What Do You Get When You Mix History and Odd Behavior?

Colonial Williamsburg’s recent television ad campaign!

We here at the American Hysterical Society firmly believe that history doesn’t sell. The History Channel is all the proof you’ll ever need of that. Most Americans are not interested in pure history, research, interpretation, or historiography (we’d bet most of you were turned off just reading that sentence). This puts museums in an increasingly difficult position. We’re trained to do that boring stuff, but boring stuff does not resonate with our potential visitors. So we turn to ad agencies, people experienced in spinning and selling, for help.

When these two worlds meet it can make for some awkward moments, as you can watch below.

This one is aimed at couples. We’re not sure what kind of couples. The word boogie suggests it’s geared for those in their 50s or 60s who fondly remember their courtship during the Bicentennial.

Then there’s this one where a folk art “couple” discuss their possible vacation plans, which is exactly as exciting as it sounds (oh, and we hate to break it them, but folk art doesn’t exist).

These next three are different cuts of the same commercial wherein your visit to CW will cause some stranger to invade your home, join you in the shower, spend time in the bathroom with your tweenage daughter, give your son the gift of sadism, and seduce your wife (by the way, we think they should have replaced the alarm clock buzzer with a crowing cock).

So why did Colonial Williamsburg commission these new ads? Sally McConnell, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s director of strategic communications, said they went in this new direction because, “It’s time for us to break through the perception that this is just a fourth-grade field trip.” It worked. It’s clearly a fifth grade field trip now. And a disturbing one at that.

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About T.H. Gray

T.H. Gray is the self-appointed court jester and Dr. Demento for the history museum field. A lifelong museum professional and reenactor, he is a graduate of the prestigious Peale-Barnum Public History Museum Studies Program. Until 2011, when the AHS hired him away, he was on staff at the Benjamin Dover Memorial Museum & Swimming Pool ("Our History is All Wet!"). He remembers when museums were still about history, science, and art. BTW, all of these posts say they are by T.H. Gray because he can't turn off the byline. Credit, when due, is given. View all posts by T.H. Gray

6 responses to “What Do You Get When You Mix History and Odd Behavior?

  • vintagejenta

    Okay, the first couple are just dumb and the extended cut of “Colonial Williamsburg Stays With You” is creepy, but the one with the kids is pretty hilarious. “My first pillory” indeed!

    • T.H. Gray

      That one is funny in parts, but it’s also full of mixed messages. Did you see the look on the mom’s face when her son opened the pillory? We wonder if that’s the look Williamsburg is hoping to inspire?

      Thanks for visiting the Hysterical Society!

      • vintagejenta

        I was focusing more on the bewigged gentleman’s look of pride, nostalgia, and glee when the kid opened it. HILARIOUS. But yes, definitely mixed messages. The curling iron scene was pretty funny too. You’ve got to wonder what Colonial Williamsburg’s actual agenda is here, though.

      • T.H. Gray

        We’re pretty sure their agenda is to make money. To make that happen, Williamsburg hired the people who gave us the Geico Gekko to help them try and overcome most people’s aversion to history and museums.

        We feel Williamsburg, like Walter Donovan, chose poorly.

  • Lynn Pankonin

    I am a huge fan of your postings! A museum professional for well over 30 years (and no longer an idealistic young curator) it’s refreshing to find others infusing humor and common sense into the often somewhat uptight world of museum historic interpretation. The Williamsburg ads – well, you are spot-on regarding the creep factor.

    • T.H. Gray

      Lynn, thanks for the saying such nice and possibly accurate things. We do try to be funny and sensible but, if our inbox is any indication, we fail at them. So it’s nice to know someone thinks we’re doing all right.

      Thanks again!

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