• Honolulu Symphony

Honolulu Symphony - A Night to Remember

The Honolulu Symphony was founded in 1900 by 45 local amateur musicians. Over the years, the organization grew to a full-sized orchestra performing a regular season of events each year at the Neil Blaisdell Center. The non-profit organization continued to grew in scope and magnitude.

The primary source of funding for the symphony came from corporate sponsors, public donations and ticket sales. By 1990, the symphony began to feel the impact of Hawaii's recession. Attendance and donations had fallen off dramatically and, as a result, corporate sponsorships followed suit. Money became tight and many musicians bailed out when they didn't get paid (some for over a year). By 1993, the symphony was completely out of money and on the verge of bankruptcy. Word had begun to leak out that 1993 would be the last season for the symphony. Something drastic was needed to generate renewed interest in the symphony and its events. Tickets needed to be sold. Donations needed to be made. To underlie this, people needed to understand that one of the state's major cultural hubs was in jeopardy of being lost.

We knew we needed to create a powerful message that could quickly reach the masses. We approached the problem of letting the public know that, without their help, a cultural icon was about to be lost. By creating a message that would get the attention of the public and the media, corporate citizens would also join in to help save the symphony. Our concept was grown out of a quote by G. K. Chesterton, when he said, "The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost." We wanted a message with power, with impact, with emotion. We wanted a message that could not be avoided.

One television commercial was assembled. It used original black & white scenes from the film: A Night to Remember, about the sinking of the Titanic (long before James Cameron got ahold of the idea). In the 1949 movie, the ship's band plays while the passengers try to escape the sinking luxury liner. The commercial primarily used the scenes of the band playing on the deck of the ship. In the final scene, an announcer states simply: "Just a reminder, the Honolulu Symphony could use your support to remain afloat."

Advance copies of the PSA commercial were sent to all news media, and with the support of the television stations, the spot was afforded prime spots on the air. Within three months, individual and season ticket purchases were at their highest levels ever. Corporate sponsorships began to grow again. The symphony was back in business and within a year was financially stable. New musicians began to join and special event performances had grown. Due to popular demand, special performance series: Classical Masterworks, the Honolulu Pops, an Unplugged series and the Ohana (family) Series were added. In 1996, Samuel Wong, the assistant conductor under Zubin Mehta of the New York Philharmonic, was brought in as Musical Director.

For the first time in its history, the symphony began attracting major guest performers including Mariah Carey, Natalie Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and Phil Collins - pretty darn cool.

Produced while at Ogilvy & Mather.

View the "Titanic" television commercial: