Thousands of artists live in New York City. Each year, thousands of others visit. But one managed to capture the attention of New Yorkers — and a substantial chunk of America — throughout October.
His name, or pseudonym, is Banksy — a British graffiti artist, social commentator, and provocateur who recently completed what he called “an artist’s residency on the streets of New York.”
Tonight, when I Googled “Banksy,” I got back 23.3 million results. On October 31, bidding closed at $615,000 for a thrift shop painting he reworked. The banal landscape, featuring a Nazi officer added by Banksy, was appropriately dubbed “The Banality of the Banality of Evil.”
What should marketing pros and other creative people take away from the Banksy phenomenon?
OVERNIGHT SUCCESS USUALLY TAKES YEARS. Banksy began as a graffiti artist in 1990 — almost a quarter century ago.
IT’S GOOD TO GO BIG. Banksy’s traffic-stopping mobile installation, “Sirens of the Lambs,” depicting toy farm animals heading to a slaughterhouse (the artist called it a statement on the “casual cruelty” of meatpacking) required 60 plush toys, 4 puppeteers, and a slaughterhouse delivery truck with driver. Its YouTube video presently has more than 3.6 million views.
CONTEXT MATTERS. When Banksy put his paintings up for sale on a street with a sign that read “SPRAY ART” and another with “$60” in a starburst, hardly anyone noticed. The day’s final tally came to $420 for paintings that may have been worth more than $1 million. The medium is indeed the message.
FREQUENT POSTS PAY. Banksy didn’t just create a work of art each day of his New York “residency”; he posted details daily on a website called “Better Out Than In.” Some marketers worry about posting too often; most don’t post often enough.
LEADERS TAKE A STAND. In an op-ed The New York Times rejected, Banksy railed the design of the new World Trade Center. It pissed some people off, but he considered it important to speak out. Great ones aren’t afraid to tackle controversial topics.
PEOPLE LOVE SURPRISES. Each day, New Yorkers eagerly awaited Banksy’s next move. No one knew where his artwork would pop up next. The mysterious artist never showed his face, but he seemed ubiquitous. Excellent marketing is never predictable. It’s often surprising.
EXPERIMENTATION IS ESSENTIAL. One could think of this “residency” as one big social experiment. It included graffiti that made Banksy famous — along with work that clearly required the artist to stretch. “Sirens of the Lambs” was considered a tour de force, but some of his words fell flat. That’s how it tends to go. We’ve often said the best marketers are the best testers.
Friendly suggestion: Try being more like Banksy.