The Covid-19 pandemic has seen virtually every major global brand accelerating their digital initiatives through e-commerce, with more seeking to add livestreaming into the mix to reach and sell to consumers who are still spending significantly more time at home. But while it’s not surprising to see digitally savvy consumer brands like Nike or Lululemon jumping on the “cloud living” trend, it has been interesting to see established brands —many of which previously resisted digitalization — getting on board.
Two prominent heritage marquees, Sotheby’s and Bulgari, were the latest to leverage two vital content-commerce strategies, brand collaborations and livestreaming, for the auction house’s Masters Week auction and event, “Art Voices: From Bernini to Bulgari.”
As reported by Artnet, Masters Week, which concluded on January 30, took in $160.5 million this year, nearly doubling the $94.3 million proceeds from the 2020 event. This was largely thanks to the sale of a Botticelli portrait of an unknown young man that went for $92.2 million, making it the second most expensive portrait ever sold at auction (after Pablo Picasso’s “Dora Maar au chat” (1941)).
Ahead of Masters Week, Sotheby’s launched a multi-pronged marketing plan in honor of Bulgari’s Barocko high jewelry collection. It included a virtual event, “From Bernini to Bulgari: The Beauty of Baroque,” that brought together British art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon, Bulgari jewelry creative director Lucia Silvestri, and Sotheby’s executives Frank Everett and Margi Schwarz. The auction house also incorporated pre- and post-roll footage from Bulgari during the livestreamed auction, while Bulgari provided pieces worn by some of the auction house’s specialists at the event and Bulgari made its “Rosso Caravaggio” necklace, inspired by Caravaggio and Bernini, available for private sale.
“We were delighted to partner with Bulgari to present Masters Week livestream auction and the virtual event leading up to it,” Eléonore Dethier, Vice President, Global Head of Partnerships at Sotheby’s, told CCI. “By joining forces, Sotheby’s and Bulgari celebrate art and culture as continued sources of inspiration and creativity.”
The collaboration with Bulgari represented an evolution for Sotheby’s use of livestreaming. The auction house tried the format out last summer with a digital auction event in June that replaced the May sales, which had been postponed by the coronavirus pandemic. Using London as the headquarters for the event, with specialists on hand in Hong Kong and New York, Sotheby’s broadcast the five-hour auction livestream on its website as well as via the video news network Cheddar (owned by telecoms billionaire Patrick Drahi, who took Sotheby’s private in 2019).
Sotheby’s has made an effective pivot to content-commerce to cater both to established collectors and budding younger buyers whose interests range from rare sneakers to street art. Last May, Sotheby’s saw an overwhelmingly positive response to its Hong Kong’s Contemporary Showcase series of pop-up auctions, which saw a combination of vinyl toys, manga drawings, Western contemporary art, and other limited edition collectibles go under the hammer. The Contemporary Showcase: MEET AllRightsReserved event was particularly successful, with sale prices for items such as a set of KAWS plush toys and a Doraemon sculpture far exceeding estimates.
Bulgari, too, has successfully incorporated livestreaming into its global strategy, particularly in China. As CEO Jean-Cristophe Babin recently told CCI, “We used livestreaming when we launched the Ambush collection on WeChat by collaborating with celebrities and KOLs to introduce the collection, linking to our WeChat Mini Program for conversion.”
With its recent collaboration with Bulgari, Sotheby’s has shown that content-commerce strategies can work across consumer and product classes, helping to sell art, fine jewelry and watches, collectibles, and archive apparel in equal measures. Far from being a flash in the pan, content-commerce is clearly a winning formula in today’s global (and globalized) consumer market.