Opinion

Why Absolut embraced street art in Hong Kong

Secret Walls X Hong KongThe first major project from new Hong Kong brands-meet-art agency Brand Tribe Asia has been a sponsored live street art contest called Secret Walls X.

Mumbrella Asia’s editor Robin Hicks went to the closing event of 2013 last night and asked the marketing director of Pernod Ricard Hong Kong, Kaori Shirota, what Secret Walls has achieved for its sponsor, Absolut Vodka.

What initially drew you to the idea behind Secret Walls X as a platform for Absolut Vodka in Hong Kong?

Secret Walls Hong Kong

Secret Walls X Hong Kong last night

I met Sarah [Ouellette, Brand Tribe Asia’s founder] through a contact who works in sales. It wasn’t just the idea behind Secret Walls X that appealed to me, but Sarah’s approach to the concept. She was very open about the opportunity from the start.

Brands and art don’t always make easy bedfellows. Have you had any resistance to your approach from the art community?

We have a global sponsorship arrangement with Art Basel, which holds annual events in Basel, Miami Beach and Hong Kong. We began our sponsorship last year, but it was sometimes difficult to agree on the commercial terms.

Art exhibitors tend to be restrictive about how involved a brand can be, because they don’t want a sponsor to get too much exposure. Our view was that if we can’t expose our brand at all, what’s the point in supporting the event?

In September we collaborated with Fine Art Asia. It’s a large, conservative event, and tricky from a commercial perspective. There was a big discussion between us and the artist, because we wanted to push a few conditions for the way the brand was expressed that the artist didn’t like.

Absolut is an edgy, evocative brand, and most people are aware of its links with art. But what is critical is to find the right balance, especially with a brand like Absolut.

As a brand, once you have a contemporary art platform, how you use it is an art form in itself – from the colours you use as branding, to how you position the bottles of Absolut at the event.

So what sort of influence did you want Absolut to have at Secret Walls X Hong Kong?

Secret Walls Hong Kong XWe didn’t want to push the envelope too much, because the people we’re trying to reach at these events are sensitive to commercial encroachment. They are edgy, creative types, who don’t like to have a commercial agenda foisted upon them.

Sarah has helped us strike the right balance – to ensure that art and brand compliment each other.

So what the best way to communicate with this target group?

As simplistic as it sounds, by not being too commercial. The Secret Walls platform is interesting, because you can use it in a subtle way. If you use a light touch, people will still remember the brand behind the event.

So what was the nature of the deal?

We wanted to introduce Absolut as a brand that supports the arts, without forcing the message. The deal was to make our drink available at the event, and only our drink – 100% pure Absolut [Pernod Ricard recently launched Absolut Originality, a ‘limited edition’ with 4m cobalt-colour bottles available globally].

Secret Walls X Hong KongOne of the challenges of art events is that people want to drink champagne, whisky or beer, but we were clear that we wanted Absolut, and Absolut only, to be part of the live art experience.

Who is your target group? Young hipster types?

Age is not important for our brand, nor is gender. It’s about a lifestyle and a philosophy. We are trying to target creative, active influencers. People who will go to events like Secret Walls, have a good time, choose Absolut next time they have a drink, and influence their friends to do the same.

What about results? How can you measure the effectiveness of an activation like this?

This is just the start. It’s not just a one-off. We want to talk about art in the Absolut way in Hong Kong, and build the brand image in the right way. In Hong Kong, people know Absolut, but they don’t know much about the brand and what is stands for.

This is not the case in the US or the UK, where people are familiar with the brand essence, and its edgy, creative tone. That is missing here. I don’t expect sales to boom as an immediate result of Secret Walls. It’s the start of a journey to build the brand for the long term.

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