Highbrow culture

Knowledge and cultural experiences are becoming important status symbols for the modern consumer, and brands can help their customers open the door to this kudos through collaborations with the arts. Maeve Hosea speaks to those already taking the public on a path on enlightenment.

damien hirst
Damien Hirst’s Mother and Child (Divided), Exhibition Cope 2007 (original 1993). Glass, painted stainless steel, silicone, acrylic, monofilament, stainless steel, cow, calf and formaldehyde solution. Photograph: Tate © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2012

The rain might be pouring down on the great British summer, but there is no danger of dampening the mood for knowledge and a thirst for experience that is permeating through public consciousness. People are going in their thousands to look at contemporary art, experimental theatre, music and quirky events. Whether in a muddy field or a slick urban venue, cultural events are pulling in the crowds.

Figures from the Arts Council’s 2011 Taking Part research reveal that 77% of adults engaged with the arts in the previous year. And it’s not just live events people are taking in – from their sofas people are switching to channels such as Sky Arts Two to get in-depth coverage of the New York Metropolitan Opera season or poring through best-selling intellectual memoirs.

This desire for culture is not just found in the ABC1 consumer segment. Brands are noticing it and building on the trend for ‘mass intelligence’. Over the past four years, The Sun readers have filled the Royal Opera House for exclusive opera and ballet performances, including Don Giovanni, Carmen and family-favourite The Nutcracker. The newspaper brand has also worked with charity the Helen Hamlyn Trust to make opera and the ballet more affordable.

The Sun marketing director Rob Painter explains why the media brand backs this initiative: “One of The Sun’s aims is to provide our readers with a range of great value offers that give them the opportunity to experience activities and events at a reduced cost.”

Instead of the greatest information ‘noise’ meaning more dumbing down, it is giving people a hunger for making sense of it all

The mass intelligence trend is not just confined to highbrow culture. The Economist is a magazine that pins its healthy circulation on sharp ideas and clever perspectives from some of the world’s leading experts, and its group chief executive, Andrew Rashbass, says he sees the demand for such knowledge increasing. People are “smarting up” rather than “dumbing down”, he says, and tablets and other digital devices are sparking a “rebirth of reading” and nurturing cultural interests across the population.

The magazine’s books and arts editor Fiammetta Rocco adds: “Instead of the greater information ‘noise’ meaning more dumbing down and lowest common denominator-type stuff, it is giving people a hunger for making sense of it all.”

The Economist’s annual Books of the Year partnership with the Southbank Centre fits neatly with the notion that there is now a wider section of the population interested in knowing and experiencing culture. Part of the Southbank’s three-month literary festival, Books of the Year presents a selection of authors from the fields of arts, science, business and philosophy. “There is something fascinating about meeting the authors and hearing how they came to write their books,” says Rocco. “Listening to them sharing their stories feeds a basic human need.”

Brands that don’t have an obvious connection to culture are also tapping into this desire for experience and knowledge. Vauxhall Motors is attempting to exploit the growing number of culture vultures by taking a cerebral approach to the launch of its new Ampera model. It is showing its metal by collaborating with debating heavyweights Intelligence Squared and Wired Magazine on an ideas-provoking event called the Vauxhall Ampera Forethought Series.

The first debate is on Motor Culture, a discussion about mobility past and future, and will feature cultural commentators Luke Wright, Steven Bayley, Geoff Dyer and Dr Michael Jump. The car marque has appropriately chosen hot new cultural hub The Filling Station in London’s Kings Cross, a former petrol station repurposed by zeitgeist architects as the venue for events around mobility.

“We are continuously researching the evolution of the automobile and driving, and the Ampera Season is a cultural exploration of this,” says Vauxhall Motors director of communications Denis Chick. “We’ll be looking to the future and exploring new ideas and technologies in a culturally relevant way, bringing science and technology to life for everyone who visits.”

Festive mood: London’s Royal Festival Hall offers partnership opportunities, such as Electrolux’s pop-up restaurant, and as it draws in more than 22 million people every year, the potential for brand engagement is huge

The lecture series, over six months, is part of a profile-raising turn that aims to engage Vauxhall’s target group of young, upwardly mobile consumers.

