Top rules for brands collaborating with art and culture

Tomas Saraceno for Rolls-Royce

Art and money have long shared a mutually seductive rapport. Few major works of art would have 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 guidelines. Car brands BMW and Hyundai, for instance, sponsor key contemporary shows at the Tate Modern. BMW also dips its toes in multiple cultural events: Art Basel, Frieze Art, London Symphony Orchestra, to name a few. The annual architectural Serpentine Pavilion (sadly on hold due to the pandemic) would have been impossible if not for financial support from investment bank Goldman Sachs.

The benefits are clear for all. By mingling with culture, businesses appear to be progressive and the connection may even inspire internal teams. Artists, of course, benefit financially from the backing, have their work made and get exposure. Whatever the motive, modern day arts patronage needs to be a long-term partnership rather than a case of Instagram-grabbing instant messaging. There has to be a degree of transparency with the transaction. So with that in mind, here are 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 has been involved in a housing project to find progressive living solutions for young urbanites. The company has been working with visionary architects, staying clear of big names, for some exciting alternative living concepts. In the process, the car brand MINI is examining its role in the future urban landscape. This is a genuine project with real long-terms goals.

'The Gallery' inside Rolls-Royce Phantom VIII

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

However, occasionally it pays off to let the art speak for itself; it can show a great deal of brand confidence. The BMW Art Journey with Art Basel, Rolls-Royce’s Muse programme or the Goldman Sachs Serpentine Pavilion, for instance, prove 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.

Fujiko Nakaya's fog sculpture at BMW Tate Live

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 need to 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: Tomas Saraceno ‘Hybrid Dark solitary semi-social Cluster BD–15 3966 built by: a duet of Nephila edulis – six weeks, a quintet of Cyrtophora citricola -eight weeks, rotated 180°’ 2018 and Rolls-Royce Phantom Gallery artist commission © Rolls Royce; BMW Tate commission; Zac Langdon-Pole detail of ‘Assimilation Study’, 2017 © Dirk Pauwels.

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.

Zac Langdon-Pole - detail of "Assimilation Study", 2017 © Dirk Pauwels
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