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Making Your Mark: What Marketers Can Learn from Street Art

No one knows where they will strike. Lurking in the streets and carefully creating their next works of art, street artists take days, weeks, and even...

Banksy Telephone Booth

"Banksy's Telephone Booth." photo credit: brightlightsfilm.com

No one knows where they will strike. Lurking in the streets and carefully creating their next works of art, street artists take days, weeks, and even months meticulously prepping for their unconventional exhibitions. When all is ready, under the cloak of darkness they strike unsuspecting public spaces. Nothing is sacred: walls, sidewalks, phone booths, and even shadows are all potential targets for these artists’ campaigns. Staying one step ahead of the police, they reclaim the streets – the world is their canvas and their audience is anyone fortunate enough to catch the show before it is removed or painted over.

Banksy is the Picasso of street art. Innovative, creative, and more than a little edgy, his artistic eye is overshadowed only by his secrecy. He is the most respected member of this interesting subculture and the artist others can learn most from. The allure of deciphering this man is only heightened through the viewing of his film, Exit Through the Gift Shop, which in typical Banksy fashion has also sparked considerable discussion regarding its validity.

The film follows the life of Thierry Guetta, a normal but quirky man who is fixated with recording life. Filming everything and anything, Thierry stumbles upon his cousin creating street art of space invader character mosaics to be placed throughout the city that night. Following him with the camera, word quickly spreads and Thierry is put in contact with other artists around the United States and Europe. Banksy hears about Thierry’s unique ambitions and offers to have Thierry document his art. When Thierry shows Banksy the culmination of his filming, a documentary that is unwatchable to say the least, it is then that Banksy suggests to Thierry that he create an art show to show off his own street art.

Under the pseudonym Mr. Brainwash, Thierry showcases just how ridiculous and scandalous the hype around street art truly is (without realizing it, of course). A man who knows nothing about art and who might be mentally unstable unleashes a guerilla marketing campaign, generating a buzz not even the best ad agencies could match. Thierry would go on to make hundreds of thousands of dollars from his exhibition as enthusiasts looking to find meaning in the meaningless and unimaginative, buy his copycat art.

This powerful film challenged me as an advertiser but also gave fresh insight into an innovative and understudied field. I have heard professors argue two points: that “marketing is an art” and that “marketing is a science.” Frankly, I believe both viewpoints have merit, and Exit Through the Gift Shop showcases this connection. Here are some takeaways:

Street Art is About Making Your Mark Any Way Possible

Street artists want their voice to be heard – even if it’s only for a short period of time and even if it’s through illegal means. Because of the nature of the art, they must create something that is simple, extraordinary, and engaging. The art causes people to wake up from their daily routine, notice something is awry, and analyze it. This cognitive engagement is what advertisers yearn for; it’s their number one pit stop on the way to conversion. What is the mark you are trying to make as a marketer? If you only had a short amount of time on a sidewalk and couldn’t SAY anything, how would you communicate?

Street Art Illustrates how Branding is Emotional

“Brandalism.” Once an artist becomes well known, such as Banksy, people don’t need a signature at the bottom of the painting – they KNOW who created it. For instance, one of the projects Banksy created involved a pseudo-crime scene out of a telephone booth. Onlookers on the street immediately identified the work as a Banksy and soon crowds gathered. There weren’t any obvious indicators that Banksy had created it, just the emotion of the piece. People who had seen his art elsewhere identified his style, tone, and focus immediately. What emotion is your brand emitting? What do customers feel when they see your logo or enter your store?

Perception Trumps Reality

“The more it’s out there, the more  important  it seems… the more  people want to know what it is, the more they… (talk) and it gains real power from perceived power.” – Shepard Fairey

Time and time again I am a witness to the fact that perception wins over reality every time. Even if something is better, faster, stronger, or more creative, if it isn’t perceived that way, it is an inferior alternative. Mr. Brainwash, as Thierry called himself, was not a real artist – he took what he picked up from watching others, hired legitimate artists to create his ideas, and advertised. Everywhere. Taking a quote from Banksy, Thierry added credibility to his endeavor and successfully launched a guerilla marketing campaign showcasing that he was the real deal. It worked. Mr. Brainwash’s exhibition had thousands lined up on the first day and thousands more walked through his gallery throughout the month it was open. It didn’t matter that Mr. Brainwash had no artistic talent – people thought he did, and that’s what matters.

 

There are a lot of things marketers can learn from street artists. What’s your story? What does your brand represent? Through what means are you hoping to break through cognitive barriers? I’ve learned something through Mr. Brainwash and Banksy, and I hope you have as well. Make sure your message is consistent and doesn’t get lost in the clutter – find a way to interact with your audience and stand out from the rest.

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  1. Brandon Jones April 12, 2011 at 12:39 am #

    Street art is awesome. Hey, great work on the blog. Hope you have better luck going forward with the grove city network (it worked fine for me)!

  2. Jordan Koschei April 3, 2012 at 6:23 am #

    The power of a brand is inversely proportional to its scope.

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