What happens when museums get a new exhibit? The usual: press releases, commercials, a social media announcement, some banners, newspaper ads, and radio spots.

And that’s all well and good. But when you have a big exhibit coming to town that’s generated a lot of buzz overseas, a print ad isn’t going to be enough.

The exhibit I’m talking about is the Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. I’ve praised the museum before for its use of social media, but the social media campaign that they have designed to accompany this traveling exhibit is just unreasonably clever.

Say hello to Jean-Paul Brunier.

According to his Twitter bio, Jean-Paul Brunier describes himself as a “19th century Parisian on the streets of Chicago.” Brunier spends his days combing the streets of Chicago and documenting current fashion on his Tumblr.

Just about every single week day, Jean-Paul will post a sepia-toned picture of a real Chicagoan on his blog along with the neighborhood and some commentary on the outfit.

jean paul fashion blog

It’s fun to read commentary on clothing that seems quite familiar to us, and also gets you intrigued as to why some of these outfits could be so shocking to Jean-Paul.

In between Chicago fashion posts, he’ll post Impressionist paintings from the exhibit and the Art Institute will comment with a link to one of their ARTicles that delves more into the history of the work of art.

Every so often Jean-Paul posts short video diaries about his dealings in Chicago. The short spots are great for connecting to the character and hopefully encourage more people to follow the account.

My favorite is this one about cheese:

The Tumblr and Twitter accounts were launched about a month before the exhibit opened, which gave Jean-Paul plenty of time to hype up those who stumbled upon him on these networks.

When not tasked to his usual duties of documenting Chicago fashion, Jean-Paul has plenty to say about important events in Chicago.

He was present for the Blackhawks parade after they won the Stanley Cup.

And went to the pride parade the following weekend.

But Jean-Paul isn’t just a social media persona being run by the museum or an agency. He’s also been showing up at museum functions to promote the exhibit. He was seen at the opening of the exhibit along with the Art Institute’s After Dark event a few nights later.

Talk about the perfect marriage of online and offline marketing. I’m not sure whether Brunier is a dedicated member of the Art Institute of Chicago staff, part of a social media agency, an actor hired for the duration of the exhibit, or some combination of all three. But here’s the thing – I don’t need to know. Jean-Paul has taken a life of his own and has publicized this exhibition in a completely new way. He has transcended advertising for the exhibit and is now a part of the entire experience.

— Leah Karabenick (@Karabeaner17) June 26, 2013

So why was creating Jean-Paul the perfect way to promote this exhibit?

  • It’s new. Plenty of brands have mascots. But how many have living, breathing advocates like this?
  • It’s multi-channel. By creating a persona and having someone play the persona lets fans connect both online and offline.
  • It’s current. Having Jean-Paul blog about fashion on Tumblr was brilliant. Quality photos and fashion are two things that thrive on Tumblr.

When I make my way down to the exhibit some point within the next month, I really do hope to run into Jean-Paul during the trip.

P.S. This doesn’t have to do with Jean-Paul, but any blog about the advertising of the Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity exhibit would not be complete with a link to this promotion.

The Art Institute is teaming up with Threadless and encouraging artists to submit a t-shirt design that “celebrates Impressionism and fashion with a modern spin.” What a cool collaboration!


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