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Wednesday, January 03, 2007


I recently read an interesting masters thesis written by Alex Kataras of Saint Martin's in London. He suggests that graffiti art is a by-product of a society that grew up being flooded by advertising messages.

"Is it a coincidence that graffiti was spawned in New York, arguably the world's most advertising saturated and simultaneously most media savvy city. One can argue that graffiti is the by-product of a society inundated with advertising...I suggest that young children in New York, and teenagers in particular, having been exposed to the caliber of marketing and advertising over there, have created just that; the need to stand out in a visual landscape replete with popular culture, advertising billboards and signs of all types, regurgitated in the form of graffiti art."

The last part of his argument includes a discussion of how major art movements (Impressionism, Futurism and Pop Art) have evolved as a reflection of societal changes and its relation to the inception of graffiti art.

“…I can only come to the conclusion that graffiti art is the logical progression of art. A combination of art, popular culture and the guiding principle of advertising which is omnipresent.”

Kataras makes a very interesting argument, but it seems to be a bit of a stretch, as it appears to be almost too logical. On the other hand, maybe it is rather simple. We all know and can relate to the power of brands, so in some way it’s not that difficult to understand that some people are willing to take building their identity/'brand' (making their mark) into their own hands as a form of personal expression.

What interested me as much as Kataras’ thesis was his discussion of the parallels between graffiti and advertising. I agree with him that on a fundamental level graffiti can be seen as sort of a form of advertising and that the “tag” is essentially the individual graffiti writer’s brand (most people don't want to see either). We have seen graffiti and street art evolve as the practitioners have realized the power of iconic brands. Obey and Banksy are two perfect examples. Obey, whom is considered a sellout by many in the graffiti sub-culture, has evolved his brand to worldwide prominence and has used it to develop a cult like following which has helped him create a succesful clothing line.

Banksy who has been discussed here in the past has used the mysteriousness and conceptual nature of his brand to sell his paintings for big bucks. Below you will also find an interesting example of the graffiti writer BNE and the recognition his 'brand' has received.

Not anything profoundly new (especially to you planners), but graffiti more than ever is becoming a part of popular culture. Marketers are using it as a vehicle and/or concept to deliver their brand’s messages, as seen with this recent Timberland example.

In fact, graffiti itself seems to be a concept that is starting to stand on its own, as we can see with the success of the first ever graffiti video game, Getting Up.


nien said...

Wasn't the whole thing started by gangs who wanted to mark their territory? Then the tags got more elaborate and turned into art (with a sense of rebellion), and then a couple of artists decided to use it to say something?

Chuck said...

Obey = Shepard Fairey

Graffiti history

little A said...

Gang graffiti was in fact influential and in some ways, still is today. However, it has/had a very different objective than graffiti art. Gang graffiti was more used to mark territory and communicate directly to rival gangs, while that wasn't the main goal of graffiti art (creating an individual identity while expressing oneself). Some similarities, however, the respective sub-cultures are very different and are for specific reasons. Both ‘tag’, but graffiti artists also paint murals and pieces.

I should've clarified that the artist behind obey is Shepard Fairey, but most non-writers are more familiar with obey. Thanks wikipedia. I wasn't talking about hieroglyphics or the days of the Roman Empire (used to spread political messages) and either was Kataras, but rather, modern graffiti art (used to create an individual identity) and the parallels between advertising and graffiti.

Graffiti history

Taki 183

Style Wars

AKI SYSTEMS 2600 said...

sigh...graf nerds.

well, i'll contribute my meager bit of history with a link to this exploitative moment from 1985
Turk 182!