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Marketing to Procrastinators
Overcoming the hurdles of putting off the things we love and enjoy.

by Holly Mulcahy
January 4, 2010

It seems to happening everywhere for symphony orchestras: low ticket sales to concerts. Unfortunately, this has become an all too familiar headline and the really surprising news is when an orchestra has a full house of paying patrons!

But if the New York Times article from December 28th has any merit the ticket sales decline could be connected, in part, to something in our human nature. The author of the article explains how humans tend to procrastinate pleasure.
Then you just need the strength to cash in your gift certificates, drink that special bottle of wine, redeem your frequent flier miles and take that vacation you always promised yourself. If your resolve weakens, do not succumb to guilt or shame. Acknowledge what you are: a recovering procrastinator of pleasure.
It sounds odd, but this is actually a widespread form of procrastination — just ask the airlines and other marketers who save billions of dollars annually from gift certificates that expire unredeemed…But it has taken awhile for psychologists and behavioral economists to analyze this condition. Now they have begun to explore the strange impulse to put off until tomorrow what could be enjoyed today.
Take any orchestra that has gone out of business over the past decade; you can see a number of classical music enthusiasts saying something like: "We love symphony concerts; we just never found time to go."  It's not like there are no classical music lovers left, or that we aren't working to educate our public.
Take the Honolulu Symphony as an example. They recently filed bankruptcy, but still managed to give one last concert as a "thank you" to their patrons. According to the article from the local ABC affiliate, this concert was overflowing with people who came to show support and love of their symphony. But where were they over the past few years as the HSO struggled with ticket sales?
Consider this from one concertgoer at the Honolulu Symphony's "thank you" concert:
"The performance is very emotional because we don't know when we're ever going to have an orchestra again, and it's -- well, it's just a very special night for the whole community," said symphony fan Dean Tada. "Did you see the (crowd) of people waiting out front? It's a good demonstration of the need to have a professional orchestra."
I dare anyone involved in this business, especially philanthropic institutions interested in improving the orchestra business, to read the New York Times article and take the time and money to work with a psychologist for a season to see if they could improve the marketing angle and give the symphony a better edge against pleasure procrastinator syndrome. 

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