Art sells and here’s how

Even if you’re an art philistine, and you know nothing about texture, form, Picasso, or chiaroscuro,  chances are you know about Andy Warhol's Campbell Soup. You may not know who created the work, but the image of the soup cans and their distinctive red and white branding is probably etched in your mind.

Art has the power to transcend just being “something nice”, and move firmly into the world of advertising.  It has the potential to move people, whether because it’s familiar to us, or because the art resonates with us. Also, it helps that artists have, to some degree, often been involved in advertising in some way. In the 20th century, it wasn’t unusual to find artists (like Warhol) with advertising resumes, and even the 15th and 16th century greats like Da Vinci, were often employed by nobility to make them look good. Brand awareness has always been a thing.

On a smaller scale, ‘famous art’ is also used to boost shops attached to galleries. For example, you can’t walk past a Tate shop without seeing a famous artwork printed on something. Art gallery shops know their market well, which is why they pepper their displays with Van Gogh leggings and Louise Bourgeois eye masks. Art sells - and although it can be used to boost a big advertising campaign, galleries lean heavily on artwork’s ability to sway the visitor to purchase a mug with a nice print or even, for some inexplicable reason at the Tate Modern, a skateboard.

Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci

It probably comes as no surprise that Leonardo’s Mona Lisa hits our screens more than any other work of art in advertising campaigns. It’s a cultural touchstone, unlike, perhaps an early work by Batista Moroni. In 2013, Orange designed an advertising campaign based in the Louvre where the telecommunications provider managed to make her wink. They described it as “the most mysterious painting in the world” just so everyone knew what the advert was referring to. In 2003, before the world had access to more OG pizza styles, Pizza Hut launched a campaign called “Classic Italian”, which featured an actor designed to look like Mona Lisa eating a slice of pizza. OG indeed. 

Volkswagen, Rene Magritte

In 2008, Volkswagen hired ad agency DDB to create a series of print adverts inspired by Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte. The designer had started his career in advertising initially, producing work for jewellers to car manufacturers like Alfa Romeo. In the case of the Volkswagen advert, the posters use the artist’s mismatched style to create paintings with floating chess boards, an oil tanker ship in a bottle, and a headless gas man pumping oil into a non-existent car. They’re accompanied by the tagline “absurdly low consumption”: the painting looks Magritte-esque on first glance, but would the man who posed existential statements such as “c’est ne pas une pipe” find it bizarre that his artistic style was being used to create such a random advert? Perhaps not.

Lipton Tea: Salvador Dali, The Persistence of Memory

Dali’s most famous painting is probably the Persistence of Memory, or, the one that looks like a melting clock face. It makes perfect sense that Lipton Tea’s Russian branch would feature a melting yellow tea bag, inspired by Dali. The designers swap out the clocks for tea bags which hits home as one of the most surreal paintings of the 20th century, is also a great backdrop for encouraging people to buy tea.

Andy Warhol

Time and time again, American pop artist Andy Warhol is used in adverts. He actually worked in advertising as a commercial illustrator for ten years, mainly drawing shoes. He was one of the highest paid freelancers working in New York City at the time, and he was chased by brands including Dior and Tiffany to create artworks for him. He was proud of his advertising past, so it’s unsurprising that his images have been used countless times to sell products even since his death. Absolut Vodka collaborated with the Andy Warhol Foundation for their 2014 campaign to create a new design in the style of Warhol, who worked for the brand in the 80s. It’s brash, loud, and unmistakably ‘pop’.

Paddy Power: Da Vinci, The Last Supper

In 2012 online betting site Paddy Power thought a campaign featuring Jesus and his disciples at the last supper would be a great idea. Never one to shy away from controversy (their 2010 advert showed a blind man kicking a cat into a tree which was the most complained about advert of the year), Paddy Power had to pull their last supper ad. Not only did it feature Jesus and the apostles, but it also featured them gambling, accompanied by the slogan: “there’s a place for fun and games.”

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

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