Sunday, 14 December 2008

Why We Celebrate: Part Two

Back in June, I briefly discussed the key players in special events: organizers, participants, and spectators. I left that blog entry with a promise to return and give what I believe to be the reasons why each of these individual groups becomes part of a special event. This is the beginning.

We view the well-rehearsed, slick productions of big-name concert artists, the fast-paced, half-time shows at football games, and the emotionally charged opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games with awe. To most viewers, these elaborate productions seem effortless, moving seamlessly from one act or program segment to the next, each one building on the last until the finale is reached amidst a burst of fireworks and patriotic or high-energy music. Effortless they appear. Easy to plan and execute they are not. They all require an abundance of creativity, superior organizational skill, an intimate knowledge of performance and psychology, and an unwavering dedication to the task at hand, specifically by the two key players and their teams, organizers/owners, and participants. Each of these two parties needs to know why they are contributing their time and effort to the event.

The first of these, event organizers and owners, have any one or more of five primary reasons for holding an event. These are religious, political, social, educational, and commercial. This has been true since prehistory and across all societies. It always comes down to fear of the unknown (religion), drive for power (politics), building or maintaining group solidarity (social), imparting messages and lessons (educational), and lust for money (commerce).

Interestingly, one often has to look deeper to find the real motivation for an organizer to hold an event. At first glance, an organizer may state something else. For example, increasing tourism as a reason is a euphemistic alternative for profit-seeking by local or national governments. Gaining cultural knowledge as a reason typically disguises a play for group power and recognition and later, money, by politically astute cultural groups. Supporting philanthropy in reality is another ploy for gaining recognition and later, power or money through the allying of support behind popular causes, often by individual or corporate sponsors.

If this sounds cynical, it is. It did not take our ancestors long to figure out the power behind what we know today as event marketing. Events – especially large public ones - influence people. Obviously, the larger the event, the more people can be influenced. This influence usually involves spectators taking action in some way, whether it is physical or psychological, as a result of receiving a message from the event. Watching a Super Bowl game or a World Cup soccer final with all the attendant emotional razzmatazz can induce viewers to purchase the products of sponsors (a commercial reason). In the Aztec civilization of ancient Mexico, as witnessed by the Spanish conquistadors, bloody human sacrifices were in part intended to prevent enemies from trying to attack the Aztecs if they did not want to suffer the same fate (religious and political reasons). Likewise, the Nazi rallies at Nuremberg in the 1930s had very clear messages for the German people that produced untold grief in the years to follow (a political reason). A more modern example became blatantly apparent before the 2008 Olympics in Beijing when United States media giant NBC paid a whopping $894 million for the exclusive broadcasting rights for the games. This made them the largest sponsor by far and obvious proof that commerce drives the once noble games that began in 776 BCE with religion as their raison d’etre.

Yes, we have come a long way - technically - from the special events of our ancestors but human nature has not changed. The reasons for staging them have remained the same. A future blog will discuss the reasons why participants other than organizers become part of special events.