How a Savvy Marketing Strategy Brought in Over $450 Million

In November, the New York Times reported what was maybe the most shocking story they’ve done all year.

An old, damaged painting was sold at auction, among a fierce and lengthy bidding process–let that sink in for a moment before you continue reading–for a hefty sum.

Hm, no. Law school debt is a hefty sum. A mansion in Beverly Hills is a hefty sum.

This painting?

Sold! To the highest bidder for $450.3 million.

$450.3 million! I’m not even sure how one person–never mind 4!–can produce that kind of check and not have it be for a small island, or at least some sweet Manhattan digs. A painting?

Here’s what (also) caught my attention, though, and why I’m sharing this here today, emphasis my own:

Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi,” considered either the most important old master work to be auctioned in a generation or a damaged painting hyped by savvy marketing, sold on Wednesday night for $450.3 million with fees, a record for any work of art sold at auction. It far surpassed the sale of Picasso’s “Women of Algiers,” which fetched $179.4 million at Christie’s in May 2015.

Now that’s an interesting line. A painting beat out Picasso–by a lot–and it might not even be a master work by Da Vinci? Is it really fair to put this on the marketers?

But Christie’s marketing campaign was perhaps unprecedented in the art world; it was the first time the auction house went so far as to enlist an outside agency to advertise the work,


creating a video that includes top executives pitching the painting to Hong Kong clients as “the holy grail of our business” and likening it to “the discovery of a new planet.”

A new planet? Are you even kidding me? Savvy does not even begin to cover the savviness of this marketing team. How on Earth did they pull that off?

I’ll tell you how: they knew their market! They knew that if there was any chance at all that this could be a real Da Vinci, then it was virtually invaluable–there would be almost no limit to what a serious art collector would pay to have it in his or her collection.

They pulled out all the stops.

They told a story that resonated with that audience.

They pulled off one of art’s most successful marketing campaigns in history.

I love this story!

When we talk about knowing your audience, this is what we mean. Price doesn’t matter. If you have something that someone wants, and you communicate its value to them, there is no limit to what you can do with that.

I mean, don’t be an ass about it. Don’t run the great name of marketing through the mud by manipulating your audiences just so you can go swimming in your piles of money.

But if you have an amazing product, it deserves an amazing story. Tell it. Because your customers want it.

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