February 4, 2007

Cultivating Consumption

We all have them: songs you can set to repeat and never grow tired of; movies you own that you watch over and over again; a syndicated sitcom episode for which you know all the dialogue. Over time such adoration earns you a well-deserved moniker reserved for the true believers: a Parrothead if you frequent Jimmy buffet concerts, etc.

So why don’t companies and organizations more easily enable such devotion? Example: Disney’s Broadway production of The Lion King. For me, the movie was OK. My original attendance at the live production was primarily to see what the fuss was all about. I’ve seen the complete show twice and that’s enough by my standards. But give me a chance to see the Circle of Life opening number every night of the week and I’ll be there in a heartbeat.

While that’s unlikely to occur, I did accidentally stumble upon an illegally filmed, poor quality, home video camera rendition on Youtube.com. That, coupled with my well-worn video of the number on the Tony Awards some years ago, perks me up on the dreariest days. But oh what I wouldn’t give for a high definition, professionally filmed version. And Disney should give it to me; make that sell it to me. And to thousands of others like me. When you’ve paid $100 for the best Broadway seats and $15 for a cast album CD, you’re going to be pretty willing to fork over some additional cash for anything that enables you to relive a powerful moment.

And it’s not as if this is an either/or proposition: either I buy a DVD of the opening number or I attend a professional production. I doubt I’ll ever see The Lion King on stage again unless some friend drags me along or I get free tickets. But there’s a small chance that repeated viewing of The Circle of Life on DVD might just draw me back into the circle where its magic really comes alive. Even if it doesn’t, Disney doesn’t lose anything by enabling my desire relive the moment again.

We often read pseudo-obituaries to the cultural arts in America, but an increasing body of research and opinion (Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind is one excellent example) is suggesting that the right-brain attributes associated with creative endeavors are becoming increasingly valued and necessary in all avocations and professions. While an Andrew Lloyd Webber ringtone might not be ideal for everyone’s cellphone, it’s easy to imagine a large number of people who would find it of value. I don’t think I’m too idealistic about the potential for a more devoted and expansive class of cultural consumers, if we can make consuming (and reconsuming) the culture more engaging, more pervasive, and more available. Any organization or business (not just performing arts groups) would be wise to more intentionally cultivate consumption among its desired audiences.


P.S.
Spring Awakening is one show that seems to be understanding the value of providing music and video to help people relive the moment and spread the word. You gotta love paying $100 and ending up being a free marketer for the show
. No surprise it is a show with a cult-like following among our more tech-savvy, younger-generation types. Having seen the show recently, I can tell you it is an amazing production. Check it out for yourself.

Ironically other productions that initially struggled to gain a following, The Light in the Piazza, The Color Purple, were also more aggresive in offering mp3 files of select songs, sampler CDs, etc. Too bad many organizations use a great strategy only out of necessity instead of opting to do so because it is desirable.

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