Advertising Beethoven’s Crotch

Whenever I need a break from music, I log on to Tumblr, scroll down, and zone out.

Then the other day in the midst of mindless scrolling I saw this.



Of course I immediately wondered if this was the work of a trickster with too much time on his hands and a grudge to bear against the Dallas Symphony, so I opened a new tab and Googled “dallas symphony beethoven festival brochures.”

Turns out, it’s real. In fact, one of the first few links directed to the photographers’ Facebook page:

The VP of Marketing at Dallas Symphony Orchestra is really shaking things up!

And firming things up, too. Wow. o_o

Earlier this year we collaborated with the DSO Marketing Department to create imagery very different from what the Symphony has used in the past to promote their Beethoven Festival.

Do tell.

Bringing in new patrons was his goal.

We’ll come back to this.

and we were proud to be part of the DSO’s new effort. Building excitement is well, exciting! Thinking and DOING what is ‘outside the box’ is both challenging as well as rewarding for us.

Outside the box and the shirt, apparently.

There’s plenty more to come, stay tuned!

More coming? o_o

Anyway. I saw this brochure, and immediately had to solicit my Facebook friends’ opinions about it, because apparently I’m a stereotypical Millennial who can only engage with contemporary media while using multiple social media platforms. Synergy.

Sample opinions from current Minnesota Orchestra patrons:


Oh they’ll get a lot of hate mail for this

Isn’t there a ‘no nipples’ rule for classical music?

And my favorite, from a gay dude:

I just choked on my burrito

OK, so it was official: I wasn’t a freak for hating Beefcake Beethoven.

Let’s take another look.

In case you forgot what it looked like

In case you forgot what he looked like from ten seconds ago

I don’t even know what’s going on here. There’s a dude. I’m assuming he’s Beethoven? I’ll make that assumption. So Ludwig here is wearing a…part of a period costume, yet he’s sitting on a modern chair, therefore straddling (hehe – straddling) a blurred line between past and present. Ludwig wants everyone to know that A) he is Ripped, and B) he is Waxed. Also, he is super keen to show off his junk. Because the sexiest thing about Beethoven was not his passionate nature, or his tragic upbringing, or his ability to change the entire course of cultural history: no, the thing that made ladies weakest was that revolutionary groin. Looks they forgot a letter when they named the Eroica symphony, am I right? And just in case we viewers somehow saw this photo without noticing the crotch, the photographer asked Ludwig to put his hand, decorated by a ruffled cuff and a ring, on the inside of his thigh. These visual cues serve as a metaphorical neon arrow pointing straight into Beethoven’s nether-regions. And then the brochure designers overlaid a diagonal line over the aforementioned zone, too. The result? An image that screams: Behold the crotch of Beefcake Beethoven! YES, I can SEE the CROTCH. Thanks for the…heads up, Dallas Symphony.

I admit: I’m not in marketing. I don’t have access to studies that indicate that Dallas residents will respond positively or negatively to this type of campaign. Plus, I’m not the target demographic (“new patrons” are the target demographic, not “high-strung buttoned-up twenty-something orch-dork nerd-attendees”). But I am interested in selling orchestra tickets and raising revenue, and what works and what doesn’t and why. And because of that interest, I wonder if this kind of sexualized imagery will become a more pronounced trend as orchestras try to expand their audiences and experiment with new marketing styles.

I’ve got some haphazard thoughts, both about this cover, and the trend in general.

1) The most pressing question: Why bother Photoshopping in Beethoven’s six-pack? Here’s the original photo; above is the brochure. There’s quite a difference there. Granted, I’m a biromantic asexual woman who doesn’t find much of anything physical attractive, so I’m probably not the right person to be pontificating on sexual desirability, but… Why? (WHY?) The original dude is perfectly aesthetically acceptable. So what’s the intended message with the Photoshop? A guy with a six-pack is necessary to sell orchestral music? Beethoven did crunches? Orchestral music should be sold with the same rigorous standards of artificiality we apply to our underwear models? Maybe there’s no reason, besides Photoshopped six-packs are fun?

