August 31, 2010

When Might's Not Right

"Any advertisement in public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It belongs to you. It's yours to take, re-arrange, and re-use. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head." Banksy, Street Artist

Like many mothers and fathers, I suspect, I'm ashamed to say that I sometimes fall into the 'Don't argue with me, young man / lady' -school of parenting; a sort of lazy, might-is-right, my-way-or-the-highway approach to making and enforcing the rules of the household.

It might surprise my children to learn that this apparently unbending defender of virtue, good manners and tidy bedrooms has more than a sneaking regard for street-artist Banksy, a figure dismissed as a delinquent and vandal in some quarters. And that, although I'm distinctly uncomfortable with much of what passes as street-art and the defacing of public buildings, I see a certain amount of good sense in what he has to say about the imposition of advertising messages on people in public places.

Now, I'm not suggesting that Citizen Tannam is about to storm the billboards of Dublin town armed with aerosol can and black marker, but I do think that brand-builders of all sizes (and particularly those with a budget that enables them to commandeer public spaces) need to think long and hard about how we pitch to customers, particularly when our messages are uninvited.

Of course, many of the new media channels allow the customer to opt-in or out of receiving promotional messages, but even when we're pitching to the unwilling, we need to be respectful of the customer and seek as far as possible to speak only to those who need our product or service. Or we need to at least make sure that our message adds something to the shared conversations in that public space.

Humour is often used in this way to prompt a smile from both targets and passers-by but, on the whole, messages that are socially-aware and inclusive bring something to the street in a way that make them less likely to be the target of Banksy and his fellow-artists, who understandably feel that many brand-owners are inclined to ram our marketing messages down their throats.

So, no more my-way-on-the-highway for this parent and brand-owner.

Over To You: Do you think messages in public places are fair game for confiscation and revision by those on the receiving end?

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