How does one re-brand an august institution like a classical museum–a “product” that is stuffy by its very nature?

The Smithsonian Institution is an extremely popular destination for anyone visiting in the Washington, D.C. area, but the folks in charge clearly felt like they needed to increase their appeal—which is why they decided to hire Wolff Olins to help create the first ad campaign in the institution’s 166-year history.

The Smithsonian’s 19 individual museums and galleries are some of the best-known and most popular in the country. In fact, we wonder if one can even call oneself a true American without at least one visit to the Air and Space Museum! So what changed? The new move started with two dreaded words: user feedback.

The terms most often used to describe the Smithsonian in a study commissioned by the institution two years ago apparently included “boring” and “intimidating,” so organizers decided to spend a couple million bucks (with the help of Target) on a brand strategy and subsequent ad campaign, now set to appear in America’s largest cities this fall.

The most interesting thing about this project to us is that it wasn’t designed strictly to increase attendance—the numbers for 2012 are already better than last year’s, with total visitors expected to reach 30 million by year’s end. What the Smithsonian wants is, to put it bluntly, an image makeover.

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