Unilever’s Sunflower Seed Sponsorship Push

Ai Weiwei’s Unilever Series commission, ‘Sunflower Seeds’, has been promoted heavily both by the brand and gallery through a series of multi platform channels as well as via traditional media and PR work.


The central website includes interpretation text, artist quotes, video and one-to-ones with the artist. Other cyber activation ranges from YouTube seeding and web partnerships with other brands such as Eurostar.


More traditional campaigns include Unilever promotional poster advertising at key mainline stations and ‘share square’ notices in the national press.


Marketing activities for the sponsorship- typically focus on connecting Unilever to creativity. Indeed, the sponsorship also aims to demonstrate the company’s commitment and belief in creativity and originality and to communicate Unilever’s overarching corporate mission ‘to add vitality to life’.


Unilever is reported to match its annual sponsorship investment on the project (thought to be around £250,000) with a similar spend on advertising and marketing. Since the programme began, Unilever has gradually taken a more targeted approach to reach its own key audiences – which include opinion-formers, the City and employees.


It also activates around the shows to form new relationships and deepen existing relationships with opinion formers and makers. The food and household goods giant uses direct mail to keep target groups informed of the Unilever Series programme and produces other assets such as information CD Roms and false cover wraps on a select set of target-relevant magazines such as ‘The House’ and ‘Parliamentary Monitor’.


Described as a poignant and thought-provoking sculpture, the show itself sees visitors invited to look at it and walk on it and contemplate the precious nature of the material. Sunflower Seeds is a vast sculpture – each piece is a part of the whole and thus forms a commentary on the relationship between the individual and the masses.


The Unilever Series is an award winning programme of annual commissions for stars of the modern art world to create new works for what is perhaps the world’s largest, most exciting and iconic space – The Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall.


The series dates back to 2000 and has been renewed twice since then – reflecting the success of the partnership. Since the beginning installations have included: Louise Bourgeois’ ‘I Do, I Undo & I Redo, Olafur Elliason’s ‘Weather Project’ and Carsten Holler’s ‘Test Site’.





Unilever’s 200 decision to become part of this annual art blockbuster has paid off in more ways than one. This is the flagship show that has seen Tate Modern become the world’s most popular, successful and visited art gallery on the planet – depending on which measurements and metrics you follow.


The brand’s original key objectives were to further build its corporate brand and position it as a creative and innovative company. It is used as part of the food giant and homecare giant’s ongoing strategy to raise its umbrella brand corporate profile across its well known individual product brands. This strategy, Unilever believes, will further enhance customer cross-selling and up-selling and it has been extended into most other areas of its UK marketing plan.


The partnership also works because Unilever has a long and committed heritage of backing the arts.


In fact, Unilever has a 75-year history of backing the creative arts and since 2001 it has also extended its commitment in the space beyond the Unilever Series via CSR schemes. These include the Unilever International Art School Project which leverages the sponsorship to an international opinion former audience through an art education CSR programme and the TurbineGeneration programme which is an international, online schools project.


The 2011/12 Unilever Series at Tate Modern is a commission from Berlin-based, British film artist Tacita Dean.









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