• Transform magazine
  • December 12, 2019


Five minutes with Jonathan Kenyon

Jonathan Kenyon.jpg

The fusion of artists and brands with the purpose of delivering a brand message is a fascinating concept. However, it doesn’t always work the way brands would hope to. Starting off as a street artist himself, Jonathan Kenyon, founder and executive creative director of brand design agency Vault49, gives insight into the ways partnerships between artists and brands can succeed.

Having started as a street artist yourself and now as founder and executive creative director at Vault49, what is the biggest shift in mindset you have noticed in yourself?

What hasn’t changed is most compelling to me. John, Vault49’s founder and executive creative director, and I used to work throughout the night to finish our walls and then stay on the street through the next morning to watch the people interact with the work. There was never any desire for recognition, nor a way for us to be contacted. Our goal was to positively impact the daily lives of others and make the world around us more beautiful. This remains the modus operandi of Vault49 and our cornerstone. The red thread that ties my approach to creativity and social interaction is more rope than thread now.

Artists and brands approach things differently. While brands care about things like budgeting, artists focus on the aesthetic result of their art. How can two worlds so different from one another collaborate successfully?

As a working-class artist, I cared as much about budget as I did the work that we were creating - I’ve never seen the appeal in being a starving artist! What’s really interesting in the context of today’s increasingly sceptical society are collaborations involving a more meaningful partnership, where artist and brand work together from conception to execution and find solutions that can shape a brand.

What is a prime example of an artist and a brand collaborating flawlessly?

An example we feel so proud to have created, was a collaboration between our artists and the entomologists at Raid insecticide for its ‘Kills 7 x Faster’ campaign. Raid’s tagline is ‘Kills Bugs Dead’ so we created artwork out of 60,000 dead roaches. We held several meetings with Raid entomologists to learn about cockroaches and then produced three artworks that show death traveling at speed, with the Grim Reaper enjoying a ride on his Harley, jet plane and hot rod. It caught the attention of the public and shows what’s possible when, rather than simply using artists as promotional tools, brands include artists in their workflow right from the start.

Sometimes brands using famous artists for their campaigns can seem like the easy way out to get the audience’s attention. How do you avoid that?

We have a natural inclination to bring a focus onto the next generation of artists who are emerging. With the Pepsi ‘Love it. Live It. Football.’ campaign, we brought together five world-famous footballers alongside five emerging artists and one of the world’s leading photographers. The vibrancy and unique approach of the emerging artists brought this campaign to life in a way that focused on the product and messaging in a much more effective way than trading on the names of world-famous artists would have.

Do you value creativity more than efficiency in more technical/practical aspects of branding?

I’ve always valued a great creative result over any budget limitations.  As an agency, we are constantly pushing our clients to raise the bar, and we try not to get bogged down in the budget. When it comes to technical and production efficiencies and limitations, we often find that this is a particularly rich area for creative exploration. Give us strict parameters to work within – such as the print production requirements for bottle shrink wraps for Baileys – and we’ll find a way to wring the most out of available technology and enjoy every minute of it!

What are the benefits of a collaboration between artist and brand?

Look at Andy Warhol’s Factory, which was a community of artists, muses and anyone Warhol found interesting, but also functioned like a creative network linking commerce and art. When brands tap into a collective of artists, designers, thinkers and makers such as the Factory, they open themselves up to a range of skills and artistic specialisms where they can conjure up original ideas. They give brands access to a bigger pool of talent, making it possible to team up the right artists with each creative challenge, leading to a deeper, more productive partnership, which is exactly what sceptical consumers need to buy into brand and artist collaborations.

What are the risks of artists and brands collaborating?

The risk is getting it wrong and trying to pair up an artist and a brand when they’re not the right fit. It can be difficult for artists to know which brand is right for them. And it’s just as difficult for brand managers to accept the uncertainty that comes with artistic collaboration. Even if you’re lucky enough to have access to a community of artists like we do at Vault49, brand and artist partnerships are not easy, but get them right and these deeper, braver fusions can result in tremendous art and fruitful commercial opportunities.

For more from Transform magazine, follow us on Twitter @Transformsays