The Art of Campari shows more brands should pay attention to their aesthetic impact


This summer's exhibition at London's Estorick Collection spans Campari's original Belle Époque posters, through its revolutionary campaigns of the 1920s, culminating in the elegant designs of the 1960s, says Gyro UK's David Harris.

A new exhibition of posters opened in London last week celebrating the art of Campari and its rich heritage in design and creativity. It’s a powerful reminder of not just the power of craft and strong visual design, but the value that’s created when brands champion young artists - and the reach and engagement they can achieve by choosing to do so.

Back in the early 1900s, Campari worked with some of the most celebrated poster designers of the day – the likes of Leonetto Cappiello, Marcello Dudovich, Adolf Hohenstein and Marcello Nizzoli. But amongst its most celebrated commissions were posters from the 1920s onwards by futurist artist Fortunato Depero.

Campari was not alone. Closer to home, London Underground was – and still is – one of London’s most consistent and pioneering public sector patrons of the arts, working with numerous artists, designers and craftspeople in every aspect of its architecture, train livery and upholstery, site-specific art commissions and – of course – poster design.

Recently, an eye-catching ‘London Keeps Going’ promotional poster for the Underground was sold for just shy of £90,000 at auction in New York. It was done by none other than American artist Man Ray.

The first posters were literally post-ed on road-side posts to promote anything from political parties to products, recruit soldiers and spread ideas.

They began developing as a medium for visual communication in the early nineteenth century and were one of the earliest forms of advertisement. And they reached a creative zenith in the 1970s and early 1980s thanks to many long-running high-profile poster campaigns by brands such as Guinness and Benson & Hedges.

The Age of the Poster’s days were numbered, however.

With the 1990s came the rise of procurement. And a preoccupation with getting more for less – notably, buying stock images rather than commissioning original ones – led to the mediocrity in poster creativity that’s been widespread in recent years.

Once more, however, times are changing.

In the last few months we’ve seen American Express launch a strategy of providing billboard spaces in London, New York and Los Angeles to emerging artists; Snapchat developing Augmented Reality lenses with Jeff Koons; Ikea working with ten African artists and designers on a series of new collections; and Rémy Martin creating a revolutionary AR app with artist Matt W Moore.

Brands such as these are reversing mediocrity in poster design and creativity. They should be applauded for doing so. And they should be regarded as an inspiration to follow by many more.

The introduction from a catalogue from an exhibition of posters in Hamburg in 1896vii reads: ‘Art should be accessible to everyone … not only those who can afford works of art or have time to seek them out in galleries’.

I’ve spent my life either studying art or working in advertising and care deeply about the quality of visual communications. It didn’t worry Andy Warhol that the border between art and commerce was blurred. It doesn’t worry today’s artists.

In today’s world – a world in which brands are increasingly expected to stand for something – I believe that the quality of visual creativity matters more than ever. And as many people – younger consumers, especially – place great value in good design, it also matters more for brands. 

Everyone’s talking about the importance to brands of social responsibility. But it’s not only ethical impact that should be of paramount importance but aesthetic impact, too. And the reason’s simple. Because aesthetics make the difference between a piece of brand communications being something of substance with value and something that’s a careless throw-away.

David Harris is the chief creative officer of Gyro UK

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