Clear Ink Aims to Bring Opera Back to the Masses

Before Survivor, scary movies, slow-speed car chases, Napster or MTV, there was opera—lowbrow entertainment for a low-tech time. Only later did the art form become the pet performance medium of the monied classes.

The San Francisco Opera harkens back to opera’s lowbrow origins in a new, determinedly unconventional outdoor and print campaign in Northern California that invites the hoi polloi to return to the opera house. The effort was created by the opera’s agency of record, Clear Ink in Walnut Creek, Calif.

“Opera was meant to be entertainment for the masses,” said Judy Mathieson, senior account supervisor. “In the days when opera was created, people went to it the way they go to movies today. They dressed casually, they cheered when they liked it and threw food when they didn’t. … This campaign is all about overcoming the perception that [opera] is a stuffy, highbrow thing. We wanted to position the opera as cool—that it gets it.”

All the better to woo youths, of course. With a young target and a counterintuitive position to sing about, the opera’s campaign copy is the very model of edgy. Billboards, for example, proclaim, “Amps? We don’t need no stinking amps” and “Multimedia? We invented it.”

Cafe cards scattered throughout Silicon Valley urge consumers to “Flee your cubicle for a world where the villains don’t wear khakis.” Similar placements in San Francisco declare, “Divas, we got divas.” There are also sly references to actual operas, such as a print ad for “The Tsar’s Bride” that says, “Some girls would just die to be the wife of the king. She did.”

The mix includes outdoor boards, wallscapes, taxi tops, the aforementioned cafe cards in bars and restaurants, street-pole banners, bus shelters and full-page ads in the San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News and the West Coast edition of The New York Times. The effort, which broke last week, runs through October.

Clear Ink claimed billings of around $100 million in 1999. It also handles such clients as Oral-B, Wine, Peoplesoft, Restoration Hardware and