Vauxhall’s campaign points to the rising place of knowledge and cultural capital in society right now. Being able to understand the world around you and talk about it knowledgeably is becoming a status symbol.

Henry Mason, global head of research at trend specialist Trendwatching.com believes mass intelligence fits into consumers’ increasing desire for experiences as status symbols. “It is not so much about material goods as about doing interesting things and the stories that you get from that,” he says. “You can get status by people seeing what an interesting person you are and a big part of that is social networks and people living out their lives online.” The experience economy, which has been growing in importance for decades, becomes more prominent when people don’t just experience something but they have the opportunity – through digital media – to relive it, posting photos on Facebook and tweeting.

In 2011, fashion label Diesel gave UK consumers the opportunity to gather subject matter for such stories through bizarre experiences at the ‘School of Island Life’. These included lessons on taxidermy hosted by artist Charlie Tuesday Gates; foraging for food with wild food expert Jesper Launder; and lectures from hedonism expert Howard Marks.

Global household appliance brand Electrolux is also tapping into people’s desire to create their own stories. It is working with Italian architects Park Associati to deliver a portable restaurant experience with aesthetic and gourmet accolades to a number of European cities. The pop-up installation, currently located in the Royal Festival Hall on London’s Southbank, aims to create a dining experience that celebrates Electrolux’s 90 years supporting professional chefs as well as its Scandinavian design heritage.

“The Cube by Electrolux dramatically amplifies the daily work of Electrolux. The space enables our award-winning partner chefs to showcase their skills within a minimal and yet warm, inclusive, intuitive and interactive environment,” says Electrolux sponsorship and experiential manager Olivia Kaye. “Guests not only get a great meal but they learn tips and techniques.”

UK consumers are becoming familiar with elements of culture previously thought of as highbrow. A surprisingly large number of those snaking a trail into the blockbuster Damien Hirst retrospective at The Tate Modern are unfazed by the signature pieces of animals dissected and suspended in formaldehyde. More charming but no less provoking, the hundreds of live tropical butterflies in the work In and Out of Love (1991) give viewers a powerful insight into Hirst’s predominant themes of belief, life and death.

“It is, in part, a record of the changing face of our culture that people are going in their droves to this show,” says Marc Sands, director of audiences and media for the Tate Galleries. “There is no sense of inadequacy about not understanding it, which is a really interesting cultural shift.”

When the Tate Modern launched in 2000, it marked the arrival of the first sizeable contemporary art gallery in the UK and was game-changing on every front. Sloughing off convention, it changed the way people are allowed to behave in galleries, it pronounced itself family friendly and it advocated that art was something that could be consumed in five minutes as much as five hours.

“Art is reflective of culture as a whole and that has helped move it into mainstream,” says Sands.

“The debate about art is a public discussion rather than one that is held only by the art world, so people can go to art galleries in part to understand the world around them.”

Recognising the value of what art brings to its constituency, BMW has worked with Tate Modern on a partnership to leverage the mass intelligence trend. BMW Tate Live: Performance Room is a series of performances exclusively for the online space, and the first artistic programme created purely for live web broadcast. It is reflective of the campaigns brands are using to enter into the cultural space and get a deeper connection with consumers.

The more digitally connected we are the keener is the simple human need for conversation, for sharing stories

“Twenty years ago it was a straight sponsorship; ten years ago you just badged a show; but if you look at BMW Live we have created a series of artist interventions that can only be seen live online. Once a month we will put an artist in a white room and the subsequent discussion between the artist and the curator is mobbed with Facebook and Twitter comments.”

Other brands the gallery is working with include Vodafone. “Our obsession is linking galleries to the artist and to the audience. Some of the sponsorships are really leading-edge on that,” says Sands.

East London’s culture hub The Whitechapel Gallery works collaboratively with a number of key partners including Max Mara, Swarovski, Louis Vuitton, Hiscox, Bloomberg, Urban Outfitters and Converse. For all these long-term partnerships, the starting point is always a shared ethos and ambition between brand and gallery.

