The Art of Marketing
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Following the rise of visual-centric social media and the merging of contemporary art with mainstream pop culture, brands have begun positioning themselves as patrons of creative culture. With the diminishing impact of traditional advertising, companies are seeking new ways to capture the attention and goodwill of the public. In exchange, brands provide financial opportunities to emerging artists. In a vacuum of meaningful public-arts funding, and in contrast to the highly exclusive commercial art market, brands have the potential to be an alternative pillar of support for artists, while reaping the commercial benefits.
An example of a brand making substantial, and sometimes surprising, investments in art and artists is PepsiCo. When PepsiCo created a new premium water brand, it came up with LIFEWTR, a clear plastic bottle with a black cap and a colorful, eclectic series of labels designed by emerging artists. Art is a central part of the LIFEWTR brand. Not only does it drive sales with its visually striking packaging, but PepsiCo also benefits artists by donating art supplies to public schools and has endowed a $100,000 annual fund for the Brooklyn Museum to purchase new works. In its newest campaign, “LIFE UNSEEN,” the brand features eye-catching imagery from up-and-coming creators on its bottles. While brands like PepsiCo use art to optimize the chances of their products being picked off the shelves of a supermarket and help independent artists, high-end brands use art to enhance their brand perception.
Louis Vuitton, a pioneer of what is known today as the “luxury industry,” was also one of the first manufacturers to place a signature on his creations. Despite Louis Vuitton’s exclusivity and exceptional craftsmanship, by the late 1980s, the brand had become quite dull and unexciting. This changed in 1988, when a series of silk scarves was commissioned from prominent artists like Sol LeWitt, Arman, and James Rosenquist, launching the brand back to the forefront of the luxury industry. In recent years, Louis Vuitton has expanded into more direct collaborations with high-profile artists like Takashi Murakami, selling an exclusive product merged with the creation of an esteemed artist. Consumers are hence given the opportunity to buy and possess a piece of art by a certain artist, and artists are granted a way to reach out to a broader public who may be able to afford a pricey bag, but not a $40,000 painting from the artists themselves.
The relationship between art and commerce has always been filled with suspicion, and the image of a “starving artist” has existed for hundreds of years. This patron-artist relationship can become toxic for the creator, as they’re often forced to follow the explicit instructions of a client. Even if large corporations grant their artists creative freedom, there is not enough transparency in the industry to validate such claims. Creating branding capital is also guaranteed to restrict unbridled creative speech, with brands setting bounds of political expression instead of placing more value on palatable, Instagram-appropriate, eye-catching art. Artists are forced to struggle to navigate the asymmetrical power relationship with large corporations, so even though there is some creative allure, there’s still a need to shape expectations and negotiate careful contracts for the artist in order to ensure that they are not being taken advantage of.
This continued trend by marketers to establish more intimate relationships with their customers through dynamic film advertisements has greatly increased the influence of artists on marketing. Inspiring a strong emotional reaction can convince the consumer that you understand how they feel, and selling a product will provide an outcome that impacts the consumer on an emotional level. By placing this emotion at the heart of your advertisement, you can instantly make your ad seem more relatable. Advertisers push this narrative of an idealized and trendy lifestyle, hiring diverse casts, using viral songs and celebrities, and referencing pop culture trends. Utilizing these tactics, campaigns like Nike’s “Play New” branding to follow up their iconic “Just Do It” slogan push a narrative of sportsmanship and health by highlighting the stories of relatable amateur athletes.
Unlike product development, which tries to stay away from commenting on controversial political issues for the self-preservation of the brand, advertising campaigns don’t only reflect the world; they play an essential part in creating and changing it. From Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” to Sport England’s “This Girl Can,” artists have been able to play an important part in societal and cultural change by creating new and eye-catching advertisements. In recent years, advertisements have grown more narrative-based, requiring a greater team of creative directors and artists, since audiences have become more resistant to basic advertising schemes due to the greater variety of products available on the market. This can be seen in the Volkswagen ad “Moments,” which shows a little girl’s conversation with her mother about all the adventures she will have in her life, as she overcomes her fear about walking to school for her first day side-by-side with a distracted mom driving. Instead of listing out all of the car’s brand new safety features they were trying to advertise, Volkswagen utilizes a story about a child’s future that is easy for consumers to empathize with.
Perhaps in the coming years, artists will complete the shift from making functionless objects for rich people to shaping daily life for the masses. In that process, artists may find a way around the risky brand-patron relationship altogether, but with no standardized fees, contracts, or best practices, artists are typically left to negotiate and advocate for themselves with little leverage, meaning artists must remain cautious in their corporate collaboration.