The art of sponsorship

Carlsberg’s announcement that it will sponsor an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts cuts sharply across its football sponsor image.

The nation cheered this week when England qualified for the quarter-final of the Euro 2004 tournament. However, the championship started ominously when defeat in the first match to France was followed by ugly scenes that seem to dog the national team in major tournaments – that of lager-fuelled hooligans rampaging through the streets both home and abroad.

Such incidents will have caused untold embarrassment for sponsors such as Carlsberg, which shelled out &£15m to become the official beer of the championship. It did not go unnoticed that in the same week as the violence, the brand tried to move away from being associated with “just” football and drinking by embracing the arts through sponsoring an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts later this year (MW last week). This will be Carlsberg UK’s first foray into the highbrow world of fine arts, as it attempts to shift perceptions about the lager.

A different picture

The exhibition will be called Ancient Arts to Post Modernism and will include works by Gaugin, Monet, Sisley, Degas and also Greek and Roman antiquities. The works are being loaned by the Copenhagen museum Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, where the art collection was built up by father and son Carl and Helge Jacobsen, descendants of the founder of the brewing company. The show will run from September 18 to December 10.

In its heartland of Denmark, Carlsberg has traditionally strong links with the art world, but the sponsorship of the Royal Academy marks the first time that a mass-market lager in the UK has stepped outside associations with the sport and music industries.

The investment in the exhibition is chicken-feed compared to the &£35m Carlsberg is spending on the three-week Euro 2004 football tournament. Experts say that the additional spend on advertising, marketing and promotions will take the total sponsorship of the eight official sponsors of Euro 2004 to &£300m.

However, the arts link-up is already generating headlines, because it has taken not only the drinks industry by surprise, but also experts in the field of art. One marketer sees it as an “incongruous” link amounting to a PR and publicity stunt. “In the UK, Carlsberg does not stand for being profound. Instead its brand essence lies in its partnership with sports and football. This involvement with an art exhibition will only confuse its customers,” she says.

Sponsorship Matters managing director John Baughen claims that the move signals some sort of attempt to go upmarket. He says: “I don’t get it. Are we going to see a load of pissed art critics or piss artists spray painting graffiti on the latest Rodin or vomiting over Gaugin? Is this just another pointless sponsorship strategy? Surely they can’t expect Joe Beer Drinker to work this out.”

Carlsberg is at pains to point out that the arts sponsorship continues a 150-year old tradition of linking the arts to the lager brand in its Danish homeland. A spokeswoman explains: “It is time for us to see how we could carry on with the benefits that the brewer has had in Denmark with arts sponsorship in other countries. It is also about viewing the brand differently and reinforcing our credentials as a socially responsible company.”

She adds that the sponsorship will initially be used as a tool for corporate hospitality for trade customers and suppliers. Carlsberg will continue with all its sports marketing activities and will evaluate the benefits of its arts funding in the UK before it includes it as a permanent part of its sponsorship package.

Carlsberg is not the first beer brand to associate itself with the arts. Scottish & Newcastle’s Beck’s has been involved with the arts for the past 20 years. Beck’s marketing manager David Pattman is keen to point out that the brand has never been associated with sport, but has instead helped nurture and promote young contemporary artists.

If you could bottle it

However, he agrees that sales cannot all be attributed to the thirst of art lovers, but points out that getting into bed with the arts has created just the right image for the brand – hip and cool. The now famous series of Beck’s Limited Edition bottles, such as the picture of Yoko Ono as a Japanese war child, have become highly collectible items and have taken their place in the Tate Gallery archive.

Carol Fisher, a partner at Chris Ingram Partnership, says: “When Beck’s first announced its association with the arts, it was ridiculed. It takes time for a product or a company to become associated in public minds with a particular event. And such an association can only be made successfully if there is not only a clear fit between the two, but also if it is a long-term relationship. One can’t imagine Royal Ballet tutus emblazoned with Tango on them.

“Maybe after having acquired Holsten this year, Carlsberg wants to create some space between the two brands. An arts association might just be the answer.”