The partnerships target a range of consumers, all by leveraging the capital of contemporary art’s cachet. Whitechapel Gallery Art Plus is the venue’s glamorous annual fundraising party – in collaboration with Swarovski; a partnership with Converse and Dazed & Confused on its Emerging Artists Award offers a vital platform for rising art stars; and through Urban Outfitters it works with artists including Wilhelm Sasnal and Gillian Wearing to create special window displays, and promotions and events that give exclusive access to customers.

“Since re-opening the expanded Whitechapel Gallery in 2009, we have seen a growth and shift in our audiences,” says Rachel Mapplebeck, head of communications at Whitechapel Gallery.

“From our core audience of visitors with a vocational connection to or specialist knowledge of art, we now attract a broader audience, whose visits are more socially motivated.”

From the other side of the cultural landscape, Hotel brand Andaz Liverpool Street has worked on a wide range of cultural collaborations including arts installations with galleries including The Whitechapel and Secret Sensory Suppers, a sensual foodie event curated by creative consultancy FranklinTill.

The hotel’s new Vintage package is a marketing initiative in collaboration with Lereese Atkinson from Girl.Stole.Vintage, designed to appeal to guests who are interested in immersing themselves in the local community during their stay in London. “Our hotel isn’t just a place to lay your head; more and more guests want to enjoy a different experience – they want an ‘insider’s guide’,” says Arnaud de St-Exupéry, general manager at Andaz Liverpool Street. “Collaborations such as these provide artists and designers with a different outlet to showcase their pieces, and provide our guests with a unique experience of events like the London Design Festival and a sense of the creativity that is at the heart of our city.”

That love of creativity extends beyond the UK capital and is being nurtured by both cultural and consumer brands throughout the country. After starting in the back room of the British legion in 1988, from which it sold and gave away about 2,500 tickets over a long weekend, the Hay Literary Festival now comprises 15 festivals around the world, from Colombia to Beirut and from Kerala to Toronto, playing to half a million people each year.

“The more digitally connected we are, the keener is the simple human need for conversation, for sitting around a table or on a picnic blanket, or a fire and sharing stories,” says Hay Festival founder Peter Florence. “Cultural brands should be tapping into the desire for these things.”

Hay Festival works with a variety of sponsors including TMG, publisher of the Daily Telegraph. “Sponsor partners are an incredibly valuable introduction to their customers, to their business partners and to their competitors,” adds Florence. “As a cultural event, these brands are buying a service from you, which is always about brand association and measurable value. It’s important to remember that they’re buying what you’ve got, not the other way around.”

The kudos a cultural brand offers is clear, but it isn’t a partnership to be entered into lightly. The Do Lectures, a cult boutique festival and alternative business Mecca, negates corporate sponsors. “We don’t want a sponsor,” explains David Hiatt, managing director of jeans brand Howies and founder of The Do Lectures. “We are bringing together 120 of some of the greatest people on the planet to solve business problems.”

Hiatt argues the way his ‘Do’ festival fits into the mass intelligence trend is that as well as people wanting new ways to be entertained, they are interested in new kinds of learning environments that are more participatory. “We fulfil some aspect where people want to learn but they don’t want to be taught,” says Hiatt. “Creating conversations is mostly how we examine ideas. What do ideas change? Guess what, they change everything.”

Spirited connection


Originating from the Scottish distillery of the same name, Auchentoshan is a premium single malt brand that draws heavily on its provenance and heritage in any marketing activity it does. However, its most recent marketing campaign not only taps into appreciation of the spirit’s smooth, silky texture and idiosyncratic peaty taste, but an appetite for the latest cultural trends.

Auchentoshan believes consumers are looking for something a little more interactive and engaging at the moment and ‘Workshops for the Modern Gentlemen’ is a marketing concept that seeks to fill that need.

The brand has conceived a series of ‘classically modern’ events aimed at exercising the brain as well as forming a complement to a single malt whisky tasting. “We like to think of ourselves as doing things a little bit differently because we are a triple-distilled single malt, something very unusual in our category,” explains Kirsteen Beeston, head of brands marketing at distillers Morrison Bowmore.

