Companies are discovering the art of branding

Brands are actively engaging with the arts to create a more meaningful relationship with their audiences.

Something seems to be going on with brands and culture at the moment.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch and the Nat­ional Theatre recently announced a multi-year partnership; Manchester Airports Group has committed even more money for local arts groups; and in a dramatic move, South Korean car company Hyundai and Tate Modern have announced a massive 11-year deal – the longest initial commitment from a corporate sponsor in Tate’s history.

The deal will allow Tate Modern to fund The Hyundai  Commission, a new series of site-specific installations by contemporary artists. For a brand to commit to a sponsorship deal for longer than a decade, particularly in the arts – and in the current economic climate – is genuinely remarkable.

Of course, long-term commitment to the arts by brands is nothing new. BP has supported the National Portrait Gallery and the Royal Opera House for the past 25 years, but they didn’t state at the outset that  the relationship would last that long.

Last year, Baileys announced that it was to become the sponsor for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. The move surprised the worlds of marketing and publishing, but it shouldn’t have. It’s an intelligent move that  will differentiate it in a crowded market.

Cultural philanthropy and indeed commissioning and creating culture seems to be a growing trend for brands keen to find ways to engage with consumers on a deeper level.

What’s driving this renewed interest in culture among brands? It may be as simple as the fact that government funding for the arts has been reduced, so brands have stepped up, but it seems to me that there is a bigger shift taking place.

The Travelex Series at the National Theatre recognised that for many people, buying a ticket to see something a little edgier than Les Misérables was daunting in these troubled times, so it subsidised the ticket price and gave people a taste of high culture for £12.

This seems a very canny thing for a brand associated with currency to do, particularly when you consider the number of tourists who will subsequently feel good about it and opt to change money with it on their way to or from the UK.

Selfridges has been a creator of culture for years, shifting its positioning from being a mere department store to a cultural hub rivalling the Southbank. Sure, its gift shop is a bit bigger than the Tate’s, but it takes culture seriously.

It started the year with its Festival of Imagination, a series of talks and events with cultural heavyweights like legendary architect Rem Koolhaas, the School of Life, Something & Son and more.

It was genuinely groundbreaking and didn’t shirk at looking at complicated stuff like terror, love and bio-fashion.

This move towards active involvement in culture is set to continue and Hyundai, Baileys, BP and others will continue to embrace it because it makes good business sense.

After all, over a century ago a certain sugar magnate had the idea of funding an art gallery. He was called Henry Tate and today it’s one of the world’s most popular museums.

Gerry Hopkinson is co-founder of Unity

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