2) For a substantial chunk of the audience, an orchestra concert is not only a fun way to spend a Friday night out. Music is spiritual nourishment. (That being said, I concede that patrons of the Minnesota Orchestra may well be more sensitive to this particular motivation, since every lockout concert was imbued with a sacred purpose…) In that respect, hearing orchestral music live can be like a religious rite. And for better or for worse, a lot of people view composers (and to a lesser extent, performers) as kinds of saints. So to see Beethoven straddling his chair is akin to St. Peter showing off his…key to the kingdom, if you know what I mean. And obviously some patrons are turned off by this kind of imagery. I know the campaign is meant to bring in new bodies, but are you alienating anyone in the process? Is this edginess for edginess’s sake? If so, is it worth it?

3) Is Beethoven being objectified? If so, are we…um…okay with that? Merriam-Webster indicates that the verb “objectify” is “to treat as an object.” I’m pretty sure that’s what happening to poor Beefcake. After all, he’s not only been stripped of his shirt; he’s been stripped of his identity. There is nothing in the photo to indicate that he is a composer or even a musician. Heck, if the word Beethoven was scissored off the cover, you wouldn’t know who he is, what he does, or what he’s advertising. Your best guess would be that he’s a George Washington cosplayer who had trouble getting dressed that morning and then later got lost in a bus station. And sure: objectification is a thing, and it happens in advertising (/understatement). But is it a good idea here? Does objectifying a genius leave us less room to appreciate his work? Does it cheapen his revolutionary, earth-shattering music? Is that a false choice? Not sure.

4) Few orchestral musicians actually look that way. Tear off the tuxes and tails and you’re going to find…well, not this.

This is a thing.

^ Well, not usually.

While we’re on the subject, I have to say: I find the subtler sexuality around the tradition of classical music to be somewhat of a relief. Orchestral musicians’ physical appearance is relatively unimportant: what’s (…usually) more important is how we think, how we play, how we communicate. In fact, I wonder if the buttoned-down sexuality in classical music could be a selling point. Tiring of the fake boobs and butts in your entertainment? Well, come to the symphony. Our abs aren’t fake (obviously). We’re here, flaws and alls. This is real: heart-to-heart. No lip-synching; no electronic amplification. It’s a deeply human, deeply authentic connection. Not the kind I get from a half-dressed Beethoven impersonator.

But at the end of the day, I’m not the person they’re trying to get into the hall. I’m probably already there. So does my opinion really matter?

Some will argue I am wayyyyy over-analyzing a single image. To that I say:

Well, duh. Over-analyzing is kind of my thing.


*thumbs up*

But. The imagery we use when we promote our art says things: some obvious, some not-so. And I don’t think it’s strange to want to delve into what other orchestras are saying, obliquely or not, in their marketing materials. Very soon the Minnesota Orchestra’s 2014-2015 season will be announced. They won’t have the luxury of time to experiment with what styles of marketing campaigns will work and what won’t. They’ll have one big chance, and they can’t screw it up. And so I think it’s natural for Minnesotans to look around the country and wonder about what marketing tactics might work for us – and why. What lessons – if any – can be learned here? Should the Minnesota Orchestral Association be thinking about a Sexy Sibelius mascot? He could pose with our Grammy.

Anyway. One last point: despite the snarky skepticism, I do send kudos to the Dallas Symphony marketing department for being willing to try something new. I’m still not sure about the concept or execution of the cover, but I do like the other photos being used in the interior of the brochure. They’re a little steampunk: modern yet vintage, suggesting the power of a great orchestra concert to transport audiences into exciting, fantastical new worlds. I like that. That’s very cool.

But I want Beethoven’s crotch to stay the hell away from it.


What do you think? Should sexualized imagery be used to sell orchestral music? More importantly: why? And how?



Filed under The Orchestra Business

42 responses to “Advertising Beethoven’s Crotch

  1. eedman2013

    We need his music, not his crotch!

