STREET ART ADVERTISING and Two Sides of the Socio-cultural Spectrum

Graffiti & Street Art

September 1, 2014

It’s all about what sells! And now the time has come for street art advertising. Primarily an arena for fighting commercialism and mass culture (and for some of us - still the essential aspect), street art is becoming appropriated by the market driven elements of popular culture. However, this is not a story about the general tendencies of transformation, but rather a story on how commercialism and advertising already use the energy of street art. What we want to ask ourselves here regards the impact on street art which is unavoidable in the world of the postmodern era. So, let’s face our demons and take it one step at a time: So what if street art is used in the world of advertising? Maybe there are forms of financial flow in advertising that can be beneficial for art(ists)? 

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KAWS x Pharrell

Just Another Service For Advertising?

The advertising industry functions by understanding the trends in social and cultural discourses. It is, then, the job of creative teams within the industry to form a plan how to act upon the information based on current trends. This is no secret and represents no special revelation. However, the challenging task for the mentioned teams is to understand and anticipate the popularity of the emerging trends, and this analysis becomes comprehensive in the face of the reality of virtual communities. In this instance the possibilities of urban art become interesting to the advertising industry – whether it is the use of the already existing artwork or the inclusion of street artists who can become parts of, or even, build the creative teams for the advertising industry. After all, a great number of graffiti artists create within the discussion with the popular culture and with the products primarily fabricated for the use in the commercial world.

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Street Advertising


Being a specific global movement, among other things, street art has become a fruitful playground for the positioning of companies whose products target young people belonging to certain subcultures. In a way, it is a form of buying a particular style in order to create a situation for profitable market activity. An all-inclusive strategy is reflected in festivals and events specifically created for targeting certain groups of people. Thus, a company can become an organizer (and/or founder) of an event with a simple yet intricate goal of advertising a certain product. The question here is – although the objective is of pure commercial nature, could these events and campaigns using street art represent a possibility for the emerging artists? What is even more important – does this help a career of a young artist or does it, if fact, limit the field of freedom for his or her future creative incentives?

Public Space Conquest: Two Key Players

If we are to talk about the notion of advertising within the field of street art, there are two important stances to dwell upon – one concerns the language or the ways of communicating the symbolic meaning; the other concerns the situating within the public space, whichever form it may take… Through the process of creating meaning transpired by symbolic messages, subjects in the fields of advertising and art assume different roles. These roles are often intertwined, deliberately or spontaneously. We must remember, however, that the blurred lines of popular culture make it difficult to distinguish which meaning has its purpose in meliorating the position of a subject within the commercial market and which meaning represents an end in itself, that is to say – art.

advertising graffiti

The Companies

The language of a company, whose activity is based in promoting and selling a certain product, has a specific goal of transpiring a message which will be in accordance with the discourse of a group which represents the key demographic. This language is constructed to form a particular bond with this part of the public. Street art enthusiasts, generally speaking, represent a valuable source as well as the target for constructing a certain set of symbols. This is why a collaboration with a notable street artist represents the easiest way of advertising a new product. The articulation of a brand with a particular style reflected in the creative artwork form a combination which is destined for success. However, this does not represent an issue we are trying to address here. The “problem” occurs when a company set on making a profit tries to control the cultural space by accessing the non-profit and creation driven space of the street art culture. This is a particular goal and a potential sweet victory – to advertise without direct advertising. One would not have to search long in order to find examples – there are companies who specialize in advertising via street art.

advertising graffiti
Paulo Ito

The Artists

The activities of artists reside on the opposite side of the socio-cultural spectrum. Although a street artist affects a particular public space by seizing its small part, the goal is not reflected in the notion of financial gain (not directly at least), but in the urge to create a meaning which symbolizes his or her ideology and sense of aesthetics. This is the manifestation of the language of a street artist. It is the mission of the artist to impose this language upon the public space. And this is where the difference between an artist and a company lies. The latter aspires to take up the language and the space of the prior, in an effort to use this situation to create a tangible benefit from an already existing meaning. Whether street art will follow the path of symbolic resistance or total commercial appropriation – rests only in the hands of the artists.

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