Banksy Works Up A Lather, And Repeats
"Talent, I believe, is most likely to be found among nonconformists, dissenters, and rebels." -David Ogilvy
Though we can’t know what the great D.O. might have thought of street artist/media provocateur Banksy, I think we have a pretty good idea of what the still-anonymous Banksy would think of David Ogilvy.
Certainly, in seeing himself as the ultimate outsider, dissenter, and rebel, Banksy has been known to diss the work that Ogilvy and other giants in the industry built. "They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small … They are 'The Advertisers' and they are laughing at you,” he wrote in a screed in 2012.
That’s rich, considering he’s leering (and stenciling) at us from tall buildings all the time. Banksy’s little hissy fit continues: "Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It's yours to take, rearrange and reuse." He ends with: "They have rearranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don't even start asking for theirs."
OK, then! One of the conundrums about Banksy is that while he so vocally criticizes advertisers’ commercialization of urban public space, he himself is such a master of marketing, merchandising, and making a giant splash with his own brand that we’re all soaking in it.
By now most media watchers know that the once-humble, Bristol, England-born graffiti artist has taken up residence in New York City for the month of October. (Only one day to go!) He calls the project “Better Out Than In,” chronicled on his website (along with video, and some deadpan commentary).
So millions have followed along as he’s managed to unleash a project a day on all five boroughs of our fair city. (Except for one day when he shut down operations, due to “police activity.”)
He had everyone searching for the work, treasure-hunt style, and talking about art, authenticity, image, graffiti, and the value of a brand name. He made the headlines, and he made for some headaches. And I’ve got to say I’ve loved it.
Adding to the excitement and fun, there is a “while you were sleeping” caper aspect of the installations -- how he literally had himself and his armies of the night execute these hairpin moves with great discipline and elan.
Some of his work was strictly fun, some philanthropic, some more meaningful as social commentary. People wanted to steal it, photograph themselves with it, brag of their in-the-know-ness about it on social media, while some native graffiti artists expressed their anger by tag-bombing over it.
Obviously, not every brand can behave exactly like Banksy. But any brand that wants to be relevant in pop culture can steal some ideas from him. For example:
Be nimble and in the moment. Obviously, Banksy came to town with a strategy and an outline for each day. But he was flexible enough to change course, make fun of himself in commentary on his web site, and exploit what did or didn’t happen to his own advantage -- and, of course, amp it up to another level.
Define content more broadly. Included in Banksy’s “art” was an op-ed piece that he submitted to the New York Times, an aggressive critique of the “mediocre” new building at One World Trade Center. It was like two brand-name titans clashing: the Old Grey Lady wanted to edit it, and asked him to change the art, and they couldn’t agree. So he posted the writing on his website and got more attention because the New York Times wouldn’t run him, adding to his outsider mystique.
He obviously created most of this reaction going in, given that it’s a supersensitive subject covering hallowed ground and he used every cliché around. “It would be easy to view One World Trade centre as a betrayal of everyone who lost their lives on September 11th, because it so clearly proclaims the terrorists won,” he wrote.
In making sure he made the piece ultra-offensive to everyone, he even blamed Canada. (He said the edifice looked like “something they would build in Canada.”)
Test limits, but in the end, don’t be afraid to be philanthropic. One of Banksy’s most wonderful stunts was to buy a bland painting at the Housing Works Thrift Shop on E. 23rd Street, alter it by inserting a Nazi soldier into the landscape, resubmit it, and rename it “The Banality of the Banality of Evil.” The thrift shop is part of a chain that benefits AIDS patients. The opening bid for the piece yesterday was $74,000 and will no doubt rise into the stratosphere.
The ultimate takeaway? Pick a discrete amount of time. Do something smart, funny, and surprising. Film it. Let people interact with it and make it their own. Add a charitable aspect. Rearrange and reuse.