11 dec. 2008

Street Art Sell Out


'Guerilla' Advertising Masquerades as Graffiti

By Christian Fuchs
Companies are increasingly turning to graffiti and street art to give themselves a more youthful image. Taggers complain that this commercialization could destroy the street art subculture.
The deed was committed in downtown Berlin in front of hundreds of eyewitnesses. Last Saturday, shortly before midnight, as crowds of revelers were underway in the city's trendy Kreuzberg neighborhood, the vandals struck. They spattered black dots, at a height of 10 meters, onto a white fire protection wall at the Görlitz train station. The dots eventually formed an image of US rapper Snoop Dogg and the words "Snoop recommends vybemobile."
Although it may have looked like another rebellious act by street artists, it was in fact a new ad for a subsidiary of E-Plus, a provider of IT and mobile phone products and services. And the spattered dots were not real paint, but merely video images projected onto the building from across the street by employees of the advertising agency Fatcap Marketing.
This Christmas campaign for a mobile phone package is harmless compared with the amount of effort put into a campaign in Berlin for the Ogo mobile communication device at the beginning of the year. Overnight, hundreds of round cartoon monsters appeared, in the form of graffiti, on Berlin's high-rise buildings, on posters and construction site fences and, in the form of stickers, on cigarette machines and in public toilets. It wasn't until later that the operation was exposed as an advertising campaign. Robot, a Berlin agency, had been asked to draw attention to the Ogo brand in a relatively inexpensive way.
Graffiti, long the embodiment of an entire protest milieu, is increasingly being co-opted for commerce. More and more brands are donning the cloak of counterculture in their advertising, hoping to gain a young, rebellious image in the process. "We didn't want to come across as a corporation," says Robot Creative Director Lars Oehlschlaeger, who was responsible for the Ogo campaign. "Our subversive campaign, on the other hand, was young, impudent and sexy."
This is a paradoxical development, because the graffiti movement gained strength in the 1970s when it reclaimed public space from advertising. "Reclaim the streets" was one of the slogans of the early activists, who saw themselves as critics of commerce armed with spray paint and magic markers. At the end of the 1970s, the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, in his graffiti manifesto, called for an "uprising of symbols."
By hijacking this youth culture, the advertising pirates hope that its coolness will somehow be associated with their brands. The industry has long realized that it can no longer reach Generation Zapp with conventional advertising. Young people have become immune to TV ads, radio spots and Internet banner advertising. Guerilla campaigns in places frequented by urban youth, on the other hand, are more surprising. An advertising professional with the TBWA agency, for example, says that "guerilla is a popular approach, because you can surprise people when they least expect advertising."

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