DMatters November 2018 Issue

Art, Design and Brands: Crossover Strategies in the 21st Century

In a highly globalised world, many of us are using the same smartphone models, going to the same coffee chains and wearing sneakers of the same brands. But as consumers, we always prefer variety, individuality and fresh product or service experiences. For branding and marketing professionals, such a desire for originality presents an enormous challenge but also creates many opportunities. How do they design products or experiences that feel authentic, exclusive and extraordinary?

In the past, art was considered to be more exclusive and non-commercial, while design was more functional and mass-oriented. But gone are the days with such a huge distinction between them. Even the most conventional brands are launching exciting crossover projects with artists to inject new impetus for consumers. The confluence of art, design and brands enhances not just aesthetic but also business value. It doesn’t just want to attract target customers’ temporary attention, but lure them with a desirable brand attitude, lifestyle and philosophy – part of a journey to create a new culture, or sub-cultures.

Bicycle brand Cinelli & Columbus perfectly exemplifies how art can bring a brand to a whole new level. Back in the late 1970s, bicycle components manufacturer Cinelli was sold to A.L. Colombo Group. While bikes were mainly made of steel at that time, the material began to lose ground to aluminium and carbon fibre at the turn of the century. Instead of trying to crush the surge of new materials, the company’s president Antonio Colombo found a path to co-existence through his passion — art. He turned the wheels into canvases for artists like Keith Haring, and commissioned artworks and launched crossover projects with street brands such as Mash SF and Kaws. This fusion of art, style and professionalism successfully earned Cinelli & Columbus a leading position in the booming cycling scene and high-end artisan bike market.

Another example is the skincare brand Aesop from Melbourne. It espouses authenticity and carves out a niche in a saturated market. Their branding strategy is consistent with their skincare philosophy — celebrating and respecting individuality over conventional notions of beauty or brand-building. Such an aura of exclusivity is palpable in all of their 177 stores across 20 countries. “Each Aesop store has a distinct architectural design, providing a calm and inviting environment for customers to experience our products and receive genuine service,” says Suzanne Santos, Chief Customer Officer of Aesop. While each store is a unique collaboration with world-class or local architects, the shopping experience is unified. The stores are oases on bustling streets that draw pedestrians in. Loyal customers are enticed to visit every single store.

KeepCup, also from Melbourne, demonstrates how doing good can become a trendy lifestyle. Co-founded by Abigail Forsyth and her brother in 2009, KeepCup is the first to offer barista-standard reusable cups. Abigail had been running coffee houses in Melbourne for a decade before she decided to take bold action against disposable cups by developing KeepCup. In the R&D process, they engaged design experts extensively. They finally created this stylish and high-quality alternative to disposable cups that can satisfy specialty coffee lovers in Melbourne and worldwide. KeepCup wins the hearts of consumers by enabling personalised cup design and keeping the manufacturing process local. Its brand philosophy also embraces social causes. In less than 10 years, 8 million KeepCups have already been sold, while billions of disposable cups have been saved.

In the 21st century, consistency is no longer the sole rule of thumb in branding. Consumers are looking for something individualistic and beyond their imagination. While the confluence of art and design provides a good starting point to reinvent brands, expanding the crossover spirit to more disciplines will bring limitless possibilities. Just look at how Hong Kong's own LT Duck made a comeback not just in our bathtubs but in food and beverage, theatres and shopping malls.

Antonio Colombo, Suzanne Santos and Abigail Forsyth will join us at the “Brand Asia Forum” in BODW 2018, along with the brand creatives, entrepreneurs and design thinkers from naked Group, BEYORG and Marriott International. Learn more about our programme and get your tickets now!

Further readings:
More about BODW 2018

Cinelli: The Art and Design of Bicycle

Aesop: The Taxonomy of Design!/ 

Abigail Forsyth is a Keeper

Click  here  to read the full issue of DMatters November 2018.