  2. Well, Emily I just spent a long career in marketing, and rule #1 is “Know Your Audience.” Maybe classical music lovers in Texas differ from those elsewhere, but I’d guess that this is a miss for them, too as well as me. Most probably won’t notice the picture, and go right to the season schedule to find out what the orchestra is playing. Besides, a cover like this is leading the audience to believe that the accompanying concerts would now feature nude women. That could increase ticket sales temporarily until folks find out they’ve been not-so-slightly misled.

  3. The only good thing about the photo is your commentary.

  4. JC

    When I attend a concert, pretty much all I see are gray hairs in the audience. And most groups continue to struggle to find sufficient audience. So why not do something like this? Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t — but marketeers in the arts world (at least the classical music part of that world) need to continue trying new approaches to appeal to younger audiences.

    I trust no one believes people flock to Miley Cyrus’ concerts because of her superb singing………….. : )

    • niragirl22

      counterpoint on the miley cyrus thing, she doesn’t really have anything else to present to the populous other than her slightly above average singing. But that’s just my opinion ^w^

  5. cztph

    I believe this marketing scheme was an inevitability. Pressure to think out of the box without real creative thinking (as in this case) can lead to a smaller box. This particular clique of marketers (3 of them maybe?) probably enjoyed this ‘new’ look and had plenty of laughter and self stroking along the way. I myself don’t like it. A lot of oohs and ahhs perhaps but little content.

  6. “The imagery we use when we promote our art says things: some obvious, some not-so. And I don’t think it’s strange to want to delve into what other orchestras are saying, obliquely or not, in their marketing materials.”

    The most important point in your post, Emily, and what anyone marketing an art, any art, needs to remember. The point is to say something about the art. What if people arrived at Dallas Symphony concerts expecting to see Beefcake Beethoven there? They’d be disappointed, maybe even annoyed. You don’t want your customers to feel that way. You want them happy and satisfied as much as possible.

    Having said that, Beethoven was rather infamous for his sexual dalliances, from what I understand. But is that what the DSO selling? No. They want people to come to hear the music. This is not a good visual because it’s not at all about the music, not that it’s a sexual image.

    I’ve worked in advertising and marketing, and I wrote ad copy for the Minnesota Orchestra many years ago. My focus always was on the music and the concert experience. There’s more than enough that can be said about that.

    Good to see you back in fine form, Emily! Thanks for the “entertainment” this morning….(smile)

  7. DL

    I’m not so puritanical as to demand that orchestral music be exclusively cerebral. So I wonder if this bit of eye-candy, while not my preferred flavor, was intended to allude to–and promise–an emotional, visceral appeal from the actual concert. Of course, I’m referring to the music and not the costumes of the players. (I think the last line of JC’s comment above summed it up nicely.) It’s up to the musicians to make good on that promotional promise.

    • DL

      In fact, I think this advertising approach is rather sly humor, a subtle visual pun in which a type of image so emblematic of a popular literary form, the Harlequin romance, is employed to promote the music of a composer who helped introduce–and popularize–the Romantic style of music.

      • That’s an interesting interpretation I hadn’t thought of, thanks. And it might be borne out by the fact that the images on the inside of the brochure are very whimsical. If that was the intention, I wish there had been more in the cover image to suggest sly humor, whether through border design, font choice, color palette, pose, maybe even the guy’s expression. But as it’s presented, it seems to me like we’re supposed to take it seriously.

  8. GGSlade

    Anne-Sophie Mutter. Strapless dresses. Need I say more?

    • Wellllllllllll to be fair, a sexy soloist is a whole different ballgame than a sexy composer or a sexy orchestra. In my opinion. There’s a long tradition of using one’s sex appeal to establish an identity as a soloist, and so I think that’s maybe a bit less controversial / bizarre. Maybe. Not sure. But good point.

  9. GGSlade

    And, by the way, is the model anyone of note? I mean, we all know it’s not LvB, but is it…someone? Music Director JvZ?

    • Now I have a mental image of Osmo posing in a Beethoven costume for the cover of a re-issue of the Orchestra’s Beethoven cycle.

      • GGSlade

        I think it’s time for Marketing to swing into gear. I’m seeing a calendar–The Orchestra’s 12 (or however many there are) Principals, all together in the altogether.

