Like many European cities, Berlin is plastered with graffiti. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like the stuff when it’s artistic, clever, or just happens to besmirch lame-o advertising. (Graffiti artist Banksy’s stencil on Israel’s West Bank wall, above.)
But Berlin’s street artists are crying foul because lately the ads have been besmirching their work. You see, advertisers looking for an edge have increasingly turned to ads camouflaged as graffiti (see above)… Ooh, they’re tricky!
Take the mobile communications company Ogo for example. According to Der Spiegel, there was a mysterious overnight appearance of “hundreds of round cartoon monsters… in the form of graffiti, on Berlin's high-rise buildings, on posters and construction site fences.” Later, the truth came out: They were ads.
Guerilla ads are nothing new, and co-opting pop and youth culture to sell stuff is likewise not very shocking. But while graffiti has been around since humankind learned to build walls, it was a big deal in 1969 when a kid wrote his nickname (Taki 183) all over New York. Der Spiegel points out that graffiti’s modern variant then “gained strength in the 1970s when it reclaimed public space from advertising. ‘Reclaim the streets’ was one of the slogans of the early activists, who saw themselves as critics of commerce armed with spray paint and magic markers.”
So much for that. And these new ads aren’t even vandalism! Charges of property damage don’t stick when ad stencils wash away in the first hard rain. But those advertising images will stick in our heads longer than that. Mission accomplished. (Right, a meshing of commerce and graffiti from Palermo, Sicily that sums up my feelings. Oh, and I love this graffiti story.)