The Cheapo Beer Brand Natural Light Says Its New Marketing Stunt Is the Most Expensive Artwork of All Time
The brand says it costs even more than the "Salvator Mundi."
What’s the most ludicrous art-world marketing campaign of all time? Is it Maurizio Cattelan’s $120,000 banana, duct-taped to a wall at Art Basel Miami Beach? Is it the sale of Salvator Mundi, the portrait of Jesus supposedly by Leonardo da Vinci that sold for an absurd $450.3 million at Christie’s in late 2017?
Or is it the one unveiled today at Grand Central Terminal in New York?
That campaign, titled Da Vinci of Debt, is made up of a suspended mass of 2,600 authentic college diplomas provided by real college graduates across the US.
Confused? The idea is that, with the cost of an average four-year college education at about $180,000, the cumulative value of the diploma display rings in at near $470 million, surpassing the cost of the record-shattering Salvator Mundi.
Even more surprising is the force behind the show: Natural Light, the cheap and popular beer brand affectionately dubbed “Natty Light” by its fans—mainly college students drawn to its lower calorie count and, most importantly, its lower price point.
The brand is now in the fourth year of a 10-year, $10 million commitment to distribute $1 million annually to students and graduates “who are weighed down by the burden of debt,” said Daniel Blake, vice president of value brands at Anheuser-Busch, which owns Natural Light.
Those interested in getting some of that money must tell their story for why they attended college by March 21. Forty winners will each receive $25,000.
“College debt is one of the most important social issues in the country today,” Blake said in a phone interview with Artnet News. “More than 45 million Americans have college debt. The total debt amount is more than $1.7 trillion and is continuing to grow. We felt strongly about putting a stake in the ground and supporting those people who really need it.”
So why call the project an artwork?
“The art world is filled with absurd price tags that most people find impossible to justify,” Blake said. “That’s what made it the perfect medium for this campaign.”
The diplomas are suspended in mid-air “as if a gale of wind had just scattered all 2,600 of them throughout the cavernous, 6,000-square-foot space,” according to a press release.
The installation is meant to stress the enormous scale of student debt, and the chaos it creates for those saddled with it.
Blake told Artnet News that the brand was surprised at the eager response they got from graduates who sent in their diplomas—especially considering the company never told them how the certificates would be used. (Students received $100 in exchange for “renting” their diplomas.)
As part of the stunt, Natural Light said in a release that it is “calling on the deep pockets of the fine-art world” to considering bidding “on the historic artwork.”
So is it for sale? And what about those students who temporarily leased their diplomas and are expecting them back?
“If it means giving more people the opportunity to enjoy the college experience without the debt that follows, we’re all ears,” Blake said.
“Natty is dedicated to doing everything we can to provide real solutions to college debt, and if there is a serious bidder, you know where to find us. If there is a bidder willing to pay $470 million for the piece, we’ll consult with every participant who loaned their diploma to us to see if they would be open to selling this piece.”
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