Marketing Brand Purpose Brand Strategy

Bombay Sapphire shifts strategy from art elitism to accessible experiences


By Kendra Clark | Senior Reporter

October 13, 2021 | 7 min read

Bombay Sapphire has built a brand image around the clout and exclusivity of the fine art world. As art festivals, galleries and museums shut up shop during the pandemic, however, the brand decided it was time for a change. Now the brand is looking up, thanks to Bombay’s new mission to democratize art and ‘stir people’s senses.’

Bombay Sapphire bottle on table next to various cocktails

Bombay Sapphire is leaning into a new type of experiential marketing

Bombay Sapphire, the blue-bottled gin owned by spirits titan Bacardi, has long invested in art and creativity. It encouraged everyday consumers to tap into their own creativity with its ‘Find Your Canvas’ campaign. It also supports creativity and innovation in the mixology space with its annual Most Imaginative Bartender competition.

At the same time, the brand has become associated with the exclusivity, luxury and elitism of the global art scene. For years, the brand hosted its annual Artisan Series party celebrating emerging visual artists during Art Basel Miami Beach, the international for-profit art fair that each year attracts the likes of Kim Kardashian, A$AP Rocky, Lenny Kravitz and Eva Longoria.

But things changed in 2020, when Covid saw galleries everywhere – including those at Art Basel – shuttered. Stuck at home amid a deadly global pandemic, many consumers’ values shifted. The flashy world of art auctions and celebrity-studded shindigs, though far from obsolete, has become less shiny than it once was. McKinsey research from August suggests that as many as 30-40% of consumers are switching brands and retailers – in large part due to an increased demand for brands that prioritize value and purpose.

And Bombay Sapphire knew it was time to shift gears. “Creativity has been a part of our brand DNA for the past three decades, so we naturally try to connect with people and live up to our purpose to ‘Stir Creativity,’ which is our long-term brand mission,” Bombay Sapphire’s brand director Jaime Keller tells The Drum. “Bombay Sapphire launched its ‘Stir Creativity’ brand platform in 2018 as a call to action for people from all walks of life to engage with their own creativity. Because the creative community was deeply impacted by the pandemic, we’ve shifted our experiential strategy this year to focus on intimate, smaller-scale events that hero emerging and underrepresented artists who need support now more than ever.”

Dan Lam holding pink 'melting' sculpture

This month, the brand will host a different kind of art event. With the aim of making the art world a more inclusive and accessible place, on October 19 the gin company is hosting what it calls a Sensory Auction, where it will auction off an exclusive work by up-and-coming sculptor Dan Lam – known for her ultra-contemporary, organic-shaped pieces reminiscent of melting ice cream – not for cash, but for passion.

A passion play

A brand activation designed to promote Bombay & Tonic, the auction will center around an original sculpture, inspired by the fizzy beverage, that Lam created specially for the New York event. The brand felt that Lam’s work was just the right fit. “Dan’s work is a veritable study of the senses, where she uses unconventional materials that result in tactile, technicolor and interactive pieces that create an immersive experience for viewers,” says Keller. “Dan was the perfect artist partner to bring the sensorial experience of the drink to life. We can’t wait to award Dan’s piece to the person who has the most impassioned response to it and will continue to look to opportunities to dismantle the barriers of self-expression and artistic pursuits.”

Abstract blue-green sculpture that appears to be melting

Rather than bidding on the bespoke artwork – which has yet to be revealed – attendees will be fitted with a neuroaesthetic device, featuring electrodes that attach to the skull, designed to measure subconscious sensory reactions. Electroencephalogram brain scans will be used in combination with skin galvanic response technology capable of detecting even trace amounts of sweat, as well as eye tracking technology. The goal? To pinpoint the bidder with the strongest emotional reaction. The data collected from these devices will be assessed by a group of scientists, who will determine the attendee with the strongest sensory reaction to the artwork. The winner, who will receive Lam’s sculpture, will be announced on the same evening.

The experience is an extension of Bombay Sapphire’s ‘Senses Stirred’ campaign, launched in August, which Keller says “showcases ... how all five senses – sight, sound, taste, scent and touch – are awakened with the bright, fresh, botanical flavor profile of [Bombay & Tonic].” She says that the auction – where Bombay & Tonic will of course be served – aims to convey that the combination is “more than just a cocktail — it is an artful experience for the senses.”

Ultimately, Keller says, the brand’s aim in hosting the Sensory Auction is to help “democratize the art world, making it a more inclusive and accessible space.” She also notes that the company hopes to work with Lam again: “As a brand with a longstanding history of supporting the arts and creative self-expression, we always aim to stay connected with our talent partners to foster long-term relationships.”

A new direction – sensory experiential marketing

The activation represents a new direction for Bombay Sapphire’s experiential strategy. Keller says the brand is investing more deeply in welcoming, value-based experiences like the Sensory Auction. “After more than a year of being constrained due to the pandemic, thoughtful experiential is re-emerging once again. People are craving community, connectivity and experiences, and brands that can inspire and connect ... genuine experiences and connections will resonate the most.”

She also says that Bombay Sapphire remains committed to making the art world – and creative expression more broadly – more accessible to all people through its events and experiences. “While we don’t have a crystal ball, the brand will remain dedicated to its mission of inspiring and empowering people to explore creative outlets, whether that’s expressed through visual arts, cocktail creation or another artistic medium,” she says.

The brand is already connecting these two goals of increased accessibility and support for the arts in other activations. To promote the launch of its new gin Bombay Bramble in the US, for instance, the brand teamed up with Red Rooster chef Marcus Samuelsson to champion up-and-coming artists. Samuelsson handpicked contemporary artists Cey Adams and Dianne Smith to create custom billboard art in Harlem, New York that both inspired the local community and promoted the berry-forward beverage.

Meanwhile in London, the gin brand worked with the Design Museum earlier this spring to create a one-of-a-kind supermarket brought to life by emerging artists, who made everything from the venue to the products on the shelves. Keller says the experience enabled everyday consumers to support the artists and the museum, engage with art in an immersive environment and do their errands all at once.

Like the Sensory Auction, these and other activations speak to Bombay Sapphire’s shift toward a democratized, community-based approach to experiential marketing. In fact, the brand is not planning to have a major presence at Art Basel Miami Beach this December. Instead of rappers, actors and supermodels, emerging artists and art fans from all walks of life may now be sipping on Bombay & Tonic at art auctions.

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