Why Brands Should Become True Patrons of Art and Culture

For marketers and artists, it's a win-win

Glossier opened a particularly vibrant pop-up in Miami on March 27. In preparation, designers took note of the city's bright style and Art Deco feel. The space included tropical accents reflecting fruit carts in the streets of Little Havana. 

Visitors' first impression of the shop was a massive wall mural outside. Toronto-based artist Jacquie Comrie covered the wall in bright, captivating colors that mirrored both Miami's vibe and the artist's particular style. 

Comrie believes color is the universal language of emotions—making her the perfect partner for this vibrant installation. Glossier in this instance didn't just use an art influencer for a campaign; it literally became a patron of an artist and let her do her thing. It just happens to have worked out perfectly for the brand. 

When brands partner with influential creators to share messages, they can become true patrons of creative culture, supporting artists and the messages they want to share rather than just pushing the brand's own agenda. 

Not every partnership will be successful.

Marketers know they must tie their brands to the outside world—so they find partners that will bring them into cultural conversations. If done well, partnerships can lift up both parties, conjuring higher visibility and greater loyalty from a broader audience. 

If the partnership lacks understanding, appreciation and mutual respect, however, the campaign will—at best—fall flat. At worst, it can damage valuable relationships, weaken credibility and negatively shift consumer perceptions. Poor management can also lead to destructive partnerships. If artists feel micromanaged by brands that lay a heavy hand on the end product, the creative vision of the project will be stifled. 

This points up the difference between "patronage" and "payoffs." With the latter, you pay an artist to hold your brand up to his or her face in an attempt to convince audience members to identify the brand with the artist. This used to work, but it doesn't anymore. With the former, you're using your brand's resources to support artists and their work. Yes, you are sponsoring them, but you're allowing them to lead—to integrate you as they see fit.

The best partnerships have a shared sense of purpose.

The most successful brand-artist partnerships have a common theme: They're based on a shared sense of purpose. When brands and collaborators share values, aesthetics or goals, their creative output is more likely to resonate with audiences. 

For instance, Hennessy teamed up with urban artist Vhils to create its 2018 limited-edition bottle. Vhils incorporated archived brand images and recreated the amber hues of cognac with paper, heat and acid elements. To celebrate the partnership, Vhils and Hennessy teamed up for a worldwide tour to introduce the bottle and involve audiences in immersive art experiences in a creative experimental program delivered by the brand and NVE Experience Agency.

Vhils perceived a shared vision in his approach to art and Hennessy's approach to cognac-making. He said he's been pushing the boundaries for more than 10 years with his art—and he recognized that Hennessy has been pushing boundaries for 250 years. The result is a bottle designed with Vhils' unique style and Hennessy's own imagery that reflects both artist and brand. 

When brands and artists share a purpose, it's also less likely that brands will try to micromanage the creative process. When brands peer nervously over artists' shoulders, what results is a Frankensteined product. If the final product is going to have any impact on consumers, it will need to be an unfettered representation of the artist's vision. 

Look at multimedia artist Cao Fei, for instance. She has paired with many different brands over the years, often throwing herself into the brand to enhance collaboration and the end product. When BMW commissioned her to design an Art Car in 2017, Cao even visited the automaker's Chinese factories and met with employees to better understand how they work. And when she collaborated with Hermès, the luxury brand gave her free rein to make a video for an exhibition. The result was as experimental and challenging as Cao's ongoing oeuvre and drew in crowds of art connoisseurs and fashionistas alike.

A shared purpose also means finding the greatest benefit for both parties. Artists stand to gain more than a paycheck from a good partnership—they can build their reach and audience just as the brand can. The collaboration between clothing designers Pizzaslime and lifestyle grocery store Erewhon is a prime example. When the creators behind Pizzaslime designed hoodies, T-shirts and sweatpants for Erewhon, the designers got to slot into a growing lifestyle brand, while Erewhon got to expand its reach beyond groceries. Both parties enriched the experience of their audiences. 

Tapping into the wonder and reach of the art world could give your brand a cultural awakening. Just remember to craft relationships carefully—don't give your heart away for less than a perfect match.

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Brett Hyman
Brett Hyman is the president of NVE Experience Agency.