  10. If you think novel, out-of-the-box marketing strategy for classical music has to be tasteless and repulsive, think again:

  11. The marketing catch phrase “lowest common denominator” has never made so much sense. And ew.

  12. Well it caught my attention but wouldn’t go to the orchestra based on this advertisement. I think I like Beethoven just the way he is. Great post. Love your wit! :)

  13. DL

    Edgy sells these days.

  14. As far as marketing goes, people are definitely taking notice!

  15. Apparently it’s not just Beethoven’s wig that’s big! One thing I’ll say for them, it’ll get people talking. Looks like the photo is being used in a billboard too. We’ll see if it puts asses in the seats.

  16. I am in marketing and into classical music – though I don’t work in classical music-, and no, I would never make a Beethoven brochure like this. Beethoven is sort of like sacred to me…

  17. I guess the point is that people take notice. I’m sure they could do that without sexualising the photo though. They might not have realised how it looked either. Then again, I don’t think you couldn’t notice, especially with both the shirt undone and his legs spread…

  18. that’s a change all right. How about Moonlight Sonata?

  19. That’s about right for Dallas. As an example, I give you the tv series by that name. And just so you don’t think I’m stereotyping Texans in general, I live over by Fort Worth, a whole 30 miles away. There’s a world of difference in that space.

  20. You should win an award for ‘Best Blog Title’ :) LOL!!!

  21. Reblogged this on West Coast Review and commented:
    A classic. Oh my goodness.

  22. I don’t know if it will put more butts in the seats, but if everyone sits like that, the concert hall will fill up twice as fast. Maybe they can charge more for Beethoven seating, like the airlines do…

  23. Great article. There has been so much talk about what women look like in classical music these days, this was surely the next step.

  24. Sex sells. Younger gen needs to start to see opera and orchestra as sexy and hip or it will die a slow death. Not sure they got the execution right–concept needs to be more subtle–but they certainly got my attention:). Glad I wasn’t eating a burrito.

  25. Byunghun

    too much thinking? both his crotch and music seems fascinating. ;)

  26. eileen049

    I’ll keep this simple….Creepy!!!

  27. Ha! I LOVED the George Washington cosplayer who had costume probs and then got lost at the bus station bit! Having reached middle-age but not quite feeling ready to define myself as “asexual” (yet…), this image does nothing for me. And it has nothing to do with the Beethoven I know and love. Even the bored look on this guy’s face is making me tither.

    What type of people are they hoping to draw? Someone who buys a symphony subscription based on solely on THIS sort of sales pitch is bound to be disappointed when they get to the concert. Or are they planning to use disco lights?

  28. Brilliant marketing technique; appeal to a broader demographic with a witty [ahem] entrée. Genius.

  29. Well, as the well popular saying goes … “sex sells.” Personally, I think it’s distasteful, but then again, one has to give some credit to this “shocker ad” for a classical music venue to “boldly go where no man has gone before.”

  30. Haha ohh my. As much as I love the fact that every time the brochure came up again in the post and was cracking up I do feel like it’s a tad distasteful. I think it’s brilliant to grab the attention and shock factor for some. But I would be nervous/afraid of what would happen if this phenomenon just escalated. So it’s comical, will take attention, and maybe bring something fresh to this platform. BUT I would hate to see this happen across the board. Nice post!

  31. Beethoven one of the best!

  32. Reblogged this on Taking Back Today and commented:
    So well said! Love this blog! I may be developing as a contemporary artist, but I’ll never forget my classical roots! Also when all the other girls were dreaming of Brad Pitt I used to fantasize about life as Beethoven’s wife….I admired him so much regardless of what he looked like. This is demeaning to his genius and to classical music in general.

  33. Just goes to show that anything sells, regardless of whether it should be sold or not. :P

  34. The more crazy thing about the cover image is the WIG…. Beethoven never sported wigs after his early teens. Wigs were the symbol of a bygone age of stiff conventions. Beethoven’s hairdo symbolized the new age of individual naturalness, something that even nowadays has its influence:

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