6D: The Brutality of Corporate Street Art

Corporate street art: widely considered by street artists as absolutely, positively taboo.  The reality of the situation is that corporations are looking to capitalize on the popularity of street art sweeping the nation. Incorporating street art into their latest advertising campaigns means injecting a sense of cool to their brands, giving them instant credibility with young adults.

However, while these multimillion dollar companies are busy exploiting the movement, they are intentionally killing the essence of street art and its culture. Street art was NEVER meant to be packaged, and sold – it’s an art form that stands on the merit of strong opinions. Exploiting it to sell products is wrong and completely destroys the essence of the movement.

That is the issue I have with corporate street art.

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  • Corporations and the Street Art Culture

We’ve seen it before, well at least I have. Mega-corporations like McDonalds exploiting street art in order to target the young and hip demographic. They believe that by incorporating street art into their latest branding campaign that they’ll become trendy and up to date with today’s hot trends.

Yeah, N-O thanks, you’re not fooling me Ronald McDonald!

Frankly I believe it’s a slap in the face to everyone heavily invested in the street art culture. How dare they compromise its integrity? We all know they don’t care or even care to know what street art is, they’re just interested because they see a market for it and their heads are already filled with dollar signs that … well, you get the point.

Look, I get that corporations always try to stay relevant and if they see something thats profitable they’ll jump on that thing faster than you can count to three. I totally get it, but truthfully – what does a company like McDonalds have to do with bloody street art?? Someone please let me know! The whole thing just comes across as half-assed to me.

This is probably what went down in their latest branding meeting:

Exec #1: Good morning everyone, today we’ll be brainstorming ideas for a new 2011 branding campaign that will target the younger demographic. We need to persuade them to come to McDonalds and eat our delicious but very unhealthy foods because after all they are the future of the world, who gives two shits about their health.

Exec #2: Alright, here’s an idea.. Power Ran-

Exec #1: No, that’s far too young. We need something more edgier!

Exec #2: Transformers?

Exec #1: *blinks eyes*

Exec #2: Well how about we do street art? I saw the Bansky film last weekend and…

Exec #1: But what does that have to do with McDonalds? Isn’t that whole art movement thing controversial?

Exec #2: It grossed over 5 million in one weekend…

Exec #2: STREET ART IT IS!

But what was their real reasoning though? Ken Ebo, the regional marketing director of McDonalds had this to say about the decision to incorporate street art in one of the branches in a predominantly Latin area:

“We wanted something [that reflects] the lifestyle of the Hispanic consumer”.

Wait, isn’t that slightly racist? Ok, scratch that – isn’t that COMPLETELY racist? The quote proves the point of how companies don’t seem to care to educate themselves with the art form before utilizing it in their campaigns. McDonald’s didn’t decide to use street art because they respected the art form, nor did they use it because they admired its technique – no sir, they used it because it reflected the lifestyle of the Hispanic consumer! Ri-di-cu-lo-us.

In my opinion, the addition of graffiti in any corporate campaign immediately calls into question its authenticity. There needs to be a strong connection between street art and the product before I can approve of it. The video game “Marc Ecko’s: Getting Up” is a great example of how the street art culture was tied in beautifully to the product. Whereas in the example of McDonalds, there is an apparent disconnect between the fast food chain and markings on the wall.

Dear McDonalds, you're doing it wrong.

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  • Contributing To the Death of Authentic Street Art

There exists a rift between authentic street artists and corporate street artists.

Corporate street artists (we’ll call them sell-outs from now on) agree to create works commissioned by corporations; the real taggers consider them to be contributing to the death of the art form. Street art started out as a form of rebellion, it was a means of expressing one’s thoughts and opinions in a way that backed down to no one. It was never meant as a means to rake in profits, and it was never intended to be commercialized – but it has. Due to the popularity of Banksy’s works, people began putting a price tag on all of his pieces and the prices skyrocketed to seven figures. It was never Banksy’s intention, but that’s exactly what happened. Around the world, people began looking at street art as a means of profit – corporations saw dollar signs and the rest was history.

Nowadays, there exists a huge rift in the subculture. There are people who are revered as true artists who create street art not because of the money but because it’s what they love to do. Then there are the artists who only create street art for profit, and whom the former believe are jeopardizing the art form’s integrity.

Where do you stand? 

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