Friday, 19 December 2014

MONA and The Art of Words

Over breakfast this morning one of my clever classmates reminded me that the heart of communication is not simply what we say, but how we say it. It was a simple, offhand comment that got me thinking about the many messages we’re bombarded with daily, and how a brand I experienced over the weekend cut through this noise using the simplest of tools.

Thanks to an invitation from good friends to share in their Tasmanian wedding, I had the amazing pleasure of visiting Hobart over the weekend to spend time at MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art. Yet to even reach its 4th birthday, this irreverent private gallery burst into existence at the dawn of 2011, the child of the Tasmanian millionaire David Walsh. In his own words, he described MONA as a ‘subversive adult Disneyland’ (Young, 2011), and having experienced it for myself I can attest to its ability to both delight and disturb in equal measure.

MONA sits like a fort on the headland, protecting its secrets within
Much has been written about the stunning architectural feats of Nonda Katisilidis and his masterful integration of concrete, stone, rusted steal and glass to create a cavernous underground gallery akin to an oversized labyrinthine playground. Even more words have been penned about the art collection itself, controversially capturing the visceral journey of life to death.

The art and architecture have created a unique destination for Hobart, but that’s been well documented. What I wanted to explore was a more intimate experience with the brand, reinforcing the brand experience with how it expressed itself in simple words.

The cavernous labyrinthe playground at the heart of MONA
As a young upstart to the traditional and stayed art institutes, it was the words MONA used to speak with viewers that struck me with their unique approach. To put it simply, MONA spoke as a self-confident young upstart, happy to irreverently poke fun at the establishment. It leverages humour and colloquialism to reposition art as less highbrow and more approachable, cleverly opening itself up to a wider audience of consumers.

Using this tone of voice also worked to create a unique position in the art world, one many older institutions would find hard to attack, through its choice of words. The opening description at MONA captures this tone nicely, and sets up the execution throughout all touch points of written marketing communications; ‘Looking at art used to be boring. It still is, maybe, but at least here at MONA you can get drunk and/or rage against the machine’.

The O gallery tour app at MONA consistently employs the brands tone of voice

Other examples include The O, MONA’s art tour app provided to all guests upon arrival. Where most galleries would present the curators commentary, MONA referred to theirs as ‘Art Wank’, irreverently illustrated with a stylized male phallus. Locals, who are provided free entry to the gallery, were told ‘If you are Tasmanian, and identify yourself as such (yes, yes, second head, etc etc), you get in for free’. The VIP lounge on the high-speed ferry is called the Posh Pit, available ‘for a mere fifty bucks’ which is ‘posh as’. Even the branded festivals hit the mark, with the upcoming MOFO sticking it to the system.

The MONA festival MOFO plays up the irreverence
They are just words and a small part of what the MONA brands says about itself. But with the noise of communication competing for our attention, they represent an important channel to consider in delivering a consistent and engaging brand experience for consumers. The pen is mightier than the sword, and a brands tone of voice an asset not to be forgotten.

Duncan Bell
Current student in the Master of Marketing program at the University of Sydney Business School

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