Banksy Works Up A Lather, And Repeats

  • by October 30, 2013

"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.

15 comments about "Banksy Works Up A Lather, And Repeats".
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  1. Barbara Lippert from, October 30, 2013 at 12:32 p.m.

    The biggest worry for advertisers here,obvs. is that they won't have control.
    My advice: give it up. See what happens. Make something of whatever happens!

  2. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, October 30, 2013 at 12:36 p.m.

    Let's see what he can do with the Obamacare 800 number. Suggestion: do it in 150 languages.
    Right now, this is a problem advertising could begin to solve or demonstrate the failure of a law with no author, no responsibility.

  3. Barbara Lippert from, October 30, 2013 at 1:07 p.m.

    @Megan-- I thought Steve Jobs wrote that?

  4. Nancie Martin from Tell My Story, October 30, 2013 at 1:07 p.m.

    Don't all genius provocateurs blame Canada?

  5. Casey Quinlan from Mighty Casey Media LLC, October 30, 2013 at 1:13 p.m.

    If it weren't for outsiders like Banksy, we'd all still be watching "Father Knows Best" or "Happy Days" - also, it would be great if you'd gotten the title of the project the right way 'round. It's "Better Out Than In" ...

  6. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, October 30, 2013 at 1:15 p.m.

    Truth is Obama's campaign so trashed Romney on Bain's outsourcing that Obama's people looked into it and came to the conclusion that outsourcing would be just dandy for their signature health care bill, ill-named affordable health care act.

  7. Barbara Lippert from, October 30, 2013 at 1:47 p.m.

    @Casey-- yeah, just my sly reworking and coopting of his title! will fix. thanks.

  8. Michael Deane from Modern Times Film Company, October 30, 2013 at 3:22 p.m.

    “The thing I hate most about advertising is that it attracts all the young, bright, creative people, leaving us with only the slow and self-obsessed to become our artists. Modern art is a disaster area. Never in human history has so much been used by so many to say so little.”--Banksy

    Makes me think he worked in advertising at some point, hence the anger.

  9. Barbara Lippert from, October 30, 2013 at 3:31 p.m.

    @Michael-- thanks. and yes, that's a great quote, too. And he was actually amused that when he set up his real work in a stall near Central Park (where snooty art collectors would never go!) for only $60, he only got 4 sales, one of which was discounted.
    Two days later, two guys set up a Fake Banksy stall in the same spot. They made clear that they were selling fakes. But they made thousands of dollars.
    the provenance means so much!

  10. Bill Vernick from Brandslation, October 30, 2013 at 4:14 p.m.

    Great piece, Barbara! I've heard him mentioned but had no earthly clue who or what he was; been in Final Cut Pro cave, cutting spots I wrote for P&G. So may I politely ask: Banksy was in the Bronx?? Where?

  11. Barbara Lippert from, October 30, 2013 at 4:23 p.m.

    @Bill-- the south Bronx. He tagged a wall "ghetto for life" and did a stencil of a butler holding a silver tray of spray paints, as a littly boy does the tagging.

  12. Paul Van winkle from FUNCTION, October 30, 2013 at 6:13 p.m.

    Yeah, Banksy works in certain physical realms, but if graffiti really changed or drove anything, it'd be illegal.

    The dominant logic or perception active today is one largely mediated by technology. Advertising's no longer about the carrot and the stick -- now, the carrot IS the stick.

    In the past, if you wanted to know what temperature it was, you looked out the window, saw if it was nice out or not - right then. Today, you turn on the TV or turn to a mobile app to get news and the weather. To turn to technology for guidance in our experience of weather's no longer, for many, counterintuitive. Because that's what every human being under 21 is doing and has been doing -- and that's where their attention is largely focused.

    The painter Paul Klee expressed the thing that happens to Time in the world we now live in, when he said, "Defining the present in isolation is tantamount to murdering it." This is what multi-level technologies of real time are doing. They kill "present" time by isolating it from its presence here and now, for the sake of another that's no longer composed of a (or even requires our) "concrete presence" in the world, but renders a "discrete telepresence" whose magic remains forever intact.

    To look ahead and not back, advertisers need to get with the quantum, and practice the Star Trek chess that's taking place all around them, whether they know it or not -- and begin thinking in terms of using and really messing with Time, Space, Movement, Flow, and the technologies that everyone is now using to mediate this new non-concrete existence we're all swimming in....which'll only expand into the horizon. (If the power's on, of course)

  13. Paul Van winkle from FUNCTION, October 30, 2013 at 7:09 p.m.

    Or -- the US adult entertainment industry brings in $12 billion annually, the GDP of Iceland, global sales close to $100 billion. Porn comprises 25% of all internet searches, with millions of viewers every single year. If that ain't a good model, what is? The Ad-person's 5 take-aways:

    1. Don’t be afraid of the tech. The porn industry's long been at the forefront of using technology to hawk its wares, were an early mover into the internet and e-commerce, and actually drove the growth of VCRs and online video. They may not create the technologies, but they're masters of finding creative ways to use 'em to drive growth. You can now access adult content through every single platform and device, and more - VHS, DVD, streaming, your mobile device, twitter, Tumblr, holograms, etc.

    2. Get to the heart of the matter FASTER. Porn's always light on plot. Like a Michael Bay film. Plot's simply a device to carry the viewer between action sequences via a quasi-believable story that links everything together: action FIRST, story second.

    3. You don’t always need to be original. Adult films use the same plot device over and over again (pizza delivery, sexy teacher...) or they directly steal from TV, pop culture and film titles. Yet, people continue to buy them. Why? Because use of different adult stars and techniques differentiate one title from another. Worry less about the creative, worry more about how it’s going to get done -- your ad strategy won’t be that different from everyone else’s. Stop spending so much time trying to make the strategy unique and instead focus on the pay-off - for the user.

    4. Use teasers. Every porn group uses teaser images and trailers to promote their products and titles, a peak behind the curtain, to pique interest with free sex, free content.

    5. Weird Sells. There are adult genres and sites catering to every conceivable niche -- people who like to dress as furry animals to those in love with inanimate objects. Take the long tail theory of selling to heart. Not only does the ad industry need to supply content to meet more needs, it also needs to create tech bridges, narratives and online communities to help people find others with similar interests.

    Pass me a hanky.

  14. Kenneth Hittel from Ken Hittel, October 30, 2013 at 8:52 p.m.

    Hey, Tom -- you were aware this was an article about Banksy (and advertising), right? Apparently you meant to post to some other piece? Why not do that next time...

  15. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, October 30, 2013 at 10:57 p.m.

    no, i started with a suggestion about what might be a practical use for this guy....attracting attention to an 800 number the president thought enough to repeat and urge its use in 150 languages......

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