May 30, 2003
Banksy is a well-known British graffiti artist who stencils his installations in public places. We can think of each graffiti artist as essentially a personal brand, with a name and logo. They then create and publish brand communications for the public. A handful of these street artists, like Banksy, have sculpted extremely street credible reputations and brand images from which we can all learn some lessons.
The sort of reputations they build aren’t just about breaking the law or putting oneself at risk to put up the art, they’re about creating thoughtful, elegant, interesting images and messages. They’re about having enough passion behind a communication that they’ll do it for free, without any goal other than to make people think.
We see vague attempts at this style of branding in the advertising and design for some urban and teen brands. While a traditional marketing person would first think to try and sign up these graffiti artists as designers for their ads and websites, that would be missing the point. It’s not the fonts or the layouts, it’s the meaning behind the communications. Artists like Banksy are winning credibility by being publicly curious, playful and questioning. His brand is earnest, raw and effortless. If it’s cool, it’s not because he’s trying.
Banksy wrote the following advice for aspiring stencil artists, but it could clearly apply to brands in general:
‘The time of getting fame for your name on its own is over. Artwork that is only about wanting to be famous will never make you famous. Any fame is a bi-product of making something that means something. You don’t go to a restaurant and order a meal because you want to have a shit.’
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