When PepsiCo decided to create a new premium water brand last year, it came up with LIFEWTR—a clear plastic bottle with a black cap and a colorful, eclectic series of labels designed by emerging artists. Art is a central part of the LIFEWTR brand. Through it, PepsiCo also donates art supplies to public schools and has endowed a $100,000 annual fund for the Brooklyn Museum to purchase new works.
PepsiCo is only the latest example of a brand making substantial, and sometimes surprising, new investments in art and artists. BMW has been producing Art Cars since 1975, Absolut has had artists design its vodka bottles since 1986, and Louis Vuitton has commissioned collections of handbags by artists such as Takashi Murakami, Yayoi Kusama, and Jeff Koons since 2003. But the phenomenon of brands positioning themselves as patrons of creative culture has accelerated in recent years, driven, it seems, by the rise of visual-centric social media and the merging of contemporary art with mainstream pop culture. Facebook, Kickstarter, and Adobe host artists-in-residence in their offices, and most WeWork locations commission a mural from local street artists. Dolby invites artists to constantly reconceive its logo. Nike regularly unveils sneakers designed by artists, and sponsors new media installations in cities like Hong Kong. Calvin Klein recently engaged the artist Sterling Ruby to redesign its flagship boutiques in Manhattan and Paris. Uniqlo not only puts art on T-shirts, but sponsors a grant for public artworks in New York City’s parks. Earlier this year, OkCupid tapped the Italian conceptual artists Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari to design a marketing campaign.