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Web Tool Brings Unreal Response for Museum's Surrealism Exhibit

Museums around the world can learn an online lesson or two from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, CT, as it welcomed the return of its permanent collection of surrealist artists like Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso.

An online campaign initiated by the 161-year-old museum and developed by Glastonbury, CT, ad agency Cronin and Company Inc. doubled visits to the site at www.wadsworthatheneum.org. Components included a SurrealPainter Web tool, banner ads and the seeding of blogs.

Central to the campaign is the tool at www.wadsworthatheneum.org/painter. Visitors through Dec. 18 can choose from various colorful backgrounds and objects, then flip, copy, layer or scale them. Once completed, the online artwork can be titled, printed, published and e-mailed to family and friends.

Three alternating banner ads on the Hartford Courant newspaper's sites at www.ctnow.com and www.courant.com invited visitors to click through to the designated landing page on the museum's site. Here they could create their surrealist postcard.

The campaign coincides with the museum's Oct. 6-Dec. 31 exhibit, “Dali, Picasso and the Surrealist Vision.” The show, which features the museum's collection of surrealist and modern art, returns to the museum after traveling nationwide for two years.

“Really, the biggest challenge that we faced was, can we drive people to the exhibition and the Web site using purely Web advertising and Web tools?” said Dan Weingrod, vice president and managing director of Cronin Digital. “They had always relied on more traditional forums: newspapers and radio in the local markets. Plus, they had always done a New York Times Connecticut section piece, and the Wadsworth is trying to reach out to a younger audience base.”

Consider the results of Cronin's ongoing effort. From June — when the museum debuted its site that was redesigned by Adams & Knight, Avon, CT — through September, the site attracted 500 to 700 unique sessions a day. But since the online campaign and a coinciding landing page began in mid-September, daily unique sessions crossed 1,000 and in some weeks even touched 8,000.

Nearly 50 percent of the site traffic is attributed to the new SurrealPainter tool. So far, nearly 3,500 submissions — paintings created — have been posted on the online gallery.

“During the opening week of the exhibition, when buzz was at its peak, the painter was getting a new submission every 90 seconds,” said Dan McKinley, the 25-year-old communications and marketing manager of the Wadsworth Atheneum.

Through last month, the museum's campaign received 1.8 million impressions and 4,930 clicks. The click-through rate was 0.27 percent on the museum's banners at www.ctnow.com and www.courant.com versus the normal rate of 0.15 percent for those sites. At its peak, the click-through rate hovered around 0.5 percent, McKinley said.

Even more important, there were 1,366 conversions, meaning that 1,366 people clicked and then used the SurrealPainter tool. Cronin measured the conversion-to-click ratio at 27.71 percent.

And yes, those online visitors also voted with their feet.

“Attendance has been great,” McKinley said. “We've seen a lot of visitors to the museum who've used the online campaign. We survey people when they come in, which we've always done, and we asked people how they heard about the show and the museum.

“Surrealism is kind of an accessible art form to a lot of people,” he said, “and we wanted to build that bridge from the person's computer to actually stepping foot in the museum.”

Mickey Alam Khan covers Internet marketing campaigns and e-commerce, agency news as well as circulation for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters

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