Isn’t it amazing when you see a commercial, an ad, or a product that makes you stop and think: Wow – that company is so creative! Having spent my career – and many years prior – being creative and thinking outside boxes, I love when I see true – and brave – creativity in marketing and design.
I recently got a jolt that reminded me of this when I was spitting distance from a hugely expensive and pure performance product that also exuded a level of creative bravery that most corporate leaders could never, or would never, approve.
I was attending my son’s soccer game at Middlebury College and spotted an Americas Cup yacht hull artfully planted in a small pond on campus, it’s Roy Lichtenstein artwork on display for all to see. The artwork/boat was on loan from Storm King, one of the great outdoor sculpture “gardens” on earth.
My sailboat racing youth and love of Cup boat design and engineering came rushing back, but I didn’t realize this piece of sculpture was the actual race boat campaigned by the America3 syndicate. My excitement, reading the accompanying plaque, grew as it hit me that one team’s management had the vision and guts to finish their greatest asset as a piece of modern art, and not as a piece of mobile advertising.
You see, the Americas Cup is a bastion of yacht club corporate stiffness, old money and all those things non-sailors poke fun of whenever the words yacht club come off one’s lips, and historically, Americas Cup boats were mostly white, with the rare red, yellow or other solid color. Then came heavy corporate sponsorship and the boats became billboards.
I have nothing against moving advertisements; after all, I am steeped in Formula One and other motorsports. I’ve raced cars, designed cars, and worked with Ferrari, Porsche, Ganassi, and other teams. I love motorsport, and I appreciate sponsors, and their requirements.
It was auto racing that led me to be exposed to what can be considered the original outrageous “livery” for a race car. It was back in the 70s and it was outrageous. The car, the design, the art. And the artist. Alexander Calder, one of the greatest modern artists of all time – and my favorite since childhood.
The BMW Le Mans racer by Alexander Calder - it launched the BMW “Art Car” Series
BMW started with an odd thought. One of their race drivers was friends with Calder. They thought having him paint a car would allow them to insure the car as a piece of art instead of as a racing car - $1 million according to insiders. But then the team worried that BMW top brass wouldn’t want anything that distracted from the lines of their German-engineered car.
Thankfully, the top brass liked the idea, even though they weren’t sure what might come of it. They entered the car in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the press went wild, giving the “Art Car” more coverage than the winners of the race. Given all the publicity, BMW believed the project was a great success, even before the race was run. And in the ensuing years, BMW has continued the Art Car series with artists such as Lichtenstein, Warhol, Stella, and others.
BMW started something, showing the world that outrageous creativity could overpower typical corporate branding. And then there was America3. All very inspiring to anyone in the visual and marketing profession. So why don’t we see more of this behavior? The obvious answers begin with, we don’t have the budget, or the artist and end with we don’t have the guts to take a chance.
Corporate leaders and marketing teams need to loosen up a bit and take more chances. Consider it a form of marketing entrepreneurship – showing risky behavior and creativity that done well can result in far great results. From unique ad campaigns to outrageous branding, it’s critical that business managers widen their theories on marketing and customer attraction. Sadly, far too many businesses are led by people with the creative juices of cement mixer.
I’ve experienced it a number of times; the most recent doing the image and marketing design for a Pirelli Porsche World Challenge racing team. I created all the graphics and image design for the cars, the uniforms, the transporter (semi truck) and all the related collateral. I presented five designs for the car and the team owner instantly grasped the impact of The Peace Mobile; a car covered in peace symbols.
What could be more thought provoking than a loud, outrageous Porsche race car covered in peace signs of all sizes and colors?! Peace and racing? Huh? But they got it. The idea that this car – and team – would stand out among all the other cars in a sport where visibility and photo coverage are key. But, it was not meant to be. While the team and owners could get their heads around it, the theme didn’t resonate with the lead sponsor.
The author’s “Aero Car” design: still a standout on the track but hardly outrageous
I presented a much subtler, but still exciting design, and after a lot of educating, convinced them to show a little boldness. The car looked good. It was unique. The driver won races. There was exposure. But in my mind, nothing like it might have been. The Peace Mobile would have generated endless exposure and fan photos. Oh well…
The author with the “Aero” car after winning the Pirelli World Challenge race at COTA
Make an effort. Think about the images, the ads, the commercials, the products, that hit you instantly. The ones that make a real impact. Remind yourself that boldness and risk are OK. Strive to inspire your customers, your clients, your supporters, your fans. Hell…even insurance can be inspired – just look at the outrageous ads Geico and Progressive pound us with every day.