Are stealth marketing techniques appropriate to use in museums?

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 13.03.2019
National institutions increase donations with retail tactics
Many of London’s national museums are significantly increasing visitor donations by using psychological strategies normally employed by retailers, according to a report in this week’s Sunday Times.

The article described how institutions are using supermarket-style nudge techniques and stealth marketing to boost their income.

One such technique involves staff requesting donations from visitors queuing at the entrance – a social pressure tactic that relies on people finding it more difficult to refuse while being watched by others.

The article described how many donation signs are in black, a colour that is associated with authority and “doing what you’re told”.

The report also detailed how, at the Science Museum, staff invite visitors to give voluntary donations at a welcome desk standing at the gateway to its exhibitions, with both the request and the desk acting as psychological prompts. The museum said that a recent survey had shown that only 1% of its visitors felt obliged to donate.

Contactless donation points, which make it easier for people to “tap and give” rather than parting with hard cash, are also becoming more widespread. The Natural History Museum has contactless terminals that encourage visitors to donate a suggested amount of either £5, £10 or £20. According to behavioural psychologists, the £20 option acts as a decoy that makes people more likely to choose the slightly cheaper £10 donation.

Some institutions have doubled their donations using these techniques, according to the report. All of the museums mentioned said it was made clear to visitors that all donations were voluntary.

The sector is increasingly exploring ways of boosting self-generated income from donations and retail sales due to funding cuts. But are stealth marketing tactics appropriate to use in museums? Vote in our poll and have your say.


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14.03.2019, 11:46
I'm very disappointed with this piece.

Describing having a cash desk or asking people in a queue as "stealth" marketing is ridiculous - if anything it's the opposite of stealthy!

We have never had a single complaint about our requests to visitors for a donation, and the fact that a very large percentage of visitors do not give, while disappointing to us and something I would love to change, shows that they clearly do not feel under any undue pressure to give!