Art History and Advertising
Left: Roy Lichtenstein, Roto Broil, 1961. Museum of Contemporary Art, Tehran.
Right: Roy Lichtenstein, Kitchen Range, 1961-62. National Museum of Australia.
Some artists wonderfully illustrate the existing bridges between art, advertising and consumption. As early as the end of the 19th century, cabaret managers used to solicit Parisian artists to create posters extolling the virtues and excesses of their dance parties. This was notably the case of the emblematic Toulouse-Lautrec, and his no less famous poster advertising La Goulue: masked parties organized by the Moulin Rouge.
Left: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Promotional poster for the Moulin Rouge - La Goulue, 1891. Museum of Advertising, Paris.
Right: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Promotional poster for Les Ambassadeurs (Aristide Bruant in his cabaret), 1892. Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, Albi, France.
These two posters were exhibited simultaneously at the Art and Advertising exhibition organized by the Centre Pompidou in 1990.
Later, in the mid-1950s, the emergence of Pop Art across the Atlantic flooded the art world with advertising intrusions. Andy Warhol's tomato soup cans and Roy Lichtenstein's stylized product notices symbolize this new trend: the reciprocal interference of Fine Arts within the advertising culture. The use of everyday consumer products by Pop Artists quickly proved itself in the business world. The Campbell Soup Company (American company that markets the famous canned goods) couldn't have dreamed of a better marketing strategy than the one offered by the creative genius of Andy Warhol. Today, these Pop Art cans have become iconic all over the world, even though they're only available in American supermarkets. For an industrialist, this is an effective way to make history through art: the exhibition of the artwork mechanically increases the exposure of the product.
Little by little, the boundaries between art, entertainment and consumer products became more and more porous. Andy Warhol went even further, uttering this famous phrase: "When you think about it, department stores are kind of like museums."
Andy Warhol, Campbell's Soup Cans, 1962. Museum of Modern Art, New York.
(If you love Pop Art pieces, check out our article on 5 Most Emblematic Artworks of Pop Art)
Elsewhere, throughout the 20th century, many legendary artists would lend their brushes to brands for promoting their products: for example, the American Edward Hopper and the Belgian René Magritte both participated in these commercial masquerades in order to finance their early creative years.
Since the 1980s, art has never been so present in the marketing strategies and advertising campaigns of companies. The first collaborations between Keith Haring and certain iconic brands (Lucky Strike, Absolut Vodka, Quick) marked the advent of long-term cooperation between creators and brands wishing to (re)enhance their image with a certain public. These partnerships finance the artist as much as they participate in the massive diffusion of his art: a proposal that contemporary creators can't refuse.
Left: Keith Haring, Advertising poster for Lucky Strike, 1987.
Right: Keith Haring, Advertising poster for Absolut Vodka, 1986.
Other brands also use works that have long since fallen into the public domain to serve the purpose of a marketing strategy: this is notably the case of the brand La Laitière, which uses the eponymous masterpiece created around 1660 by Johannes Vermeer. Another example is Van Gogh, whose turbulent life trajectory now allows to sell several thousand liters of absinthe every year, since one of his self-portraits adorns the bottles of the Absente brand. In the same way, Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man perfectly illustrated the intentions of the Man Power logo (temping and recruitment service) for many years.
Today, we're going to look back at 3 curious cases in which the creative process of an artist had a huge influence on the notoriety of a brand or a product, with the examples of Salvador Dali and the Chupa Chups brand, Victor Vasarely and the Renault group, and finally we'll come back to the (very) particular influence of René Magritte, whose artworks inspired and still inspire a multitude of advertisers in the 21st century.
These precise analyses will allow us to answer the following questions with elegance and substance: How does art influence advertising? And why do advertisers need art to enhance their products?
1. Salvador Dali and Chupa Chups
The brand of sweet lollipops that everyone knows today was founded in 1958 by the Spanish businessman Enric Bernat. The name comes from the contraction of the verb "chupar" (to suck in Spanish) and the onomatopoeia "chups" which evokes the whistling of the lips when the lollipop comes out of the mouth. During the first years of industrialization, lollipops were sold well, but unfortunately they were only one of many candies.
This type of candy would never have achieved the success it has today without its famous round logo. The founder of the company quickly realized that a good brand is nothing without a good logo: fortunately, he counted among his friends a moustachioed legend named Salvador Dali. The leader of the surrealist movement readily agreed to work on a reinterpretation of the original logo. He changed the details of the logo and gave the lollipops a visual identity as simplistic as it is iconic: a daisy shape and a color code - yellow and red - reminiscent of the colors of the Spanish flag. The brand name also benefits from a round and delicate typography, enhanced by bright and attractive curves: here, greed is the key.
Images: Evolution of the Chupa Chups brand logo. Intervention of Salvador Dali in 1969.
A choice of communication that the firm will never regret: today, we estimate that Chupa Chups sells more than four billion lollipops per year: more than half of the world's population has already tasted one of these flavored sweets.
