Graffiti Goes Guerilla: Street Art as Advertising

A lot has been said lately about the trend away from traditional advertising: about how the younger generation has become adept at filtering out traditional forms of marketing; how consumer trust in advertising has declined; how word-of-mouth recommendations and online consumer opinions trump editorial content when it comes to gaining consumer loyalty; how authenticity and consumer engagement is key to maintaining it.

At the crux of this trend is a shift in the way consumers view advertising — namely, they don’t like it. Or, more specifically, they don’t like feeling like they’re being targeted by advertisers. Numerous explanations have been proposed to account for this shifting mindset — the advent of the internet and the subsequent proliferation of digital ads; millennials attraction to truthfulness and authenticity; the growing dislike of the commercial aspect of marketing and the “what’s in it for me” mindset. Whatever the reason, one thing remains clear: crafting engaging, unconventional content is crucial to attracting audiences.

Recently, we’ve been talking — and blogging — a lot about the benefits of experiential marketing  techniques, including interactive contentvirtual reality, and in-store shopping experiences, and how these techniques can help brands engage consumers and expand their customer base. In the same vein as experiential marketing is guerilla marketing, which uses unconventional techniques to capture the attention of the audience and spread awareness via word-of-mouth. Typically, this type of advertising relies on disruption, incorporating content into high-trafficked pedestrian areas in jarring, contrasting ways, often leveraging everyday elements like bus benches, street grates, sidewalks — and city walls. For example, wall murals look and feel similar to street art, but are actually used by advertisers promote a brand, product, or movement.

Traditionally, people perceive graffiti wall murals as bold, provocative, and somewhat clandestine. In spite of this — or maybe because of it — we’re drawn to them. A search for “#graffitiwall” on Instagram, for example, results in over 200,000 posts, and this trend extends nationwide. In Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston, street mural tours are becoming a growing attraction. In Manhattan, arguably the birthplace of graffiti, tourists comb the city to find radical (and often illegal) murals created by anonymous artists. In Houston, viewers are dwarfed by “Preservons la Creation,” an 8,000 square foot mural located on Fannin Street, and line up to get a photo in front of the Biscuit Paint Wall. This is the exact appeal that advertisers can leverage.

According to the Journal of Advertising, “Street art has the visual and cognitive effect of commercial advertising, and many of its brand dynamics, but carries messages of enjoyment, ideological critique, and activist exhortation rather than of commercial consumption.” In short, the success of this “artvertising” lies in the fact that it appeals to the anti-commercial attitude that is pervasive among current audiences. It is promotional, but also intriguing, entertaining, and ultimately gratifying for the consumer.

In recent years, there have been several high-profile examples of advertisers leveraging the appeal of street art. In mid-2015, USA Network launched a street art campaign to promote its show Mr. Robot, contracting popular street artists Logan Hicks and Joe Iurato to stencil the show’s easily recognizable protagonist in different parts of Manhattan. Jason Derulo built buzz for his album Tattoos using a graffiti-esque street mural. Wall murals have become a trend for movie releases and television premiers, with shows like Game of Thrones and movies like Rise of the Planet of the Apes employing the tactic. Big name brands like Coca-Cola, M&Ms, and McDonalds have all used the technique.

And the reasons why we are drawn to this new style of advertising are simple. The unconventional application draws in consumers in a way that traditional advertising often does not. The ability for consumers to interact with the art — especially if it utilizes a hashtag — makes it shareable and buzzworthy. They’re impactful, disruptive, and memorable. They tap into what consumers are looking for in advertising: something different, something that makes them feel like they aren’t being marketed to. Bottom line? They work.

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Adcetera is a Houston-based strategic, creative company founded and powered by thinkers, innovators and overachievers. We are integrated designers, writers, programmers, animators, strategists and account experts sharing a passion for solving the impossible for our clients.

We work with some of the biggest brands on some of their biggest projects (AIG, DOW, HP, HPE, and Sysco) as well as some of the best brands headquartered in our own backyard (Texas Children’s Hospital, High Fashion Home, and Memorial Hermann). Many of our relationships — with our employees and our clients — span decades. We are blessed and we are proud — proud of the work we do and the brands for whom we speak. If what is important to us is important to you, let’s start a conversation. Call or drop in. Our doors are open and our phones are on.