This will not be an article about Gioconda's eyes following the viewer, nor a debate about her supposed smile. This blog is not about art, but art history has an interesting lesson for us that can easily be applied to the marketing activities of any business. Today we will tell you how the unpopular painting suddenly has become the most recognized work of art worldwide.
The Louvre Museum in Paris holds 35,000 exhibits. In 2018, the museum was visited by over 10 million people, making it the most visited museum in the world. According to studies conducted by the Louvre itself - about 80% of visitors came there just to see one particular painting - a sixteenth-century portrait of Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci.
Is Mona Lisa the most valuable masterpiece in this museum? Is it the most outstanding work of its author? In fact, for 405 years since its creation, this image has not enjoyed great public interest. What changed the situation? And why are we able to give such a precise date when it happened?
Accidental, but spectacularly effective marketing campaign for the painting, was made by Vincenzo Peruggia, who stole it from the Louvre in the summer of 1911. Lisa's disappearance was noticed only a day after. And that’s how it started. Paris and the whole world of art was talking about missing painting. An in-depth investigation was conducted, including Apollinaire and Picasso among the suspects. Public opinion discussed a spectacular crime, the press and critics wrote about the values of the lost image. Visitors came to the Louvre just to see the empty space after the painting. The situation lasted until the criminal was caught in 1913. Peruggia claimed that he wanted to return the work to its native Italy. He was detained while trying to sell Lisa in Florence. And so the painting returned to its place in the Louvre. But then - it was already a legend.
Since then, the image has enjoyed undiminished interest. The crowds come to see Mona Lisa with their own eyes. Critics and art experts describe its qualities and analyze the smallest details of the work. The image itself has deeply rooted in pop culture and has been the motif of many other artists' references.
Nowadays it is hard to find someone who does not know this painting of Leonardo. However, the story of the theft is no longer so well known. Most visitors to the Louvre are probably unaware of why they actually want to see it. And that’s a pity, because this history bear extremely useful marketing (and psychological) knowledge.
That's right - it wasn't planned advertising. However, it shows us the universal truth. Da Vinci's painting is undoubtedly a work of high culture and presents the authors artistry. But this is only a portrait, that the painter made on commission. For years, no one paid much attention to it (except maybe Napoleon Bonaparte). THE STORY behind it changed the situation. Thanks to theft, the painting ceased to be just one of many properly made Renaissance works. The publicity and prestige that the situation from the early 20th century brought Mona, gave her a status of a real icon. Media noise around her has caught the attention of the public for decades, and the popularity of the image is still not fading.
If you still do not quite understand how to translate this story into marketing activities - look at the Apple brand. Iphone is a product with almost iconic status nowadays. Is it significantly better than other smartphones on today's market? Does it use technology not available to other manufacturers? You can debate this, same as which art piece in the Louvre is better. But even if you do not use devices with a bitten apple - you probably know who Steve Jobs was, what was the story of his company and success. This is the decisive element - THE STORY that brought the brand publicity, popularity and prestige. 2 main conclusions from this are:
It is much more likely to succeed if everyone talks about you, and everyone has heard of you.
The value of a product does not necessarily come from its quality, but from public opinion about it.