial application of common sense”. He began his career at Nestle joining their graduate programme in 1985 and gained invaluable experience working on brands such as MilkyBar and Libby’s Fruit Juices. Nestle provided a genuinely full marketing mix training but not wanting to become a Nestle clone Andrew moved into financial services in 1988, first to Access (credit cards), where he was responsible for the re-launch of the credit card (killing off “flexible friend” in the process), then to Alliance & Leicester as Product Manager Credit Cards and then Marketing Manager Savings and Investments. He worked at Alliance & Leicester until moving to London Electricity as Channel and Affinity Manager in 1995, in the run up to a competitive utilities market. Andrew left London Electricity in 1998 to set up Marketing Meridian, a strategic marketing consultancy, and worked with clients as diverse as American Express, Scottish Courage, Eastern Energy and United Racecourses. From there it was a short hop to the Science Museum and his current role as Head of Marketing & Communications.
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