At the dawn of European milonga history, in the nineties, the go-to-market model for a milonga was a lot like selling chocolate to Sumo wrestlers on a diet. Milongas were scarce. I would describe it as a seller’s market, except for the fact that tango dancers were also scarce. To me, tango dancers from that era seemed to view themselves as part of an elite society of enlightened individuals, complaining about their own scarceness but secretly coveting it too. When tango found me, the majority of ‘marketing communications’ were by word of mouth, via tango schools, and underpinned by flyers. Then came the Internet followed swiftly by Facebook.
Tango used to be so wonderfully exclusive. No, you were not required to swallow the flyers after reading them, but they seemed to be distributed on a ‘need to know’ basis. If some loose-lipped person told you about the existence of a tango periodical (which could take some time, given the consequences), and, if you were willing to pay the subscription, you could enter the secret chamber and get access to a monthly overview of milongas in other cities, that is, if your level of screening allowed it. Then, the step towards actually visiting other milongas, was much like the migration of mankind out of Africa: an organic, haphazard process that could take ages.
When Los Locos Amsterdam launched nine years ago, those days were gone. People would tell you ‘We’re going to Cologne this weekend’, or, ‘Budapest was great last week’. After just one year of lessons you could launch, on Facebook, your own school and practica, just to avoid the traffic enroute to the other side of town. And all this without even going to the trouble of designing one single flyer. Milonga organisers who had worked hard for many years to build up a fragile client base, were faced with competition from new milongas, marathons and festivals, not to mention Salsa, Lindyhop, Zumba, or Kizomba, a form of tango that requires women to sprawl themselves all over the leader. Try and beat that. To make things even worse, the tango community balkanized itself into ‘close embrace’ versus ‘neo’ et cetera, breaking up an already fragmented niche. The old guard bitterly complained that amateurs ‘stole’ their clients and the climate between milonga organisers would, on occasion, turn frosty.
Los Locos was too self-centered to notice all this at the time, but we did register a lack of newcomers in our milonga, in the same way as a shop that never changes the displays would notice. We launched a Facebook campaign of ‘funny’ ads (like the one showing the new Argentine pope forgiving lightly dressed dancers) to see if anyone out there was still breathing. The results were poor. Realising the strategic crisis looming, I found myself in the middle of the night, drawing up a ‘mission statement’ that said: ‘We want to be a milonga that is the best guarantee of good quality Argentine tango, at a price that is so low, that almost anyone can afford it’. It says something about who we thought we were targeting, but then we realised that if we substituted ‘Argentine tango’ for ‘home furnishings’, we would be looking at the IKEA mission statement. Which is why the title of this article, I guess, is called Milonga Marketing, Part One.