“My cake is art and your art is cake”, said old Verkade (the one from the biscuits) to his son Kees, a sculptor of good merit. Joking perhaps, but there is a cultural phenomenon that resonates in this comment. The arts are still dismissed in our swamp delta as a fun pastime, an activity for people who haven’t studied further, or as left-wing hobbies. Even ministers turn their noses up at it.
I advise any art skeptic to take a tour of the Venice Biennale or Documenta Kassel. Even the most stubborn cynics soon have to let go of their poor qualifications. They should even conclude that art is nothing less than a basic necessity of life. In their infinite variety of expressions, they condemn the whole of human existence. Sometimes they do it morally, other times with surprise or curiosity. They do it with love, blame, disgust, sympathy, humanity, sometimes out of protest and often to wake people up. However they do it, the bond between art and the public is always real and often intense.
One of the artist’s main tasks is to tackle traditions and conventions, which make the audience look at the same things differently. Marketers can be inspired by this, because almost everything they do and think about consists of two components: 1 tradition, and 2. the conventions with which they ‘package’ that tradition. An example: Traditionally, insurance is a legal agreement between provider and buyer. By convention, we wrap that agreement in a thick packet of paper full of jargon, the meaning of which only a lawyer understands. The marketer can undermine that convention. Take a look around at how binding documents are designed elsewhere. How do you solve it with sophisticated design? Could it be more playful, more beautiful, more understandable? More customer friendly?
An insurance does not quickly become a work of art, but let your imagination run free and suddenly a lot is possible. Just look at the dazzling collectibles that big companies turn their boring annual reports into. They hire the absolute world top in graphic design for this. These designers pull the dusty question of revenue, profit and depreciation out of their narrow confines and coolly redefine convention. They don’t just think out of the boxthey do too.
Do you also want to go off the beaten path? For inspiration, take a look at an artist like Michael Landy, who for his installation Breakdown destroyed all his material possessions in 2001. Or to Banksy, his painting Girl with balloon in 2018 in front of a live audience through a shredder – just after it was sold for 1.2 million euros at auction!
Can you imagine the marketer putting his own products through the chopper? Neither me. Still, marketers can learn a lot from how artists overturn tradition and convention. They will see new opportunities through it, and maybe even apply them. Who knows, art and marketing may one day become related domains, with artists as ideal sparring partners for marketers. I promise you it will be a lot of inspiration.
Verkade saw that connection long before the marketing profession as such was invented. Between 1903 and 1940, the company published 30 successful albums where customers saved for pictures of nature and landscapes. Verkade had artists and illustrators such as Jan Voerman Jr., Willem Wenckebach, Henricus Rol and Jan van Oort create beautiful watercolors and paintings. These could be collected as pictures and inserted into the album with lyrics by Jac. P. Thijsse.
Verkade understood that cake and art went well together. And thus marketing and art reinforced each other. And the good thing is that the Verkade albums are still collected frantically. In every antiquarian book market you will come across a few, one even more beautiful than the other. For example, the old biscuit maker shattered conventions, sold more biscuits and gave his brand eternal value. Thanks to art.
Peter de Boer is creative director at Viisi Hypotheken and co-founder of the beer brand WillsArk. After studying art history, he chose a career in marketing and design and became a board member at Saatchi & Saatchi. He was co-founder of Onna-Onna, visiting faculty at THNK and co-founder of willsark.com. He is both fascinated by brands that know how to create loyal fans and the unprecedented realism of the Flemish primitives. Peter wrote this column in a personal capacity.