Monday 25 October 2010

Logos size XXL

In the previous post I discussed the inclusion of the logos of sponsors and supporters in promotional materials. Something that is asked and given in return without giving it any special thought and which usually results in a footer full of tiny logos unable to serve the interests of those involved, namely the visibility they seek among consumers.

This time the issue is exactly the opposite. In the beginning of the month, The Art Newspaper published an article called
Ads of Sighs, informing of a protest of Venice in Peril, The British Committee for the Preservation of Venice, against the huge billboards covering many monuments and other public buildings in that city. The people undersigning the protest, which may be read here and is directed to the Italian Minister of Culture, are almost all directors of large international museums. Not only do they raise the issue of aesthetics, but also those of ethics and legality.

We read in the article of The Art Newspaper that, in accordance with the 1924 Convention between the Italian state and the city council, public buildings are “to be shown without objects that in any way might damage its beauty and majesty, mask its virtues, paintings and other characteristics of its history and art”. In some cases, it may be allowed to affix ads in heritage listed buildings as long as they “do not damage the appearance, decorum and public enjoyment of the said building or area”.

Images taken from the blog Museum Strategy

The local authorities complain for the lack of funding and stand by their decision, claiming that without the support of the large brands it wouldn´t be possible to undertake the conservation and restoration of buildings and monuments. In an article in the Guardian we read that a spokesman for the mayor said that “Venice, which is obliged to maintain these precious monuments, is forced to adopt this system”.

What is intriguing is that the sums made available by the sponsors / advertisers are relatively low. We read in the article of The Art Newspaper that they pay €40,000 a month (less than the price of two ads in a daily newspaper) for three years. And even though, it hasn´t been possible yet to raise the whole sum of €2,8 million necessary for the conservation of the buildings.

So, is Venice really obliged to allow for these ads in return? And is the final result the one the brands involved are wishing for? The controversy has intensified since it has been authorized to lit the ads by night.

Last year, and regarding the Sisley ad covering the Bridge of Sighs and the Palazzo Ducale, the
Museum Strategy blog published a post entitled Sponsorship debate: Venice´s “The Bridge of Sisleyand launched a survey among its readers: Is the Sisley advertising campaign in Venice: a) an unwanted eyesore which is ruining the city’s cultural beauty; or b) a clever sponsorship project which can facilitate much-needed renovations? More than a year later, 58,8% of the people who took part in the survey have given the campaign a negative mark, choosing a). In that same post we can read some of the opinions expressed on online forms, as well as comments to the post. Although some admit that the state of the buildings and monuments is equally heart-breaking, the big majority express feelings of distaste and irritation towards the city authorities and the brands alike. More than once we read statements like “I´ll never buy from them again”.

Let´s imagine that, instead of the huge ads, they had printed an image of the buildings under restoration. And that in a corner they had placed, discreet but visible and legible, the logo of the brand that is funding the works. Let´s imagine they had printed that same logo on the entrance tickets. The same with the catalogues, guidebooks, leaflets and, why not, exhibit labels. Let´s imagine space had been given to the sponsor for creating special events for its customers. Let´s imagine that during the press conference the sponsor had been seated next to the municipal authorities and the monument director, and that they had publicly thanked him for his support. Would it have been acceptable to give these things in return, guaranteeing visibility among the consumers for the brand´s involvement in the conservation and restoration of the building and for the expression of gratitude on behalf of those responsible for it? Would the objectives of both parties have been reached?

Sponsorship is not the necessity to advertise a specific product. It´s the wish to communicate to consumers the adoption of certain principles, to demonstrate social responsibility. The way Sisley, Coca-Cola and now Bulgari are shouting their involvement in the preservation of Venice monuments (the way other brands have done it in other cities) might become a boomerang. As for those responsible for the monuments, they needn´t have 'prostituted' in such a way, they should rather have looked for other ways of expressing their gratitude. They exist.

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