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Monday, 4 December 2017

Public art as a form of brand building

Yesterday, I visited the St-art India Festival (Street Art) housed at Sassoon Docks, Mumbai. Those of you who have visited Sassoon Docks, a 142-year old fish market, will know that the first and most inescapable impression is the strong, overpowering smell of fresh and dried fish, impossible even for fish lovers to tolerate for long. 

So it was natural that I stood and had a quiet chuckle in front of this exhibit by artist Sameer Kulavoor;





The artist even had giveaway empty cartons of perfume, that you could take back with you.

He reminded me that the smell of Mumbai is an inescapable part of the city, like its skyline. In its extreme form, I notice it, but otherwise I am used to the smell of Mumbai, which an outsider will immediately notice when it hits their nostrils. It was a reminder of the power of smells and their associations.

It could have been a fun, funky installation for a young perfume or deo brand. Provided they CREATED and did not SPONSOR it (an important distinction). 

All around me, I saw very young, very hip youngsters, engaged not in the art exhibits but in youngster's favorite activity these days - selfie taking, with art exhibits as the backdrop.

It's not the first time that I have seen this. This Nat Geo installation at Kala Ghoda a few years ago was a selfie hotspot for youngsters. Thus the reach was not limited to just visitors - the brand logo went viral on social media - and amongst just the young TG the brand sought to reach.




By calibrating the selfie (or photo op) smartly, you can reach an older audience as well.
For example, I was tickled by the 'branding' of Parfum Sassoon on the floor as well. I am too old to succumb to the selfie craze, so I took a snap of my feet next to the fish as well. this is incidentally the most popular picture in my Insta feed, amongst the many snaps I took of St+Art India. See how insidiously I have shared a brand logo (and I am sure that the artist was well aware of the power of art to have this effect)




It got me thinking as to why more brands do not use public art as a way to engage with audiences. At places like Metro Stations, parks, college campuses, bus stops, even roadsides. At places where people wait, where they queue up. At places where they chill out. Why do we fall back on the old mediums of hoardings, televisions, walls to plaster brand advertising? Why not create a fresh installation?

It's definitely more attention grabbing than hoardings

It's naturally more buzzworthy than a lot of online content because people can physically engage with it.

It benefits artists not only financially but also giving them a showcase for their work.

Our civic bodies do not prioritise beautification and brand funding can definitely raise the character of our public spaces.

And finally, public art can make people happy. It can be a mood changer in our daily, grimy, sweaty lives.

Of course, it's not as easy as it sounds which is why more brands are not doing it. You can't just shove a brand message into a public space. It needs to be subtly done. There needs to be empathy with the context, the ethos of the city and its people. That's what tugs at the heart. Kulavoor's perfume exhibit did that for me. It integrated the city and a love for it, with a creative (almost ad agency creative) touch. And it worked.

Lastly, do remember, one of the most important social services you are performing, is offering people cool photo ops and selfie backdrops. Seems we just cannot have enough of them. I mean, look at the number of selfie takers who have lost their lives trying to pose on the seaside and on cliffs. We really need safe spaces to cater to this selfie hunger and I am only half joking here.

Seems like a win-win situation for all.