Art thinking: Why more brands should ask "wouldn't it be cool if..."

Brands from Verizon to BMW are using art to connect consumers with unique experiences, writes the founder of VentureFuel

At the intersection of technology and art is a dynamically rare and intimate space – one where consumers are at play and welcome brands to enhance their experiences. While much of the advertising world grapples with ad blockers, programmatic buying, AI, and automated bots, there is a subtle movement, led by the most forward-thinking brands, to accentuate art and encourage innovation in order to give consumers something special.

Think about when we come across a beautifully painted art mural on a street corner. We stop as if we’re at the Louvre. There is a subtle Snapchat code in the corner, so we snap it because it is unique and beautiful. We willingly granted our attention and then shared our attention with our circle. A brand, in this case Verizon, stopped to "art think" and ponder ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’ and achieved its desired results.

In her new book, "Art Thinking," Amy Whitaker writes about the beauty of synthesis and the connective tissue between the creative and commercial arts—that by taking two seemingly different things and combining them to create a unique third entity, the understanding of the original two ingredients is changed. Think how peanut butter + chocolate equates to Reese’s deliciousness. Brands are realizing that by combining their messaging authentically with art and innovation, additive experiences can be created for consumers.

Whitaker ponders "wouldn’t it be cool if…" and then challenges her readers to achieve whatever unique idea inspires them. In doing so, human existence is transformed by creating something completely original. I was struck that the best brands ask themselves "wouldn’t it be cool if."  

Take Tinder’s recent experience within NYC’s Museum of Ice Cream called "Tinderland." Working with my company VentureFuel, Tinder created a whimsical room equipped with a giant ice cream scooper seesaw, sandwich swing, and a place where you can match with your flavor "soul mate" by swiping right. Was it media? Was it branding? Yes on both counts, but it was also a company thinking imaginatively. It was a collaboration to build something magical, something special, and something Willy Wonka would have been proud of.

You could look to Likuid Art’s partnership with Pepsi, where a 40-foot dome was created showcasing 18 minutes of visual wonder by emerging artists, culminating in red and blue whisps swirling together to form the Pepsi logo. The immersive experience had Voodoo Festival attendees in New Orleans waiting for hours to, essentially, see an ad.

This concept isn’t altogether new. In fact, BMW’s Art Car project is among the best "wouldn’t it be cool if" stories. In the ‘70s, French racecar driver Herve Poulian created this initiative by inviting an artist to turn an automobile into a canvas, and later commissioned artist Alexander Calder to paint on BMW 3.0 CSL, marking the first of the brand’s long line of art cars. BMW has since embraced the project, commissioning artists from Andy Warhol to Roy Lichtenstein to Jeff Koons to embrace creativity while showcasing their products.

Warhol himself said that "being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art," and, of course, his Campbell’s Soup paintings irrevocably changed the connection between the art and ad worlds. Even in the 1940s, Norman Rockwell drew illustrations for Jell-O and Orange Crush. But today, the connection goes well beyond the aesthetics, as brands are finding that being intricately involved in the art culture is becoming fascinating business.

This month, Patron will announce the winner of its second annual "Art of Patron," a bottle art contest that challenges artists to use the iconic bottles as inspiration to create unique artistic statements from sculptures to decoupage. Last week at Comic Con NYC, the Artist’s Alley was jammed with people clamoring to see the artists who created their favorite characters, which was an opportunity for brands to incorporate custom or sponsored sketches. Perhaps, they borrowed from the brilliant execution of a courtroom sketch that CBS employed for the launch of its new show "Bull."

The brands joining Art Basel in December will hopefully push the envelope to inspire people with their integration of art and technology, not simply their regurgitated branding message. The more brands ask Whitaker’s question "wouldn’t it be cool if," the more they have a chance to break through the clutter of our everyday lives – to permeate the ad blockers we erect in our minds, as well as on our desktops. Brands have a chance to create and co-create original experiences in a world littered with imitation, showing the optimism to ask what’s possible through invention. By doing so, brands can inspire the imaginations of their consumers which leads to loyalty, recommendations, and love. Now wouldn’t that be cool?

—Fred Schonenberg is the founder of VentureFuel, which helps advertisers create unique experiences by partnering with new technology and emerging media, like the Museum of Ice Cream. 

Subscribe today for just $116 a year

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free