Counter Culture Strikes Back

Graffiti’s illegal when it’s authentic and misses the point when it’s legal. Especially when brands use it to ‘get down with the kids’ and get it wrong in the process. We know why brands try to tap into counter culture  – to set themselves apart, to build authenticity, to create cultural resonance. But now everyone is playing the same card, the pressure to be ‘authentic’ is ridiculously high.

The Adidas ‘All In’ campaign used street culture to focus on expression, freedom and creation in sport, not necessarily winning. The TV ad showed dedicated artists and sports people in a hazy blur of failure and success.

But they took it too far. In April 2011 they fenced off the biggest piece of street art in Warsaw, painted it black and covered it with advertising. Adidas didn’t understand the wall, the context or the customers  – and ended up destroying an art gallery, handmade by the idols they built their brand on. The result was an Adisucks Facebook page with nearly 30,000 members. Adidas totally missed the point. The  graffiti wasn’t just an act of defiance, it was art. To join in you couldn’t just paint the wall, you had to do it in a culturally acceptable way.

Adidas All In campaign (adidas.com)

Luxury brands have also been crossing the divide to tap into counter culture – see Belvedere IX .But instead of getting lost on the other side, they took neat samples, packaged in acceptable formats and brought it back home. Their mistake? They domesticated graffiti. In a violent retaliation, French graffiti  artist, Kidult swapped his aerosol cans for paint filled fire extinguishers and blasted his tags on the store fronts of luxury brands. His plea? Illegalize graffiti.

Belvedere IX (www.belvederevodka.com) and Kidult graffiti

Graffiti is just one example, but a strong one, of the dangers present when brands try to capture the energy and rebellion of the counter mainstream. They risk turning it into something that is just certain type of mainstream. Just another type of branding.

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