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Another fake graffiti ad campaign

December 3, 2005

Seems every other month another ad agency hires another street artist to push another useless product on behalf another billionaire corporation. And each time, this causes an online controversy about the intersection of art and commerce. The latest centers around a campaign for some video game doodad, where writers in cities across the country were hired to paint a series zombie-eyed children holding said doodad. The ads appeared with accompanying text in a faux-graffiti style, and this has convinced some people that the ads are somehow interesting or worthy of attention.
Maybe it’s just the headache talking, but I find the discussion about these ads as tiring as the ads themselves, and as uninteresting as the product they’re pushing. The ads are generating some press about local anger over corporations sponsoring vandalism, and WoosterCollective had a series of posts a few weeks back debating the pros and cons of the campaign. Marc from Wooster — himself an ad agency executive — rode the fence:

The ads are open for interpretation. And we like this a lot. They don’t hit you over the head with a two-by-four…. And most importantly, the characters are cute and infectuous. The ads are what you want them to be.
But here’s the big problem with them:
At the end of the day – being deceptive never fucking works. Ever. Doesn’t [the company] know that there’s something called the Internet? The real lack of restraint is that the ads have been popping up all over the country. Because of sites like the Internet, the campaign gets exposed as a fraud by the same people they are trying to appeal to.

I think this is misguided for two reasons. First, no advertisement is “what you want it to be.” Ads are, and can only be, what their sponsors want them to be. Ads have no purpose besides selling you something — usually something you don’t need — and they have absolutely no meaning or message besides promoting a product. None.
Second, does anyone seriously think that the company cares about being “exposed as a fraud”? As long as you mention the name of the product, I doubt they care what you say about it. And the company isn’t trying to appeal to graffiti artists or street art afficionados, they’re trying to harness the energy and mystique of street art in order to appeal to people — kids and their parents — who know very little about the movement and sell them something that has nothing to do with the values or practices of that movement.
One of the most tiring arguments within this whole controversy is this one:

Whats so wrong with someone making a little dough to pay the rent or to buy a drink or some paint with their profit

Nothing. Fine. Go ahead. I work a shitty job too, but that’s not the point. The point is, for every single artist that is paid big money to lend edginess to a boring product, there are hundreds of kids who do graffiti for free and put themselves at major risk every time they go out. The NYPD has made 2,230 graffiti arrests this year alone, almost double last year’s number. Any discussion of the “mainstreaming” of street art or the ability of a few artists to get paid has to take that reality into account.
Picture at top from GammaBlaBlog‘s flickr photostream. Second picture: Corporate Vandals Not Welcome.


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20 comments on “Another fake graffiti ad campaign”

I love it. Vandals painting bullshit pictures are sticking their noses up at others who do the same except get paid for it.
Real artists don’t give a fuck about what their peers are doing. Neither should you. Grow the fuck up and buy a coloring book and stop degrading other people’s property.

The real artists are out there painting shit on walls, not expecting multi-nationals like SONY to give them a check. Real artists have integrity and are expressing themselves, not reproducing some vapid and vacuous icon that was created by a talentless ad agency, who has no nerve at all to go out on their own and put this shit up. Artists are expendable to both Sony and whatever agency came up with the campaign.
As for property, I’ll just say that as long as some landowner is going to disturb the visual landscape with adverts and propaganda, we will combat it with paint, paste, and paper. I’ll save the philosophical debate for

I really thank you bringing up the riding of the fence that Wooster did. It seemed very strange that they would post that pic in the first place. I don’t care how busy you are these images are more then obvious as to what they are.

it’s not strange at all that they posted these pics considering that as eliot pointed out that marc from wooster works for an advertising agency. not to draw a line in the sand or anything…

i think the pics were posted to encourage discussion so that artists would reflect on it rather than trying to steer them one way or the other. i think this is consistent with what wooster does in general, to frame things to encourage rather than steer thought. and although sites/orgs like this one and adbusters are great, i dont like pressure being put on me that somehow political art is more relavant than non-political or feel any need to attend a seminar on how to have a dialogue with the street. the desire to control what art should be is perhaps one of the worst crimes one can commit against it.

