Hip images for museums

A scratchy recording of an old French love song plays as a tall, demure beauty in an evening dress floats across a glimmering granite floor to an elevator which transports her through time and space.She passes Berlin and Paris, and arrives...

A scratchy recording of an old French love song plays as a tall, demure beauty in an evening dress floats across a glimmering granite floor to an elevator which transports her through time and space.

She passes Berlin and Paris, and arrives in New York. She walks up a set of stairs and sees an immense, Gothic cityscape: a scene borrowed from filmmaker Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

The voiceover comes in: ‘Les annees vingt. L’age des metropoles. Le Musee des Beaux Arts (‘The ’20s. The Age of the Metropolis.’)

This is part of the surreal, award-winning tv spot created for the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts by hipster Montreal ad agency Foug.

It is a great gig, and Foug President Pierre Audet knows it.

If there is one account any upstart agency would like, it is a museum. Just ask Geoffrey B. Roche, of Geoffrey B. Roche & Partners, which picked up the Royal Ontario Museum account in Toronto a few years ago.

In fact, there are similarities between Audet and Roche. Both were hipster art directors at large, high-profile agencies before they started their own shops.

No sooner had Audet and partners put the last bolt in their shingle in 1988 than they won the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts account.

The Roche history is similar, only it took place in Toronto a couple of years later. A museum is a great account because it gives an ad agency a rich palette of paint, and a clear, white canvas.

Theatre spots

A large portion of the Montreal museum’s media budget is spent on 80- to 100-second spots, which run in advance of films in theatres.

‘We try to approach the spots like they are not advertisements,’ Audet says.

‘It’s a creative challenge,’ he says. ‘It’s cinema advertising. And in the cinema you have to tell a story, otherwise the audience would get turned off.’

All of Foug’s museum advertising is esthetic and visual. There is no narration and no copy. The advertising is like a film short.

‘The cinema crowd is a natural target market because they are the people who go out,’ says Danielle Sauvage, director of communications at the Montreal museum.

‘Our job is to advertise each exhibition,’ Audet says. ‘We try to make each advertisement appeal to as large a group as possible so that people who are not part of the traditional art crowd become interested in the exhibit as well.’

He says his shop has been successful in reaching this goal.

Sauvage agrees, but says she feels some of the advertising was more effective than the rest. ‘I wonder, sometimes, if some of the ads were too creative.’

Foug’s cinema advertising is adapted for television. The campaign also consists of radio, outdoor and transit advertising. All creative work is based on the creative developed for the cinema advertising.

Ubiquitous ads

In spite of a $300,000 budget per exhibition, the Montreal museum’s advertising is ubiquitous. The city is coated with posters for the museum.

Audet says his shop cut two-for-one deals with most of the media. A lot of them are also exhibit sponsors as well, so that billboards which normally cost an advertiser $100 only cost the museum $50.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts advertises substantially more than any other museum in that city. No one else is nearly as consistent, as well-organized, and as well-financed.

Sauvage, who puts production budgets in the ‘low $50,000-range,’ believes it is hard to create everything you imagine with a budget of this size.

Realities of budget

She says the storyboard for ‘Les Annees Vingt’ was changed on shooting day to reflect the realities of the budget and she says she was disappointed that the changes had to be made.

‘You develop an idea, and you hope you can execute it with the budget you have, but when the producers and directors come running back to tell you that you can’t execute such and such a shot, what do you do?’ Audet asks.

Any great, small agency knows it must create excellence with tiny budgets.

This worries Sauvage.

Pressed for time

‘People are always pressed for time,’ she says. ‘Your film crew has to shoot between midnight and 4 a.m. because you can get them for less at that time. So much has to be improvised.’

Audet sees the situation differently.

He agrees small shops are restrained by limited budgets, but feels Foug and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts compensate by being able to attract top production talent and getting them to work for less.

‘The museum has a reputation for doing great work, so people are eager to get involved,’ Audet says. ‘There’s a lot of goodwill involved.’

Michael Judson is president of Publicite Judson Woods, a Montreal ad agency.