What Banksy Can Teach Us About Guerrilla PR
British street artist Banksy pulled off the most audacious stunt in art history last week, after one of his best-known works destroyed itself after being sold at auction for just over £1m.
The iconic ‘Girl With Balloon’ was the final item in an auction at Sotheby’s, fetching a record £1.4m, but shortly after the hammer came down, an alarm sounded, and the painting passed through a shredder hidden in the frame, to the surprise of the crowd.
The action was caught on camera by Banksy, who immediately posted an image on Instagram of the shredded work dangling from the bottom of the frame, captioned, ‘going, going, gone’.
The day after the stunt, Banksy posted a video on his Instagram page showing a shredder being fitted into the frame of the painting. The video opened with the caption: ‘A few years ago, I secretly built a shredder into a painting.’ The clip shows a hooded figure putting the finishing touches on the device, before text appears on the screen saying: ‘In case it was ever put up for auction.’
The half-ruined piece of artwork is now part of art history, and the stunt saw Banksy make headlines around the world.
Master of PR
This is the latest in a long line of guerrilla PR stunts that have got Banksy global media exposure. He has managed to mount his own art pieces in famous museums around the world, such as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and London’s Tate Britain Museum, completely undetected. He sold authentic original signed Banksy pieces worth $200,000 each, in Central Park for $60 apiece without anyone knowing, and he printed £1m pounds of his own currency, and dropped it into the crowd at the Notting Hill Carnival.
Banksy chooses non-traditional marketing methods to express his feelings about society, and the shocking nature of them helps him to achieve maximum exposure for his work.
Whether you love him or hate him, you have to admit Banksy is a world-class self-promoter. He’s openly anti-commercial and anti-establishment, yet he appeals to the mainstream masses. No-one knows who he is, what he looks like, or where he lives. Yet he is one of the most marketable artists in the UK. As an undisputed master of PR, there are some things that brands can learn and implement from Banksy’s vision and strategy:
Never compromise on your brand values
Every brand is built around a core value or a set of core values. Nike’s is victory. Pepsi’s is youth. BMW’s is luxury. For Banksy, it’s mystery. This is what separates Banksy from all the other street artists out there. He’s not more technically skilled than other artists. His work isn’t smarter. But, it’s more interesting, and it’s his enigmatic persona that gives him an edge over the rest. The most amazing thing about that mystery is how committed he is to protecting it. No matter how much money or fame his work garners, he’s never stepped into the spotlight.
There’s a valuable lesson in this. It can be tough to say no to a great idea or to a new direction. But if it doesn’t stick to the core values of your brand, it sacrifices the integrity of the entire thing.
Call it style or smart branding. But whoever you are, wherever you live, you know Banksy’s trademark style. His art can be seen on bridges, walls, and streets all over the world using stencil graffiti that contains rich, animated graphics combined with provocative slogans.
While the issues conveyed in his art may be changing, his branding remains the same, so his work is instantly recognisable. This is important to bear in mind when building your brand; consistent branding is key.
Excite your audience with a sense of exclusivity
Banksy’s works of art on public surfaces are temporary fixtures that could be removed at any time, at the whim of the proprietor. The combination of scarcity and difficulty of acquisition drives up the value of his artwork and generates massive buzz from fans whenever a new one appears.
You can execute similar strategies to create prestige around your product, for example by scaling down availability, or pricing yourself out of the market, at least initially. Consumers enjoy owning a product that is rare, gladly paying extra for exclusivity, and no doubt bragging about it afterwards.
The bottom line
Guerrilla PR tactics are as old as time but still effective today. Not only can they be cheap, they have a tendency to be highly effective, leaking across social media and getting people talking. Guerrilla marketing can serve any company and bring brand awareness to the streets, individuals, and users. It can be a great alternative to expensive ads, as they thrive on creativity and original thought.
As Banksy puts it, ‘think outside the box, collapse the box, and take a f-cking sharp knife to it.’