Couple things I’d like to respond to here….
First, I don’t think it’s my place to judge who’s a “real” artist and who isn’t. How you make your money is your choice. Tats Cru is seen in some ways as a public face for the larger graffiti community, so that opens them up to criticism. But in the end the discussion is about marketing about the company behind the ads, since they’re the ones who control it.
Second, my only point in bringing up that Marc from Wooster works in advertising is to point out that he has a lot more reason to give the benefit of the doubt to marketers than I do.
Third, to rations — I try pretty hard on this site not to make judgements about one type of art being better or more relevant than another. Litmus tests for art are bullshit. And of course a lot of political art is just plain bad — over the top, didactic, etc. I think the artists we’ve selected for interviews — M-City, Cristy Road, fi5e, Borf — are all notable for expanding the definition of what political art can be. And the artists we tend to feature in the photolog, like Swoon, Darius & Downey, RB827, Os Gemeos etc., don’t usually hit you over the head with their messages, but that doesn’t mean they don’t mean to have one.
The connection between art and activism just happens to be what this site is about. There isn’t much of a home for discussing political street art on the web, so we started our own. But ad campaigns just aren’t something I’m interested or invested in, so I’m not going to give much lip service to them as a form of art.

As usual I second eliot’s postion.
I feel like stressing that there are few spaces where
art and politics are combined and promoted. VR and other sites like it are providing a venue where such ideas and imagery can be expressed.
We saw something not represented so we gave it a space.
There are plenty of “political” artists that are ignored by the “institutions” of street art, graf, and more obviously the art industry. So I appreciate the artists that we do promote and profile, because they have found a way to convey thought and politics to viewers in a digestable way. It could be in a gallery or on the street. Although once art is used to promote a product it ceases to have any other purpose but to sell you something. It is associating this image, idea, ideology with a commodity, losing any other meaning.
Drink Coke, and LIVE!
Budweiser gets me laid, how do I get laid I drink budweiser.
Or live out your youthful rebellion by buying a video game system, no need to actually go outside with that can of paint and stencil, you can do it on the latest vandalism game!
Its a fundamental of “branding,” pioneered by Phil Knight and Nike.
A decent analysis, and somewhere to start, is Naomi Klein’s, No Logo.

yeah, i understand why you guys are doing this just that i get rubbed a little when im told who my heroes should be or that borf should be supporting union workers, or that banksy represents the apex of what street art should be b/c of the political context. i love political art, think its effective but politically active types sometimes come across as didactic and its comments like these that reinforce that–not a huge deal, but the criticism of schiller kind of crosses the line for me epecially saying that his comments are based on the face that he’s an ad exec. that’s his day job but not who he is.

rations: point taken. i’ve met marc and wooster has highlighted vr stuff from time to time. i just tend not to like what he writes about marketing. i think there should be room to respectfully criticize each other’s projects. sometimes people tell us we’re assholes in the comments and we take it in stride.
and i’ll second ksee’s point about some artists being ignored. obviously borf and banksy are well-known, but lots of the folks we like and feel affinity towards are not known or promoted in the current street art scene, whether it’s because of content, or because they’re not in new york, or because of their style, who knows. also the standard history of the street art movement leaves out a lot of things i think are important.
anyway, feel free to call me on it when i get too didactic. usually when i do — as in this case — it’s half because i started writing the damn thing in the wrong mood.

eliot/k.see i can see how you wouldn’t agree with a lot of what he says about marketing but i think offering a bridge to these companies to discuss their tactics might be more effective than putting up corporate vandal stickers because it gets them in the “know”. as ive said before, it really doesnt bother me so much that the ads are there but i can see how it would annoy other people. me, im much more annoyed by some shitty rock show flyer put over a bast poster and some people, even bast, might disagree, but ive peeled those fuckers off.
also, thanks for hearing my other comments–makes me a bigger fan of what you guys are doing and i agree, the more sources of info and forums for discussion (and coverage of great street artists off the radar), the better.

rations, remind me to buy you a drink sometime. i wish all the other folks visiting the site would get active and argue these things out as much as you do. keep it coming.