2. Victor Vasarely and the Renault logo
If you regularly leave your home (and we hope so), chances are you'll come across this iconic logo at least once a day. But did you know that behind this little grey diamond hides a real arty story? The Renault company was created in 1898. Since then, various logos have adorned the brand's vehicles: first, two intertwined "R" that represented the creators of the emblem: the Renault brothers. Then, different logos followed one another, including the representation of a tank during the First World War. From 1925 onwards, the brand adopted the gridded diamond, because it was better suited to the lines of the hoods of their products. It will remain however very rustic during several decades. Images. Evolution of the logo of the Renault group from 1900 to 1925.In 1972, after having gone through two world wars and countless nationalizations, the group decides to offer itself a new image, more in phase with the evolution of the society and the incipient globalization. They decided to contact Victor Vasarely and his son, Yvaral, to design a logo that was sleek, smooth and beautiful. A new emblem for new ambitions.
Images. Evolution of the Renault group logo from 1946 to the present day.
At the time, this family duo had already collaborated on the façade of the RTL Studios in Paris (now destroyed). Victor Vasarely was a French and Hungarian artist born in 1906, and above all, he's the founder of Op Art ("Optical Art"), an artistic movement that translates into a set of practices and researches based on the concepts of trompe-l'oeil and optical illusions.
Victor Vasarely, OND-LZ, 1971. This artwork is a perfect symbol of optical art.
In few days, the duo designed a logo that would make a big impression. Graphically pure, a symbol of modernity, it was obviously validated by the company, which immediately integrated it into its entire communication strategy: marketing campaigns, posters, television advertisements...
The lines and slight details at the corners of the rhombus suggest the dynamism of the carmaker thanks to a delicate 3D effect that gives it consistency and character.
Since then, although the logo has undergone subtle variations, it retains the DNA injected by the genius Vasarely. In 2021, Renault will once again dust off its faithful emblem. A rare thing in marketing strategies, the brand has decided to resurrect the original design proposed by Vasarely. A sober and elegant recycling, a surviving artifact of an artist ahead of his time.
3. René Magritte: surrealism at the service of the advertising imagination
René Magritte, The Son of Man, 1964. Detail. Private collection.
Child or adult, conscious or unconscious: everyone knows and recognizes the artworks of René Magritte. With his vivid, luminous and deeply original imagination, he succeeded in seducing public opinion and making the masses adhere to the ardor of the surrealist movement. Where, for a lay public, the Dadaism of Duchamp or Man Ray often seemed absurd or even irritating, and where the surrealism of Dali often seemed too dreamy and fanciful, René Magritte was able to convince the most reluctant with calm, geometric, symbolic works, at the antipodes of the systematic overload of his Parisian counterparts. The Belgian artist created more than 1500 curious and explosive artworks, in which recurring and emblematic elements can be found: objects participating in the Magritte myth, now almost indistinguishable from his brushstrokes. Green apples, blue skies, clouds, doors, bowler hats, men in suits, umbrellas, birds and lamp posts are all tools used to create a well thought-out surrealist mythology.
René Magritte, The Treachery of Images, 1928. Painting exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in Brussels.
Magritte's style has impacted the advertising imagination and the consumer society in a totally new way. And it's certainly because he forged himself as a communicator in his younger years that his work has become so prominent in popular culture. In 2021, there's few people who don't know the famous painting "This is not a pipe", whose real name is The Treachery of Images. Yet this artwork has all the elements of an effective advertisement: a readable message that questions and a powerful image. Outside of these two components, there is nothing: emptiness, void. This lack of connection between the two elements allows the viewer to cogitate, to look for a correlation, to think and to spend time analyzing the painting. This is exactly what an advertiser is looking for when he conceptualizes a marketing strategy: he wants the viewer to stop, think and devote his attention to a slogan or a message, because it's the first step towards the consumption of a product.
It's not surprising that we find this particular sobriety in the advertising campaigns of our time, from Apple to Netflix or McDonald's. It's also not surprising that we regularly discover this painting reinterpreted to excess by advertisers in need of inspiration, even if it means destroying the original meaning through thoughtless detour.
Allianz advertising poster. A good example of misinterpretation of the initial message defended in the painting of René Magritte. Detail: 'This is a common finger squasher'.
Even if René Magritte mastered the codes of communication, he hated advertising. He even considered advertising to be "an applied art that kills pure art". This explains why his painting could sometimes appear as mischievously sarcastic. However, he had to participate in these masquerades to feed himself. That's why he worked for many Brussels clients, mainly jewelers and fashion designers, but also with a Belgian airline company, Sabena (now defunct).
Posters of a marketing campaign of the brand Absolut Vodka, using the style of Magritte's artworks.
As you may have noticed, art and advertising share much more complex links than you might think. From the Citroën Picasso to Keith Haring's coffee makers, through the collaborations between Louis Vuitton and Takashi Murakami, we could have evoked many other eloquent situations in which art embraces advertising, for the better and sometimes (often) for the worse.
“Art is already advertisement. The Mona Lisa could be used to sell a chocolate brand, Coke or anything else.” (Andy Warhol, 1981).