The whisky’s target consumer is focused on style and products that say something about them, which is ultimately where Auchentoshan’s contemporary culture identity fits in. “The key thing for us is to create a platform to reach our target market, a younger consumer who is interested in a whisky that really delivers on taste and style,” says Beeston. “We have partnered up with six forward-thinking creatives who personify the character of Auchentoshan by taking a traditional craft or idea and activating it with a unique and modern attitude.”

As part of a campaign titled Auchentoshan Presents, events will take place across the UK this summer including advice on gentlemen’s grooming with a pop-up barbers shop; a hidden dinning experience in a secret location; how to make a ‘classically modern’ old-fashioned cocktail; and how to start a fashion label.

In conjunction with the events, a handbook available to consumers who attend the workshops reinforces the links between brand and creativity. Alongside an informative yet easy to follow guide to single malt whisky and Auchentoshan, there are tips and sartorial gems given by the cultural experts featured in the workshops. “The target consumer is interested in cultural experiences delivered in an interesting way,” says Beeston. “This year it is really about partnering with these forward-thinking creative experts to help spread the word about Auchentoshan while being relevant to our target consumer.”

Thinking digital


There is a lot of scope to engage people through connections with cultural venues. For example, more than 22 million people visit the Southbank Centre site every year, offering huge potential for the venue’s brand partners.

However, marketers need to think carefully about how they execute that connection. Brands watching both the trends for an increasing interest in culture and the dominance of the digital space, should be tapping into the desire for knowledge and experience by offering multiple channels and supporting live experiences with digital and other routes. Marketers should also be thinking about how they can use new technologies to enable audiences to move beyond passive watching or listening to arts content towards a more immersive experience where they contribute to its creation.

Bedding in culture

Distinctive, cutting-edge design is integral to CitizenM, a hotel brand which opens on London’s Bankside this week, appealing to the smart, cosmopolitan traveller with a recipe of stylish comfort and cultural amenities. “We are trying to build a contemporary brand for today’s traveller who is both young at heart and very aware of what is going on,” says Robin Chadha, chief marketing officer of CitizenM. “These people are very informed and with that goes new ways of working, new ways of being entertained and cultural aspects such as art and books.”

Room with cultural views: CitizenM showcases local artist’s work and the London hotel lobby houses cult bookshop MENDO

The London opening is the fourth for a brand, which already has properties in Amsterdam and Glasgow and is poised to expand further into New York and Paris. The formula it uses to tap into the culture-savvy target consumer is a mix of innovation in design and technology, contemporary art and luxurious interior finishes. The look and feel is high-end but with room rates starting at £99, CitizenM captures a wider consumer-base than the classic design hotel.

CitizenM uses four avatars to define its target consumer: business traveller, cultural traveller, fashionista and explorer. Age and gender are not important to the brand manifesto and the company is much more likely to think in terms of someone who is value conscious and loves luxury or is interested in efficiency and style.

“People are definitely more interested in culture now,” comments Chadha. “Partly because it is so much more available to them with the sheer variety of events going on in a city like London, but also because of how technology allows for the spread of thoughts and ideas.”

CitizenM also gives local artists a platform to showcase their work. Specially commissioned art works for CitizenM Bankside include 2006 Turner prize nominee Mark Titchner and international art duo Assume Vivid Astro Focus. The look and feel of the hotel has been developed by interiors specialist Concrete and hip furniture designers Vitra. The vibrant, cutting-edge tone is augmented by the presence of cult Amsterdam bookshop MENDO.

The bookshop, which takes the form of an outsized literary tome in the hotel lobby, houses around 60 titles from the five categories of fashion, photography, travel, interior design and graphic design. Connecting with the technology preferences of the target group, consumers can buy the books either in person or online via an iPad device in-store.

“The bookshop positions us as a lifestyle hotel but also signals – through titles such as Helmut Newton’s Polaroids and the best restaurants of the world – that we have a certain level of taste,” says Chadha. “It touches the things the young executive guest is interested in.”


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