Arts sponsorship is generally seen as an effective marketing tool to reach key markets and influential people, and experts agree that it can help tweak the perception of the brand. Sponsorship Consulting managing director Wendy Stephenson, who is responsible for the Unilever Series at Tate Modern, says that there is no need to shy away from being either highbrow or only targeting a “select few”.

The art of the matter

She adds: “Arts sponsorship is no different to sports tie-ups. In the end it is all about who you are targeting. If you want to attract a limited audience or are pursuing only financial analysts or stakeholders, why not spend money on art-related activities?”

Traditional blue-chip companies associated with arts sponsorship include Barclays, BP, BT, Ernst & Young and JP Morgan, which usually link up with leading venues for “event” exhibitions, which have proved very popular. There are rumours that Unilever is also planning to open its own-branded gallery to further its support of the arts, though a spokesman says that there are no such plans that “he is aware of”.

There can be a problem with the “chairman’s wife” syndrome, whereby a company chief sponsors an event because of personal interest rather than for partly commercial reasons. This can discredit arts sponsorship in the business world, according to Colin Tweedy, chief executive of Arts & Business, a charity that develops partnerships between the business and art worlds.

Painting by numbers

He says that his job is to change just that and improve the vocabulary and data to explain the value of working with the arts and measure the brand benefits.

Business investment in the arts increased by eight per cent to &£120m in 2002 to 2003 when compared with the year before, according to the charity’s latest figures. “One extremely important factor when working with the arts is how to promote the sponsorship. In Carlsberg’s case, it can’t only be a logo attached at the bottom of the Royal Academy’s poster advertising the exhibition,” adds Tweedy.

However, that is just how Carlsberg is planning to promote its tie-up with the Royal Academy.

Gordon’s Turner tonic

In Tweedy’s opinion, an example of a successful arts tie-up is Gordon’s Gin’s sponsorship of the Turner Prize. The sponsorship, announced earlier this year when the brand took over from Channel 4, will be included in the brand’s PR and print advertising and in-store promotions.

For brand owner Diageo, the &£1m sponsorship over three years will be money well spent, with Gordon’s being linked to the annual, and often controversial, award. The beverage is the first commercial brand to link its name to the Turner Prize since 1989.

Gordon’s marketing manager Mark Sandys says: “Our aim is to encourage the British public to embrace new ways of thinking about and making art. In turn, we hope to raise awareness of the craftsmanship, skill and creativity that goes into producing a work of art, because that’s the way we think of Gordon’s.”

Stephenson adds that it is when companies start re-assessing their changing business needs that they start looking at avenues such as art associations.

Recently, companies such as Hewlett Packard and Egg have tried to change perceptions of their brand by association with modern art and film-makers (MW February 12).

Egg cracks art world

Egg footed the bill for eight “live” art events at the Tate Modern at a branded year-long festival called Tate & Egg Live. The exhibition was a festival of music, theatre and visual arts all mixed together in live performances. As a dot-com bank with no local presence to spread its logo on the high street, the Tate Modern tie-up seemed a perfect way to appeal to Egg’s target market of the young and media-savvy.

Retailer French Connection also took up a cultural strategy when it backed an exhibition by Gilbert & George that combined graffiti swear words with images of urban living. The retailer, which attracts criticism because of its irreverential FCUK campaign, sponsored the artists’ The Dirty Words Pictures 1977 exhibition at Hyde Park’s Serpentine Gallery.

But the arts may already be seeing competition for funding from more forward-thinking brands. Experts warn that there is a current trend for some companies to look at other fields of patronage such as “worthy” causes, for instance help for inner cities, education and the environment.

Indeed, the well may already be running dry – the Royal Academy recently announced that it was postponing its Citizens and Kings exhibition, which covers the 1770-1830 period and includes works by Goya and Gainsborough, because of lack of corporate sponsorship. The exhibition was originally scheduled for 2005.

That the RA cannot drum up enough support for an important international exhibition suggests arts sponsorship is still a small trickle rather than a torrent, and its effectiveness remains to be proven for many brands. Will Carlsberg, in the words of its own branding, become “probably the best arts patron in the world”? It’s probably not wise to hang up the football shirt just yet.

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