Museum Missed Opportunities: Learning by Example with THATMuseFebruary 4, 2020 | By: Bryan Pirolli and Alisha Mudbhary
Imagine running through the world-famous Louvre museum as a visitor, hunting for a piece of art. You’re part of a game, pitted against other travelers, all trying to take photos with certain artifacts listed on a scavenger hunt. You find an obscure piece of Roman sculpture, or perhaps a 16th century Dutch painting. At the end, you tally your points, hoping to win. You can’t wait to return to the museum, to tell your friends, to post about your trip to the Louvre all over your social posts.
Sounds like a stellar event that the Louvre cooked up, right?
Sure, except it wasn’t the Louvre who initiated it.
Instead, THATMuse, “Treasure Hunt At The Museum,” is an innovative company started by an American expat in Paris several years ago that has since spread to the UK and, soon, to Italy. This creative strategy pounced on a deficiency in the museums, as perceived by the company’s brainchild Daisy DePlume, and can serve up some lessons to museums looking to market themselves to broader audiences.
Museum marketing needed more than ever?
Marketing museums is a tricky business, especially in 2020. Mary Carole McCauley, a columnist for the Baltimore Sun writes that across the U.S. “the National Endowment for the Arts reports attendance at art museums dropped 16.8 percent – even as the population grew by more than 33 million people, and museums began offering free admission.” The problem extends internationally, with even world renowned museums like the Tate Modern experiencing declines in visitor attendance by more than a million.
With museums strapped for cash and visitors looking elsewhere, solutions seem few and far between. DePlume, however, took an entrepreneurial approach to show that museums can, in fact, reinvent the same ancient wheels that some of them display.
An innovative approach
“I wanted to get as many people as possible to realize there was more to the Louvre than the Mona Lisa, to invigorate a visit to the Louvre, and most importantly to make any and all ages want to extend their museum visit! I built up a Louvre theme a month and launched them with public hunts trying to get as many people as possible to want to have FUN with the Louvre to solve that thing called ‘museum fatigue’,” Daisy said.
She said that French museums pale in comparison to British museums when it comes to engagement. “The innovation of English museums is also because the English government has made financial cuts to the arts, increasingly, frighteningly, so these great museums need to be more innovative in ‘engaging’ their audience.”
Anna Verde, who works on THATMuse’s marketing, said, “In general, France doesn’t invest as much as England on events and activities aiming to attract and guide visitors around their collections. The cultural reason lying behind this choice is that the French approach is based on the belief that art speaks for itself and that there is no need for anyone or anything to interfere between artworks and their observers.”
Competition drives visitation
But is there something unique about European museums where these events work? Apparently not. It all comes down to human nature.
Verde said that competition drives visitors to return to the museums they visit with THATMuse. “We indeed provide a product which stands between art pieces and their visitors, but the reason why hunters want to go back to museums is not necessarily because they want us to explain art’s hidden messages. Once the hunt is over, they often realize that there are some treasures that they couldn’t find or some wonderful areas where they didn’t spend as much time as they wished; they simply feel like their job is not complete! The learning process is of course there, but it’s not an imposition, it often comes as a consequence of them wanting to have fun and win the treasure hunt,” she said.
Of course creating such events isn’t always an easy process, and there is work involved before it becomes fun and engaging. DePlume said, “Working with museums directly can be a pleasure, but it’s always quadruple the work, for logical reasons. Several departments have to sign off at every stage, and as with any organisation there’s inevitable inner-departmental and departmental squabbles that I just don’t have to deal with when working independently of the museums.”
Using European Museums as an Example
Some museums are already ahead of the curve on these events, especially in major cities. Verde said that London’s museums have been doing some great work with overnight experiences, especially for kids. “Visiting museums at night is great, not only because the visit is given a different and unusual taste, but also because the galleries are inevitably less crowded and I once even managed to be all alone in front of the Rosetta Stone – something very rare,” she said.
DePlume said, “I’m always tickled pink when repeat clients or word-of-mouth clients arise, which is fairly often, we also get rewarding messages where hunters say they never expected their kids to drag them back into the galleries after the hunt for longer visits. But the cherry on the icing is when families drop us a line to tell us that friendships have been forged – and kept – thanks to their museum visit and the THATMuse friendly competition factor. One family from Toronto wrote us a year later reporting in that they were visiting their Louvre ‘friendly competition’ – a family who lives in Northern California!”
Where to go from here?
Is a treasure hunt the only solution to getting families and kids into museums? There’s no single glove to fit every gallery or collection, so it depends on the goals and resources of each museum. A bespoke strategy starts with an idea, but ends with a successful marketing plan that every museum needs to get started on, without leaving it to chance!
Inspired to get your own museum marketing strategies off the ground? DCI has 60 years of experience working with the tourism industry and media partners, including museums in Chattanooga and St. Louis. Contact Karyl Leigh Barnes at [email protected] to find out what opportunities there may be to increase visitation at your museum.