Speak Your Mind – From Street Graffiti to Cult Branding [Strategy]

Have you been to West Bengal? If you have, you probably noticed the graffiti painted on the walls over there. There are dharna dates, ‘chakka jaam‘ warnings and ‘lal jhanda‘ messages that clearly reveal the state of the state. The writing is on the wall. Well let’s not focus on state, but the art within those burn messages written in red or black, colorful at times, and yet emotionally charged with statements marking nearly all the boundary walls on the highway. There is real art in those messages. Defacement brought out by people against the incumbent with an extreme emotion. That’s why most of the times the color is red. Of Blood.

Only the abstract & exquisite colorful art on any public property created in an act of vandalism qualifies to be called as a ‘street graffiti‘. In defiance, let me put it straight. Vandalism on historical monuments, scratches,  public love messages, stupid doodle work which too are forms of self expression do not necessarily qualify as street graffiti, though those are artistic too. Let us dive deep into Street Graffiti – and know what an artist thinks or is inspired by and how that makes such a difference in a form of art put on perennial public display.

Speaking the mind: A street graffiti artist like any other knows how to present his thoughts. And present it quickly, before making a run! But the real edge is the fearlessness of stopping by to conduct an extreme experiment against the law using brush or spray to bring out loud & bright colors. The fonts represent a message without following any set pattern. The edgy thoughts which may be dark at times, revolt against a system and are provocative by nature soon become depiction of the chaos in the state – or lawlessness. Needless to say graffiti is almost certainly a result of suppression and is done underground, subways or during deserted moments on streets. Dark / provocative cult art is the only reason why street graffiti exists in the world.

Graffiti Democracy: Street graffiti exists even though it is illegal and considered equal to other forms of petty crimes. Well of-course the intention of a graffiti is defiance, so the crime angle is inherent. To take a dig at the system, to bring out truth or perhaps reveal the general opinion graffiti in many ways represents free-thinking society. In our country, street graffiti goes unchallenged by the state, and that speaks volumes about our form of democracy. Now it may be due to lethargy of system or poor control but that is how free thinking IS in India. A trip to Copenhagen, Denmark will show you some awesome world class street graffiti on the walls called Christania. The place is a free town at the heart of Copenhagen and has been in controversy for quite sometime. Huge life size amazing wall-art and an equally graffiti-fied skater board area are a tourist attraction at Copenhagen.

Cult status: Graffiti art is associated with cult or revolution. “Free-speech”, “defiance” , “kill-rules” attitude are great USPs that give a brand a cult appeal. Almost every cult brands uses it. For an aspiring graffiti artist, the most important quality is to challenge the ordinary and create a head-turner (ya, I know this also means chicks :P). Street graffiti, defiance and underground free speech is what Harley Davidson or Royal Enfield tribes show off, or Westcoast Choppers derive, Pimp-my-Ride transform, and all those graffiti and tattoo artists sprout in and around forming a larger cult gang. Isn’t graffiti the connection between cult & premium?

A Needed Revolution: If it is said that street graffiti is associated only with vandalism and defacement of public property then it would be short of complete assessment. At times street graffiti is done with a purpose to beautify the place without anger or revolutionary messages. There is a group in Mumbai who calls their project as – The Wall and they paint the walls & footpaths of slum dwellers. Otherwise these jhuggi jhopdis will never get a fresh coat of paint. Places that by default are smelly public convenience corners are converted overnight into beautiful walls of graffiti artwork. This group works along with the Mumbai Municipal Corporation and addresses a totally different need with a noble cause of beautifying Mumbai.

Their graffiti doesn’t smear the system but gives a really humorous, colorful, pun-intended message to the public to grab some civic sense. A totally revolutionary use-case of graffiti and a desperately needed one, isn’t it?

Well, BTW we are going to interview an independent graffiti artist from Mumbai on Pluggd.in shortly.

Street graffiti display art has a strong potential to be exploited commercially. Though I don’t love this fact, but it does have a strong commercial advantage. A few years back all water-pipes and boundary walls in Mumbai displayed a telephone number written on them along with the text “Bean Bags”. This was a form of illegal/guerrilla marketing tactic where a bean bag company let loose some people with spray paints to paint  “ 2456****- Bean Bags” all across the city. Can you guess how many bean bags they sold?

It’s worth mentioning that free-thinking and self-expression lose its meaning the moment it is given commercial angle. Say it becomes ‘unsolicited sales spam’. However if done right, there is a huge potential in this form of art to help you gauge the sales pitch with right message. I personally feel that connecting a brand to the graffiti message from the people gives a strong kick to the sales figures of a product. Now it really depends on how a you want to brand and give your product a personality of its own. It is no wonder that cult brands outperform and defy their competition like a slaughterhouse. Take example of Apple, Harley Davidson, Pink Floyd, Terminator, Metallica, Gods Must Be Crazy, Rajnikant etc. but all that depends on whether you get the math & message right.

What do you think Pi readers?

[Image Credit]