Art can deliver effective messages in a way that no other medium can communicate. Karina Abramova offers a guide to how brands can collaborate with artists to write themselves into the purpose narrative
Today’s marketers have a big challenge ahead of them: to contextualise rising geopolitical tensions, socio-economic breakdowns, mental-health crises and environmental collapse, all while turning a profit. People increasingly expects brands and CEOs to step in when governments fail them on social issues, according to Edelman’s Trust Barometer, with 2022 findings proclaiming, ‘societal leadership is now a core function of business’. People want more business engagement on key issues, not less.
In their review of emotion and decision-making, Lerner et al (2015) conclude that emotions constitute powerful, pervasive and predictable drivers of decision-making. To ignite behaviour change, ‘one must ignite people’s imaginations’. In the world of brands and desire, when the customer buys, they buy with their heart – and that is doubly true for luxury purchases.
How does this relate to the world of art? Visuals can compress a thousand charts into one emotion. Artistic expressions are pieces of individual communication. Since they are produced by humans with tools to be appreciated by humans with eyes, they are by design subjective missives. They are messages in a bottle that are decoded by the viewer with their emotional, decision-making selves.
Artworks have some history with social and environmental causes. For the very first Earth Day in 1970, artist Robert Rauschenberg was commissioned to create a poster. Although it painted a grim picture, it brought the eco-issue to the forefront of public consciousness, becoming a catalyst to activate environmental change. Some of us can remember the impact of ‘The Terror of War’, the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1972 photograph better known as ‘Napalm Girl’ that proved a decisive moment in turning opinion against the Vietnam war.
But in today’s metaverse age, can a digital object affect physical change? Can our zeroes and ones impact the most physical form of all – the Earth itself? With emotive imagery, sophisticated technology and regenerative action, the answer is Yes. As an example, we can look at Las Palmas Doradas, my eco-art activism project that blends creative intelligence with environmental action.
The purpose of the project is to drive climate literacy and unlock climate financing for communities involved in regenerative work. This is achieved through a commitment to climate education, emotionally resonant art, personal action and community participation.
Las Palmas Doradas emerged out of my first-hand experience with natural devastation – seeing the heavily affected beach and mangrove areas in Mexico – and led to a decision to communicate, enable and fund environmental activities that restore local ecologies.
Through the combination of physical objects and their digital twins – the ‘phygital’ – a project such as Las Palmas Doradas makes a statement about biodiversity loss and breaks into the world of NFTs. It is a great phygital example of how brands could drive causes as well as promote their products. For instance, a digital object can be a brand collaboration with a charity or a cause, driving awareness for both, as well as a fundraising mechanism.
As digital objects, these artworks can not only survive the original specimen but also carry climate science messaging and inspire future action through specific regenerative projects (Las Palmas Doradas supports mangrove planting in March 2023). The phygital element can meet audiences in both dimensions, attracting new audiences and reinvigorating existing ones while unlocking physical or digital experiences and access.
Thanks to NFT contract mechanics that automatically divert a percentage of the artwork sale towards a specific regenerative project pot, the art pieces can literally give back to the geography that inspired the work. Las Palmas Doradas in this way is exploring new fundraising avenues. In a world where 90% of every donated dollar goes to charity administration versus the cause on the ground, transparent endeavours can be a powerful fundraising and community-building mechanism.
So how should brands go about using the phygital world for good?
- Be Honest: Any cause-related endeavour is not meant to be light or easy, otherwise it would already be solved. Look at what needs to change in your sector, and in your business, and spell it out.
- Commit to a Community. Consider what action will move the needle the most for you. Commit to it. You don’t have to do everything. Nor are you likely to be able to do everything. Environment, racism, sexism, for example, are all systemic issues and require participation of many partners for change. Be the leader in your community or in your market.
- Present positive realities. For people to get on board, consider engaging with creative visionaries, positive thinkers and academic experts to spell out the future ripe with potential that your customers would love. Speak to emotions and ignite imaginations.
Technology can be used as an accelerant with its speed, scalability of solutions, transparency and global reach. Overnight, projects can raise millions when a brand gives the cause its platform.
Plus, a shiny NFT that acts as a project donation is something that a loyal customer would be happy to show off to their friends – ultimately using your brand to write itself into the purpose narrative.
Karina Abramova is an artist, speaker, writer, futurist and conscious changemaker with over 17 years of experience in branding, communications, culture and innovation. She wants to see more businesses embracing long-term impact activities for the benefit of communities and the planet. Reach out to her on LinkedIn for questions and collaborations, follow her on Twitter, or learn about the Las Palmas Doradas project including an upcoming experience at Frieze Art Fair.