If its the 'out-of-the-box' look and feel that's a large part of the issue, perhaps we should be paying more attention to getting some of the most popular and best looking themes (Essential/Aardvark - in one of its variations)/Rocket/etc) into core and freshen up the list of core themes?
It would be nice to see some of these institutional themes made available to the community too - even as a gallery if the themes themselves can't be made available due to image copyright etc - just to prove what Moodle CAN look like. There are some good looking themes out there - and Moodle doesn't HAVE to look like Moodle.
Both the images attached are Moodle front pages (I have blurred various bits because I didn't want to fall foul of any advertising rules on the forum ), and if you take a look at some of the work Mary Evans does to create Moodle Themes from other web-templates too!!