Earlier this year, a beer company released the world's most expensive piece of art: Da Vinci of Debt. The 'art' was in fact a stunt by Natural Light Beer - fondly known as Natty - and its agency M&C Saatchi Sports & Entertainment North America, to shine a light on the staggering cost to attend college in America and the crippling impact of college debt. It was on display at New York City's Grand Central Terminal and made up of 2,600 authentic college diplomas from real graduates across the US.
The value of Da Vinci of Debt was derived from the average total cost of a four-year college education – $180,000 is representative of each singular diploma. Total up each of the 2,600 diplomas and the result is a piece of art valued at $470 million, besting the most expensive piece of art ever sold at public auction - Salvator Mundi, a 600-year-old Da Vinci painting that sold for $450 million in 2017.
Da Vinci of Debt also celebrates the return of the Natural Light College Debt Relief program, which launched in 2018 and each year since, has given out $1 million to help Natty fans pay down student loans.
Through the medium of art, Natty is highlighting the US’ shocking student debt crisis and bringing awareness to the crippling $1.7 trillion in debt Americans currently hold. LBB's Addison Capper chatted with Paul Anastasiadis, executive vice president at M&C Saatchi Sports & Entertainment North America, to find out more about the project.
LBB> What was the initial brief like for this project? And what were your thoughts when you first saw it?
Paul> The Natural Light College Debt Relief program has been running for a few years now, following a big 10-year, $10million commitment from the brand to support students with college debt in 2018. College debt is, sadly, perpetually relevant to the core Natty Light consumer so we work with the brand team each year to concoct new ways to drive excitement around and participation in this program.
LBB> You’ve touched upon it there but how does a college fund campaign fit in with Natural Light Beer's brand strategy?
Paul> In short, our strategy is built from the simple core idea that life is serious and Natty isn’t. We’re constantly looking at the challenges our consumer faces, and using our brand platform as a way to offer a solution or opportunity (with a little levity!). College debt is one of the biggest challenges our fans face as they enter into adulthood, and Natty Light has made a long term commitment to support its consumers through this transition.
LBB> What was the research process like? Did you uncover any particularly surprising facts?
Paul> Working with different partners, we ascertained that four years of college education can cost $180,000 on average. This is a huge figure and it led us to look at other places in culture with high price tags – ultimately landing in the art space.
LBB> Once you had the idea, how did you go about producing the piece of art?
Paul> To promote the Natural Light College Debt Relief Program in 2020, we offered our 21+ drinkers a deal: we’ll rent your diploma for $100. This helped us secure over 2,500 diplomas and, a year later, allowed us to create Da Vinci of Debt: the world’s most expensive piece of art! The great thing about this idea is it truly features real college diplomas and wouldn’t have been possible without our community getting behind us.
LBB> From a production standpoint, how did you go about getting it into Grand Central Terminal?
Paul> We worked closely with our production partner, The Bait Shoppe, to ensure the experiential component could be completed safely and under necessary Covid-19 protocols. It was a hugely impressive undertaking as the installation itself was primarily built on-site at Grand Central Terminal over a series of days.
LBB> What are the main aims of this project?
Paul> We wanted Da Vinci of Debt to really take over the air waves – which it did – to not only promote the College Debt Relief Program so more consumers could enter to win, but also to spotlight the larger issue of college debt in the US. We knew it was imperative to come with a compelling and genuinely unexpected story to tell if we wanted this to break through.
LBB> What kind of reaction did you see to the campaign?
Paul> Da Vinci of Debt is one of the most successful programs in Natural Light’s history, outscoring metrics in earned, owned and digital platforms. Aside from the physical installation, the program was integrated across social platforms, a Snapchat AI experience and a digital takeover of the Natty homepage to ensure it could be accessed through as many touchpoints as possible.
LBB> What were the trickiest components and how did you overcome them?
Paul> In an ideal world, we would have executed this program a little sooner than we did after collecting diplomas from our community. With the realities of the pandemic, we needed to bide our time and be patient for a time when we were able to complete this story to its full potential. Based on the reception, I think we were able to do that!