It's no secret that Street Art as a promotional tool is effective. It just works. Effortlessly cool, eye-catching, memorable, brand-effective, cost-effective... need I go on? After writing about Michael Savoie's new piece for Bombay Sapphire last week, I was struck by how clever it is to make an event out of an ad. You wouldn't show up to the unveiling of a billboard would you? But the coveted mural unveiling at Smith & Elgin this week is sure to attract just about every big name in Houston's art and journalism scene. In the lead up to its unveiling, Savoie's creative process was covered by Fox. It's kind of insane when you look at this work in the context of advertising. And by insane I mean ridiculously smart.
Sure, the piece does not speak overtly of the Bombay Sapphire brand, but that's somewhat because it is part of the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series Mural Project which seeks to promote the artists first, and the brand purely by association. But take a look at murals that are commissioned specifically as marketing tools (like, for example the Converse campaign pictured above) and it's a whole different story. There's still that creative energy, but they are a lot more brand-centric.
Let's take a quick look at the history of advertising. In the decades that preceded the tech-boom advertising was, in essence, very boring. It was fairly tightly controlled, centralized, and safe. The only exposure to advertising outside of televisions and newspapers came from the occasional billboard. With the rise of technology and of course the internet, advertising has been allowed to invade every aspect of our lives. We are bombarded with it from morning to night, whether it be the constant interruptions to your music streaming, the irritating pop-ups on your Facebook feed, or the 450 billion digital billboards that line your route to work. Street Art is arguably just another face of this change, albeit a much more attractive one. But it's different, and it's positive - and here's why.
The Journal of Advertising published a paper in 2013 as the street art movement was already gathering speed as an advertising motif, and it rightly states: “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 other words, Street Art offers marketing execs a pretty good cover for more traditionally in your face self-promotional techniques. You look at the art - you feel cultured and happy in the knowledge that visual art is all around us, but you leave craving a PBR, what dark magic is this??
Great is what it is! I'm sure there are plenty of people moaning about the commercialization of art, or the lowering of cultural standards etc etc.. But the line between art and commercialism became blurred long before even the oldest, wrinkliest, and most dour of those people were born. This has been going on at least since the late 19th Century, when Toulouse-Lautrec was commissioned by the Moulin Rouge to design a series of posters to promote the famous Bohemian hangout (which by the way now reach 6 figures at auction). In the 1920s, Shell commissioned a poster campaign featuring the most influential artists of the time, including Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland - and so began the trend of real artists creating good quality art that - gasp - serves a purpose beyond its aesthetic attraction.
Well everyone needs to calm down, because it's clear that Street Art in advertising is an extension of something that has been going on for a lot longer than many people realize. And in the context of Street Art, selling a few pairs of sneakers is a small price to pay for promoting the movement, encouraging creativity, and beatifying our streets. Campaigns such as the Houston Zoo Gorilla Murals are producing original art while at the same time gaining coverage that would - according to one of the artists Mr. D - have cost ten times the amount to gain using traditional paid advertising. Commercialism supports the arts, the arts support commercialism. It's too late to separate the two, and if we have to be bombarded by advertising 24 hours a day, why can't it at least be beautiful?
British-born arts blogger living in Houston, Tx. A mixture of Street Art, Fine Art, Installation, and anything weird and wonderful. Follow me if that sounds like your cup of tea.