The Opera and the Oreo

Over the past two years, you have heard me talk about the need to meet today’s and tomorrow’s needs and interests while working to attract new audiences and keep traditionalists happy. I am always seeking out how others are trying to meet these same challenges.

In the September 21 issue of The Oregonian, there was a wonderful article titled, Opera Changes Its Tenor. The article describes how the Portland Opera is “serious about changing its snob appeal…The Ultimate goal is to provide everyone in the city with an opportunity to engage in this amazing art form, even those who do not have opera on their radar.” In recent years, the Opera has created the “Big Night,” which this year included a street fair, indoor concert, and an outdoor post-concert screening of the Marx Brothers’ movie “A Night at the Opera.” In the month of August, they even offered cyclists free beer and the opportunity to listen to the music if they stopped by their riverside office.

Now, I must admit I am not an opera aficionado (I have only been to one opera performance – Nabucco – which I saw in Vienna 10 years ago), yet this article really piqued my interest. I appreciate the Opera’s change-oriented mentality – trying “to meet people where they are at today.” Moreover, they described two relatively recent, cultural shifts affecting opera: supertitles (which give audiences line-by-line translations of the singers’ lines), and the Metropolitan Opera’s HD broadcasts (you see them in the movie theaters and later on PBS). This has made opera more accessible on many levels and enhanced people’s appreciation.

Another learning lesson comes from the Oreo cookie. As you may know, this year marks its 100th birthday. For its centennial year, Oreo has developed an engaging new marketing campaign. The cookie is designed in a myriad of colors and shapes, including, Elvis Presley, the Liberty Bell, and even with a spaceship tread mark in red crème in recognition of the recent Mars Rover landing. The Oreo brand is trying to “come alive and be playful.” It is breaking away from what we all know as just THE Oreo cookie.

As an aside, one of the greatest decisions made by Nabisco happened 25 years go this December when the Oreo cookie became a kosher product. The costly transformation (estimates are $50 million) took more than three years. Apparently, Nabisco owned 100 baking ovens measuring about 300 feet in length (nearly the length of a football field) and each had to be converted to be kosher.

The idea began when many of the country's major ice cream companies, most of them operating under kosher standards, wanted to make a product with authentic Oreos. There was just one problem -- Oreos were made with lard. Once Nabisco removed the lard, mainly for health reasons, going kosher became possible.

Both the Portland Opera and the Oreo are two well known brands. Many marketing people say that brands should “keep it simple” and repeat themselves constantly. Basically, this implies “what got you here will get you there.” However, times are changing. The book, The Cluetrain Manifesto, proposes that branding today should feel more like a conversation, a give and take between the consumer and the marketer. This is an important idea because “the consumer now appears to believe that the brand should earn its public attention the way all of us must. Say boring and repetitive stuff and you suffer the punishment that every bad conversationalist faces. First, we ignore you. Then, we exclude you.”

The Portland Opera is now updating its brand via accessible concerts, Twitter, free beer, and conversations with new attendees. The Oreo cookie is succeeding with its new shapes, colors and flavors. Amazingly, the cookie has over 28 million “likes” on Facebook. Federation, too, is making similar changes. We are focused on openness and accessibility, conversations with and within our community, and ways to increase active involvement in Jewish life.

Every organization and product tries to evolve with the times – to meet changing interests, tastes, and perceptions. But one thing we must always maintain – consistency. The focus is on great opera, performance after performance…delicious cookies that continue to maintain the same quality…and our mandate to build a caring and vibrant Jewish community. We have all been doing our part for many years. So no matter what changes we make to connect with people and meet today’s needs, we continue to maintain our historic mission. This is what has allowed the Portland Opera (48 years)…the Oreo cookie (100 years)…and the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland (92 years) to continue to thrive.

Please do not forget that Federation’s Annual Campaign is ongoing and your support is needed. Every gift increase of 10% or more and every new gift will be matched dollar for dollar by an anonymous donor. In addition, by “speeding up” our Annual Campaign efforts, Federation will save valuable resources for our community by reducing its own fundraising costs. Make your gift today and help support our community’s campaign efforts.

Shabbat shalom and I look forward to seeing many of you Sunday night at our Campaign Kick-Off Event.



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