Mystery of the Pharaoh’s Marketing Campaign

Tutankhamun billboard at the Melbourne Museum
Where's the mask?

Transparency still hard to dig up according to those punters who visited the Melbourne Museum’s Golden Age of the Pharaohs exhibition.

For Mother’s Day, I took mum to the Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs exhibition at the Melbourne Museum. If you’re a Melbournian (or a TV watcher anywhere in Australia) you would have seen something of the aggressive marketing campaign preceding and during the exhibition.

Images of the boy king populate tram stops throughout the city, flags with his face flutter in Flinder’s Street and billboards continue the eternal stare of his death mask that appear in all of the campaign material.

The problem is it isn’t here.

The well-known death mask of Tutankhamun that everyone knows and is the corner stone of the exhibition’s marketing material doesn’t appear in the exhibition.

Imagine our surprise when, after moving through a warren of artefacts that help to explain the life the boy king grew up in, including more from around two generations before him, arriving at the end to a half-empty room that featured his sceptre, dagger and crown, but no mask.

Where is it? According to mask’s custodians, The Egypatian Museum in Cairo, it is too fragile to travel overseas (in fact, they’ve determined that it will likely never leave Cairo again). Then why has Melbourne Museum used it in its marketing material? The simple answer is recognition. Of all Tutankhamun’s artefacts, his death mask is the one that wowed the world. It is a beautiful piece of history; to be able to see it in your lifetime should be on the bucket list.

On the Museum’s part, it doesn’t claim to have the mask – it says so in the FAQ section of the museum’s website. Though you do have to go a fair way down the bottom of the page to find this:

Where is the Golden Mask?
Tutankhamun’s Golden Mask (or Funerary Mask or Death Mask) is at its home in Cairo at The Egyptian Museum. It is a very popular object that travelled to London and the USA in the 1970s exhibition, so many individuals have fond memories of it. Because it is so fragile, the Egyptian government has decided that it will not travel again.

So here’s my question: have we been duped? Were our expectations too high?

It has been said by some marketers that too much is assumed by customers once a campaign has been activated. But is that the fault of the consumer? Since my experience at the exhibition, I’ve heard a number of visitors having the same problem – expecting a death mask but coming up empty-handed at the end. I heard one suggest on commercial radio that the museum was capitalising on the popularity of the mask to get more feet through doors.

And when it faces stiff school-holiday competition from the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Zoo and Aquarium, who can blame it? But a reputation for transparency is hard to regain once lost (just ask the marketing team at Grill’d).

All I can say is we came away bewildered and wanting more – like the golden mask that I saw on the tram stops, billboards and fluttering flags.

1 thought on “Mystery of the Pharaoh’s Marketing Campaign

  1. Gemma Levett

    Firstly, thank you for bringing this perception of the advertising for the Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs exhibition to my attention.

    My name is Gemma Levett and I am the General Manager for Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, the exhibition organised by IMG and Arts and Exhibitions International (AEI), currently on display at Melbourne Museum.

    Working for AEI, one of the difficulties that we have faced with regard to the marketing campaign is that we wanted to show the face of the boy king – the exhibition focuses on him, his family, his daily life, and his roles as Pharaoh. Choosing a ‘hero image’ for the marketing campaign was therefore challenging. The Ancient Egyptians produced all of his burial items with the same face – that of Tutankhamun himself. They believed that the face presented on his funerary items would be the face he would have for eternity in his next life, and as such all representations of it appear the same.

    The image that we use for the marketing campaign, including the image you have included here of the banner outside Melbourne Museum, is that of the Canopic Coffinette which is the centerpiece artefact in the exhibition. Where possible we have shown some of the obvious distinguishing differences – the gold beard (the funerary mask’s beard is blue) and the crook and flail that he is holding (not present on the funerary mask). Where space was limited and we couldn’t effectively use the fuller image, we have included the image credit “Image: Canopic Coffinette. Not the Funerary Mask” to try and avoid any confusion.

    In response to some of the initial feedback received from our visitors, we have added a specific question within our FAQ section :

    “Tell me about the mask image used on the front of the advertising.
    The image is a detail from the golden canopic coffinette, one of the treasures from the exhibition, that held the liver of Tutankhamun; it too displays the face of the Boy King.”

    We have also added information screens on site at Melbourne Museum about the content inside the exhibition and the use of the marketing image, as well as increased the font size of the image credit for any new marketing material that is being published or installed throughout the city.

    As I hope you can see from this, we have tried to be transparent about the image that we are using for the marketing campaign. It is certainly not our intention to mislead anyone coming to the exhibition.

    Please be reassured that I am continuing to listen to the feedback of our visitors, and take steps to improve the transparency of the exhibition, the visitor experience, and to ensure the continued good reputation of all parties associated with it.

    Many thanks
    Gemma Levett
    General Manager
    Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs
    Arts and Exhibitions International

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