Cultural sponsorship or merely advertising?

In the past Venice was thought of as one of the most romantic cities in the world, these days it seems that the romance is fading and advertising is taking its place. Today the Venetian authorities are doing restoration work on the Doge’s Palace and the Prigioni Nove, and to get funding they have sold scaffolding to clothing company Sisley. The Bridge of Sighs has all but disappeared. This type of ‘cultural sponsorship’ where companies pay for their brand to be visible in prominent locations and
the money goes towards restoring the cultural monuments, seems to be happening all over Europe
and opinion is divided.


Previously Venice didn’t have billboards inside the city, and shops had modest signage and limited advertising. The barrier was lifted last year when a piece of marble fell from a building onto a German tourist. This year fears of lawsuits were renewed when a piece of marble fell from the Correr into
the piazza.

Normally when public buildings in Venice are undergoing restoration behind scaffolding, they would be covered with lifesize renditions of the same buildings facade. Venice is falling apart and has the costly issue of restoration. The official Venetian position is a plea of desperation. Tourism is down, Federal subsidaries are down and the buildings are falling down. Their solution is to sell the advertising rights
to the facades being restored.

Recently we have seen a H&M campaign on the Palais de Justice in Paris and a Veolia campaign on
a prominent tower in Prague, now Venice has a Sisley campaign on the Bridge of Sighs. Sisley, the sophisticated and edgy brand of the Benetton Group, continues to offer inspirational collections aligned with the avante-garde trends of today. With clothing available in over 120 countries it has become one
of the leading brands of clothing in the world. The indisputable factor for the success of the brand throughout the world is its advertising campaigns.



Sisley’s latest campaign is plastered over the bridge and adjacent buildings declaring Il Cielo dei Sospiri – The Sky of the Sighs. Is this inspired method of communicating a brand’s message ruining the cities cultural beauty? The Bridge of Sighs is one of the most famous scenes of the city. It is renowned worldwide for being one of the great examples of bridge architecture, a must-see for tourists. These days tourists struggle to see the bridge and surrounding architecture, and they are in uproar. How can we condemn the Venetian authorities for going to any length to keep its cities architectural treasures alive? Even if the sponsoring brands have their own self-serving agendas. Either way the controversy over the way the city is maintaining its heritage will continue.

Cassandra Gill, Design Director.


  1. Great article guys, this is exactly what the book ‘No Logo’ was about. Whilst I’m definitely not anti-brand, I really don’t like it when brands step over the line into space that I feel should be left unbranded. Brands that don’t have a sense of those boundaries of appropriateness can end-up disenfranchising customers like me.

  2. Recently in Venice, I was a little disappointed to see the Bridge of Sighs covered by the Sisley campaign. If this kind of advertising funds the restoration of the historical structures they are displayed on, then I think it I have to be in favour of them. My only worry is the amount of time the building is covered. These images change the feeling of the place. When I was looking at the Bridge of Sighs I couldn’t connect with meaning of the structure like I could when I was standing on the bridge (between the palace and the prison) looking out through the bridge’s small windows.

  3. Cass, a very well written blog and after reading all the comments it seems that most agree with you. I certainly do! I haven’t had the opportunity to visit Venice ‘yet’ but have been to Rome and was there when a lot of restoration was going on. I was a little disappointed in the scaffolding being so prevalent but at least it was for the right cause, this being restoration. I would hate to think what the Colosseum or Roman Forum would’ve looked like cladded with gigantic brand messages.

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