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Exhibitions as sub-brands: an exploratory study

Ruth Rentschler (School of Management & Marketing, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia)
Kerrie Bridson (School of Management & Marketing, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia)
Jody Evans (Melbourne Business School, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia)

Arts Marketing: An International Journal

ISSN: 2044-2084

Article publication date: 30 September 2014




The purpose of this paper is to explore the adoption of major exhibitions, often called blockbusters, as a sub-branding strategy for art museums. Focusing the experience around one location but drawing on a wide data set for comparative purposes, the authors examine the blockbuster phenomenon as exhibition packages sourced from international institutions, based on an artist or collection of quality and significance. The authors answer the questions: what drives an art museum to adopt an exhibition sub-brand strategy that sees exhibitions become blockbusters? What are the characteristics of the blockbuster sub-brand?


Using extant literature, interviews and content analysis in a comparative case study format, this paper has three aims: first, to embed exhibitions within the marketing and branding literature; second, to identify the drivers of a blockbuster strategy; and third, to explore the key characteristics of blockbuster exhibitions.


The authors present a theoretical model of major exhibitions as a sub-brand. The drivers identified include the entrepreneurial characteristics of pro-activeness, innovation and risk-taking, while the four key characteristics of the blockbuster are celebrity; spectacle; inclusivity; and authenticity.

Practical implications

These exhibitions are used to augment a host art museum’s own collection for its stakeholders and differentiate it in the wider cultural marketplace. While art museum curators seek to develop quality exhibitions, sometimes they become blockbusters. While blockbusters are a household word, the terms is contested and the authors know little about them from a marketing perspective.

Social implications

Art museums are non-profit, social organisations that serve the community. Art museums therefore meet the needs of multiple stakeholders in a political environment with competing interests. The study draws on the experiences of a major regional art museum, examining the characteristics of exhibition sub-brands and the paradox of the sub-brand being used to differentiate the art museum. This paper fills a gap in both the arts marketing and broader marketing literature.


The use of the identified characteristics develops theory where the literature has been silent on the blockbuster sub-brand from a marketing perspective. It provides an exemplar for institutional learning on how to initiate and manage quality by popular exhibition strategies.



Rentschler, R., Bridson, K. and Evans, J. (2014), "Exhibitions as sub-brands: an exploratory study", Arts Marketing: An International Journal, Vol. 4 No. 1/2, pp. 45-66.



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Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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