Outreach and Advertising

Near where I work, there’s a cool, temporary little museum promotion that might be adaptable for a number of different situations.

It’s inside the Water Tower Place, probably the busiest of the malls on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. The Museum of Science and Industry has placed a number of kiosks that promote a couple of its exhibits, “Christmas Around the World” and “Dr. Seuss and the Art of Invention.”

The Museum of Science and Industry's kiosk

MSI's Christmas Around the World kiosk. Apologies for the dark cameraphone picture.

The kiosks are, perhaps, more eye-catching than they are functional. On them, you can decorate a virtual Christmas tree using ornaments reflecting cultures around the world. For each nation that you pick, you have an option of four ornaments; the kiosk also shares a bit of info about the holiday traditions of each country.

When you’ve finished, you can e-mail it to yourself or a friend, which can be printed out and used as a coupon for a discount on admission.

When I first saw the kiosks, I thought they were a true companion piece to the exhibit, and I was a bit disappointed in their minimal functionality. Of course, that’s not fair. No doubt the museum is placing these kiosks at their expense, and I assume they’re also paying for the space. (There’s also a quite dramatic display wrapping the mall’s glass elevators.) So they aren’t under any kind of obligation to make this anything more than a novel, enjoyable promotion.

The Grinch decal around elevators

The Grinch at Water Tower Place

And as marketing, I think it works quite well. It’s memorable to see these kiosks, even if you don’t actually use one, and the multi-story Grinch is unmissable. (Water Tower Place is a vertical mall, so there’s almost no place that’s not within site of the central elevators.) There’s also plenty of bright, colorful signage to show what it’s promoting. And the fact that it’s Dr. Seuss doesn’t hurt either—whose day isn’t brightened a bit by seeing that?

I think it’s great for the museum to be in an unexpected place like this. Of course, MSI is a huge museum, and I’ve always assumed (without any real justification) a relatively wealthy one. A promotion like this may well not be within the budget of most museums.

I can’t make any more than a guess here, but it seems that something with more of an outreach and educational angle might induce a venue to offer discounted or free space. Most places would want to be associated with the public service aspect of a museum. Of course, whether that is more valuable than the money they might earn from selling that space would be subject to negotiation in every separate instance. But it seems worthwhile to at least consider.

Another beyond-the-museum* idea: The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum decorated a tree at O’Hare Airport. I haven’t seen it, as I haven’t traveled through O’Hare in a while and it doesn’t seem to have any photos online, but according to our volunteer newsletter, it’s located at baggage claim 5 in terminal 3, and in line with the museum’s goals, is decorated with recycled and up-cycled ornaments, including animals and garlands of felt made from recycled plastic bottles, and “berries” made from old wine corks.

* Hey, that’s almost the name of the blog!


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