Why authenticity is crucial for artist-to-brand collaborations

When an artist-brand collaboration goes so truly well, it can be hard to put a finger on what truly fuels and defines that success. Why were Tyler the Creator and Converse such a dream match in creating Golf Le Fleur? The shoe designed for white basketball players in 1917 and then became favoured by African-American players in the 70s and beyond isn’t the most obvious brand for a skate-loving, nerdy music artist and producer who grew up in Californian projects? But somehow, Tyler weaves Converse so effortlessly into his brand his nerdy coolness added a whole new edge to such an iconic footwear brand.

Similarly artist Arsham’s recent collaboration with Tiffany&Co simply boomed! As Arsham makes his mark across industries, one could question what it is about him that benefits the brands and, at the other end of the spectrum, why some companies fail miserably in their endeavours to differentiate themselves through creative partnerships.
One explanation that works in the artist’s favour is his ability to add value to brands in a way that offers the right amount of incongruity to be accepted by consumers and be a suitable fit for the companies with which he works.

“When things fit too closely, the audience fails to see the difference and there is no added value through the collaboration. If things are too incongruous then the audience doesn’t understand why they are together and they ignore it,” explains Toni Eagar, lecturer at the Australian National University and marketing academic.

In the instance of the Tiffany & Co. partnership, both Arsham and the luxury jeweller share a passion to innovate, push the boundaries of creativity and have a respect for skilled craftsmanship. However, by giving the blue box an aged appearance, the artist alludes to the history of the brand, achieved with a custom hand-finished patina as well as through distortion.

“A lot of my work is really about taking things that people already know and have an expectation about and transforming that,” Arsham shares. “Subtlety combined with this very jarring aesthetic can be very impactful for people.”

Arguably the most powerful impact an artist can have on a brand is to give it new meaning that distinguishes it in a busy marketplace, as well as strengthening the company’s image by association with the artist.

A more recent collaboration, where illustration served to communicate a company’s values in a relatable and memorable fashion, is London-based coffee brand Minor Figures joining forces with illustrator and graphic novelist Andrew Rae.

An everyday necessity like oat milk was brought to life with a series of quirky characters that celebrate the simple aspects of life while capturing the spirit of the brand and demanding attention as an ordinary beverage is made to seem extraordinary. As a brand that goes against societal norms, the packaging highlights this point of difference perfectly across its ready-to-drink products, communicating to consumers that the brand is all about having fun.

There really is no simple answer for why some brands fail with their creative collaborations where others succeed. Yet as with most elements of post-Covid marketing of any form, authenticity takes centre stage. Even if consisting of juxtaposing partners, a brand collaboration will work better if it is believable

“If the company is trying to add meaning, then it’s a complicated dance of looking at the plethora of meanings that an artist may possess and trying to connect with the desired elements,” Eagar affirms. “If the audience doesn’t believe in the collaboration as an authentic effort to ‘create’, then it is likely to fail.”

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