rations, I hope that we convey a sense that the work and people we put up on the site are
our heroes, or just stuff we admire. I want the site to be critical and praising. One of the last things I want is for viewers to be cconfronted with THE MOST AMAZING THING ON THE STREETS! every time they look at a new post. Cos sometimes its shit, and someone should say it.
One of my objectives with the site is to encourage people to make and put up their own art, and progress, not inflate someones celebrity.
I’m mostly returning your comment about Borf, or banksy, and Im curious if you get a strong sense that we suggest that these artists are more “worth” checking out.
And the aspect of advertising on the street goes much more deeply than Ads vs. Graf/streetart, for me. I just can’t stand being bombarded with corporate messages in public spaces, in my world they’d all be community forums! those billboards turned into chalkboards and we’d be able to communicate more messages than “you need this, buy me!”
Oh, i can dream, can’t I.
oh and real quick, we all have a hustle, i’ve got one, darius jones does, and so does Marc Schiller.
-actually i gotta get off to work, so i’lll finish later.

i hadn’t seen any of this last weeks reactions to the PSP til tonight,
guess i got some reading and gleaning to do, or not.
im more interested in taaking graf somewhere else…

thanks eliot, sound good and yeah, id like to see more real online discussions about the issues. if everyone is going to put up pictures it seems like we can have real discussions too. and sorry if i seem critica k.see and of course guys like borf, banksy, jones are all worth their weight in gold and worth checking out–maybe im just juvenille and don’t like when someone tells me i “should” anything…but its your site so if i dont like it i can go somewhere else. but truth is, i like your site a lot, and as a former grassroots activist its great to see the two being merged. but if your goal is to get more people active on the boards maybe once a week you could put a question/topic up for discussion. something that people have differing opnions on.

eliot, i perfectly agree with your article above, with one exception. the whole discussion is tiresome, any publicity is good publicity, and selling your soul for a few bucks is just what it is. everybody has to go by this or another way, but if what you love is sold it’s like turning your girlfriend or daughter into a prostitute. i was appalled at woosters “tolerance”. i was already apalled when they feautured the absolut vodka ads without any kind of critisism before that.
nevertheless, in one very central aspect you err. ads do always have a message! they work only and predominantly because of the underlying message. they sell a lifestyle, a way of life, the massega is always “you are cool, smart, avantgarde rebellious” or whatever. so you buy the message, you buy being cool, smart, avantgarde or rebellious.
in this sense this campaign does fit perfectly.

I love art and music. I particularly like political art and music (I am a musician myself). Some street artists have talent and do good work, but to me it is beside the point. So here’s a unpopular position for this web site: When you don’t own the “canvas” it is vandalism (and before anyone calls me a Republican — I despise Bush and this war). I don’t care if it’s good art or bad, for a corporation or for yourself. Where I live in DC “Borf” has defaced historical buildings and small businesses. Screw Borf the suburban, rich, wannabe anarchist. I hope they make him pay the cost of cleaning up what he did. One local small business owner is an immigrant who is just scraping by. Cleaning up Borf’s work cost him $6000! Again…screw Borf. And everyone else like him. Wanna help the world? Find a way to help people and stop kidding yourself that you are making a difference. You’re not.

In our zine we encourage people to think about their locations and avoid residencies and small businesses. That said, if it costs you $6,000 to clean up a stencil, you should be mad at your maintenance company, not the kid who did the stencil! A quart of white paint and a brush should run you less than $10 at the local hardware store.
Don’t know if you’re a working musician or not, but in New York during the Giuliani years and to a slightly lesser extent in the Bloomberg years we’ve gone through a series of crackdowns on “illegal” clubs and parties and draconian enforcement of forgotten cabaret laws. Quality of life crimes are notoriously selective in their application. Careful where you draw the line on what’s legitimate and what’s not. When you start keeping pace they start changing up the tempo…

im a teenager and know people that graffit, graffiti is an art form and could be used to make more teenagers interested in politics and advertising. howvere, if there were places that were left for relevant graffit, then there would an awful lot less on people’s walls.

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