Love it or hate it, The Franklin Institute has a new public face, even a new (shorter name): The Franklin. Founded in 1824, the Philadelphia science museum has been a popular tourist attraction, despite its on-again-off-again reputation as a dusty and dated destination for reluctant field-trippers. Hoping to attract larger audiences and improve its public appearance, the museum has booked blockbuster traveling exhibits, including the recent King Tut, Titanic and Body Worlds exhibits, which in my opinion are more spectacle than science.
The re-branding of the museum underlies the shift in The Franklin’s public programming. What was once a dated and dusty science museum is now a major touring venue of glitzy ‘edutainment.’ Removing “Institute” from its name, The Franklin now positions itself as a contemporary, hip, and accessible attraction. Karen Heller of the Philadelphia Inquirer considers this shift to be a “dumbing down of science,” which I think is a harsh judgment. Having worked for years at a competing museum in the Philadelphia area, I think their intentions are admirable; it’s difficult to convince hundreds of people to take a risk, especially when everyone in the room is a PhD expert of something.
The execution of the rebranding, however, is a bit disappointing. Swayed by viral marketing trends (read: “cheap,” in the non-profit world), The Franklin chose to spread the word about its facelift via Flash mobs bearing signs that say “curious?” accompanied by a cryptic URL. The URL, is pure fluff: random video clips with no explanation, all positioned beneath The Franklin’s logo. I’m all for non-traditional advertising and innovating methods of communication, but only if there’s some actual substance being conveyed. Go to curioustf.org and judge for yourself.
The lesson to be learned here is that content is key. You’ve got their attention now, but what do you do with it?
Sure, start a blog, put your company on Facebook, post low-budget videos on YouTube, but do it with a clear intention, not simpy for novelty’s sake. Say something (something relevant), give your audience a reason to come back, initiate an dialogue with your audience. Don’t do it just because everyone else, and don’t do it because your competitor ISN’T. Do it because you have something to say that is said best via non-traditional methods.