Natural Light creates ‘world’s most expensive piece of art’ to highlight student debt crisis
In Natural Light’s latest move as a college debt reliever, the Anheuser-Busch-owned beer brand today unveiled a monumental art installation that it bills as the “most expensive piece of art in the world.”
Here’s the gimmick: The installation, which is in residence at New York’s Grand Central Terminal until Saturday, is composed of 2,600 genuine college diplomas, each of which cost its bearer an average of $180,000 over the course of four years, according to data the brand sources from Student Loan Hero.
That math—in theory—values Natural Light’s “Da Vinci of Debt” piece at roughly $470 million, technically making it the priciest artwork in history. Leonardo da Vinci’s 500-year-old painting “Salvator Mundi” actually holds that distinction, having sold at auction for $450 million in 2017.
The campaign comes courtesy of creative shop M&C Sport & Entertainment NYC and was produced by AB InBev’s in-house agency DraftLine.
“The art world is filled with absurd price tags that most people find impossible to justify,” says Daniel Blake, VP of value brands at Anheuser-Busch. (He’s got a point; who here remembers Maurizio Cattelan’s “masterpiece” banana duct-taped to a wall that sold for $120,000 at Art Basel?)
“That’s what made it the perfect medium for this campaign. It’s a very fitting analogy for the outrageous cost of attending a typical four-year college,” he says.
The new art installation marks the return of the Natural Light College Debt Relief Program, a 10-year commitment that contributes a total of $1 million of student debt relief annually to in-debt graduates, who can enter to win one of the program’s 25 $40,000 grand prizes via contest.
The multi-million-dollar program has been run each year since 2018, when the beer brand first announced it with a regional Super Bowl ad from Vice Media-owned creative shop Virtue.
This year’s campaign was actually set in motion with Natty’s 2020 debt relief stunt, which offered college graduates $100-a-pop to rent their diplomas for a “highly classified” reason.
“Remember that diploma we rented from you in 2020 as part of the Natural Light College Debt Relief Program?” reads a now-defunct landing page for last year’s scheme, which advertises the big reveal for Jan. 14. “What we have in-store will be on display for a limited time before we ship back your diploma in the manner in which it was received. Be sure to check your email for updates!”
On limited display in Grand Central’s Vanderbilt Hall from tomorrow until Saturday, Jan. 16, the soaring “Da Vinci of Debt” installation will be available for public viewing through a virtual gallery and through a custom augmented reality Snapchat filter.