Spinach Branding on how businesses can best collaborate with art and culture

Branding Agency Campari ‘Art Without Walls’ June 2021 © Spinach Branding

The arts have been returning in bursts and bubbles to cities all over the world. The Venice Biennale kicked off earlier this month, Cannes Film Festival happens this week, next month sees Salone del Mobile bring art and ideas (and a lot of style) to the streets of Milan, while London will have its own design biennale this summer. With the pandemic disrupting the flow of creative festivities, it’s refreshing to see these events bring back excitement, a buzz and a sense of optimism to our urban settings.

Such cultural events, though, would be impossible if not for corporate sponsorship. Partners for Frieze London, for instance, include Deutsche Bank, BMW, Ruinart and La Prairie – to name a few. Art and money have, of course, long shared a mutually seductive rapport. Few major works of art would have ever been possible without the patronage of monarchs, kings and queens or the church. Today, the transaction may seem similar, but modern creative support comes in multiple forms and with some strict guidelines. But what constitutes a successful partnership, and what should brands look for when committing to a sponsorship?

‘Basic business sense comes into play as to whether brand partnerships are a success,’ says Leigh Banks, partner at Spinach Branding. In his role as branding director he often works with businesses to help align them with suitable artists, designers and creative events. ‘It is important to ask questions such as does the partnership speak to both audiences? Are both audiences activated by the proposition? Do the values of the partners align? Such simple qualifications can go a long way in preventing costly experiences in terms of damage to reputation and lost equity, such as that experienced by Kendall Jenner and Pepsi or Shell and Lego in their now fabled attempts of a creative coming together.’

Performed right and the benefits are clear. By associating with culture, businesses will come across as progressive, and the connection may even inspire internal teams to think and act differently. Meanwhile, artists and designers benefit financially from the backing. Whatever the motive, contemporary arts patronage needs to be viewed as a long-term partnership rather than an instant instagram snapshot. And there has to be a degree of transparency with the transaction.

MINI Strip by Paul Smith

With that in mind, we have drafted our top five rules of art engagement in the modern branding world:

1. Choose your partner wisely

When selecting an artist or a designer, make sure the relationship is based on curiosity and shared values. Do your own research and keep up-to-speed with what is happening in the wider world of creativity. Don’t rely solely on an outside agency to make a decision for you. It sounds logical, but often businesses will team up with the wrong creative, a popular artist or someone selected independently by an agency they work with. The project may receive temporary media attention, yet in the long-term random art projects show a lack of insight with often a negative impact on your brand.

2. Commission relevant work

Collaborations need to have historical, cultural and brand relevance, without which they will be perceived as vanity projects. A great example of a successful creative scheme is MINI Living. The maker of the quintessential urban run-around  became involved in a housing project to find progressive living solutions for young urbanites. For several years the car brand worked with visionary architects, staying clear of big names, for some exciting alternative living concepts. In the process, MINI began examining its role in the future urban landscape. This is a genuine project with real long-terms goals.

3. Be brave, get involved

The project will feel genuine when the company and artist work alongside one another. Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, a beacon of grand luxury, has worked hard in the last decade to reinvent itself for the modern world. This means partnering with creatives who will endorse this goal. The Phantom Gallery, for instance, is one the most original bespoke propositions offered by any contemporary car company. It is also the most technically-complex construction which only a brand with a history of intricate craftsmanship can pull off. Rolls works directly with the artists in creating these tailored galleries. In return, the artists help promote the brand’s mission to be relevant to a younger, more progressive audience. It is a win-win situation.

4. Be selfless

Occasionally it pays to just let the artwork speak for itself; it can show a great deal of brand confidence. The BMW Art Journey with Art Basel, the marque’s sponsorship of Paris Photo, Rolls-Royce’s Muse moving art project, or the Goldman Sachs support for the annual Serpentine Pavilion are all living proof that you can support artists without much creative involvement other than financial support. If chosen wisely – and this is really the key – this seemingly selfless act will do wonders for promoting your brand.

5. There is a fine balance

More and more companies are taking this philanthropic path, thinking and hoping the association with the arts alone will elevate their brand to new culturally-enlightened levels. The modern consumer is wise though, and brands need to be aware of the complexities of partnerships. It is a little like a good recipe: all the ingredients must work in harmony for the final dish to be delicious. And it cannot be stressed enough: make sure the end project meets your highest standard, as there is nothing more damaging than a half-baked creative project.

Images: Campari UK and Affordable Art Fair’s ‘Art Without Walls‘ © Spinach Branding; and MINI and Paul Smith partnered to explore sustainable material for the MINI Strip © MINI

Spinach Branding is a specialist branding agency based in London. We work with established businesses and start-ups around the world to build and refine their brands. See how we work and get in touch to discuss your brand.

Campari ‘Art Without Walls’ June 2021 © Spinach Branding
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