There aren’t many brands with the legacy or kudos to open an exhibition dedicated solely to their advertising. Campari, however, has both in abundance – a history spanning more than 150 years and a body of creative work that charts the fluctuations of art itself
It’s thanks to Davide Campari, the son of the drink’s founder, that the brand will be sitting pride of place in London’s Estorick Collection until September. One of the earliest people to fill the role we now know as brand director, the Milanese’s vision was to make the drink known throughout the world via the power of visuals. But unlike most clients, Campari left all strategy planning to artists.
Campari went about enlisting the most celebrated poster artists in Italy for his campaigns: Leonetto Cappiello, Marcello Dudovich, Adolf Hohensteino, and Marcello Nizzoli all rose further to artistic fame because of his commissions.
Its first posters reflected the Art Nouveau movement at the turn of the 20th century – all curved lines, aspirational subjects and flamboyant interpretations of nature. Campari’s laissez-faire approach to creative direction – and the power these creators held over this relatively new, novel brand of aperitif – meant that his brand’s advertising followed the course of 20th century art history. It dipped into cubism and intense still life before running straight into modernism during the 1930s.
It was then that Campari “started playing a much more modern role through advertising”, according to Roberta Cremoncini, director of the Estorick Collection.
“It fit very well with the ideas of the futurists – the idea of art being of the time,” she explained. “They thought that people would no longer have time to absorb art from galleries and would have to grab glimpses of it from the side of a bus, and things like that. Art had to become much faster, which fit with the changes in Milan at the time with – the tram, the lighting...everybody was embracing modernity.”
Futurism meant speed, and with speed came the humour of Fortunato Depero. His work for Campari is arguably its most celebrated and most important as it set the tone for the decade to come. The cheeky, android-like characters of his geometric ink pen sketches were mimicked well into the Dolce Vita style of the swinging 1960s, and even influenced the design of the conical Campari Soda bottle.