In recent years, several prominent luxury brands have repositioned their communications strategy around an affiliation with the arts. There are numerous examples of this trend, ranging from Zegna’s ZegnArt project supporting “points of intersection” between business and culture to Rolls-Royce’s Art Programme (a series of special commissions), and to LVMH’s Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris (the Frank Gehry-designed museum for contemporary art). The message is clear: in the post-recession economy, art appeals because it invokes a legitimate but refreshed sense of old, true luxury – not flashy glamour, but rather an appreciation of creativity, craftsmanship, and pleasure (including intellectual pleasure).
Predictably, this approach has also trickled into the mainstream space, with brands like Heineken, Perrier, Converse, and Target taking a more accessible approach to patronage via artist collaborations and special edition commissions.
As a result, Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB) has become an event to watch for lifestyle marketers. As the American offshoot of the prestigious European festival, ABMB has exploded since its beginnings in 2002: attendance at the December 2015 edition reportedly increased by 6.5% compared to last year*, with more than 100,000 visitors and more than 20 pop-up shows. Featuring artworks from all disciplines and artists from around the globe, the five-day event is a celebration of creative energy and a spotlight for new ideas.
Compared to other big-ticket events in the cultural space (like film or music festivals), ABMB offers a different level of sophistication, spending-power and artistic legitimacy. The show-goers are not the hipsters of Coachella or the starlets of Cannes; while ABMB also attracts its share of glitzy Hollywood A-listers (this year included Leonardo DiCaprio, Katie Holmes, Sylvester Stallone, Adrian Brody and Hilary Swank), the Festival also draws elite individuals from other universes. One panel-talk, for example, hosted by the Creative Class Group, featured a medley of cultural icons including intellectual Richard Florida, architects Yabu Pushelburg, curator Jerome Sans, graffiti artist Kenny Scharf and musician Nelly Furtado, each offering their views on Miami as a creative incubator.
For show-goers, the appeal of ABMB is the sense of community, and like any elite sphere, the art world is a small world. For marketers, this translates into a chance to gain traction within a very targeted audience. For international brands and particularly those centered in the Americas, Miami also represents an ideal meeting point, where communities overlap and where a brand’s geocultural identity can be brought to life in a meaningful way. LATAM’s VIP lounge at Pinta Miami was a great example of this. This makes for an elevated and immersive experience, where brands benefit from a halo of creative energy.
The landscape at ABMB is of course competitive: this year, the show was host to marketing activations – some official, some not – from a variety of different brands, including tech-world stars (Samsung, KickStarter, Spotify, Airbnb, Muzik), mainstream lifestyle players (Target, VH1, Redbull), fashion icons (Jeremy Scott, Fendi, Sandro, Swarovski) and luxury/high-net-worth brands (Perrier-Jouët, UBS, NetJets, Douglas Elliman, Audi, BMW).
The apparent mood among marketing teams on-site was a que sera, sera acceptance of the unknown, in the face of ABMB’s many logistic challenges: when inquiring about program highlights or event itineraries, a common reply was “check back tomorrow”. This test-and-learn mentality is uncommon at events of this scale, and points to the collision of two worlds – creative and commercial – that are still learning to coexist.
Without question, the main challenge this year was the unpredictable weather, which threw a major curve in all outdoor activation plans. Kudos to the team at Airbnb’s open-air installation, who spent their days wrestling makeshift tents and oversized umbrellas; contrast this to BMW’s Art Journey, located in the botanical gardens beside the fairgrounds, which was left in a perpetual puddle.
Difficult mobility frustrated everyone, with Uber surcharges ranging between x4-x7, meaning that any events located outside the fairgrounds needed to have major appeal. Bacardi succeeded in luring guests across the bay to Wynwood with a free-admission concert series featuring big-name talent like Alicia Keys and DMX. Kit & Ace, similarly, overcame the transport challenge by activating in multiple locations, including the brand’s famous “Copper Studio” camper-van (also in Wynwood), as well as a pop-up shop at Soho Beach House.
Additionally, party-hopper’s fatigue from around-the-clock festivities resulted in an extra level of flakiness from influencers and VIPs; I attended more than one cocktail reception where event staff outnumbered guests.
However, for brands that can embrace the agility required to survive this daunting context, the pay-off is potentially great. As an international celebration of creativity, ABMB requires that brands champion both the art and science of experiential marketing; they require boldness and ingenuity to stand out, as well as the rigor and precision required to survive. This is a useful exercise for any marketer, and one that results in an ideal testing ground for new products, concepts and experiences.