Brandalism: now that’s what I’m talking about.

Rolling through Vauxhall one glum (July) morning last week, something caught my eye through the rain-spattered glass of my commuter train: a Go Compare billboard advertisement with black spray paint furiously scrawled across it in large letters after the go compare “GET SOME SINGING LESSONS”, verbalising what I think we have all thought at one time or another (perhaps in less polite words than I would like to say publicly) about this irritatingly successful brand, who have enjoyed their successes through drilling ghastly Italian ‘mockera’ into the public’s brains’.

The billboard I saw looked a little like this…

For a second I questioned the validity of the scrawl. Perhaps Go Compare were playing a joke on themselves? Trying a new way to win customers through self-deprecation? My thinking was put to rights however, when Campaign reported on the activities of the succinctly-named ‘Brandalists’. I have not been as excited about graffiti since Banksy’s early days – and truthfully graffiti hasn’t really been making a splash of late. Mostly quiet on the  paste-up and stencil front. Reportedly, 26 artists, including Banksy collaborator Paul Insect have been waging guerilla warfare on the UK’s billboards, much in the same way that brands themselves act..

Banksy’s art is all about universal truths – mostly Western society’s ills – and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was masterminding this movement. It is no coincidence that this is occurring in the run-up to the London Olympics. It is well-known how hard the ASA are clamping down on anyone who is not an Olympic sponsor. Not to mention the rumours about brands dodging ‘Olympic tax’. The whole event is a microcosm of our current times: the rich and powerful are trampling all over everyone and having a jolly affluent time doing it, and the poor and weak are struggling. Then come the rebels – the rejects – to say ‘f**k you all’. We are a nation divided: between those who are part of the celebrations and are being rewarded subsequently (even if it is just having a ticket to an Olympic event in one’s sticky paw – a Coca-Cola™ – official premier tier LOCOG sponsor – in the other), and those that have been rejected or will suffer because of the proceedings, for example, couriers, who can’t even park on the side of the road to get their deliveries done (for fear of blocking the unmentionable Olympic Lanes), unless they were wealthy enough to sponsor, a la UPS. Not to mention the punters. The economy is on its knees – no-one is moving anywhere, expect backwards, maybe. Our expectations have had to drop drastically. Once upon a time, a certain Labour government encouraged young people to get university degrees, promising them a career path at the end of it. Well, as a despondent reminder of how that fantasy worked out, I watched a news edit today about an architectural graduate who is scraping a living as a potterer.

So yes, we’re cynical and its actually a pleasure seeing the defacement of the big, bloated, overpriced commercial brands whose campaigns are squeaky-clean, jargon-filled, bland and repetitive as hell, getting a smack back in the face from the quite frankly, bored consumer-public. Roll on the Olympics (to get it over with)! I mean, how the hell can I get involved actually, apart from having to deal with the additional 3 million journeys a day in the city? By having a jolly old chuckle and sticking up my two fingers, that’s what.

/Edit/ Ok so I have just been informed that the Go Compare ‘brandalism’ was actually intentional.. well, I would have to say that was very bold and clever. Though, bad timing for  Go Compare. See more superior work by the brandalists.

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Let’s pull our socks up, shall we?

Yesterday, I was dropping off some business mail in the local Waterloo post office at around 5pm when the postman came marching in with what can only be described as a ‘swagger’. He winked at me and said hello. I smiled back at this neon yellow tabard-wearing individual and tried to place him. I turned to the chap serving me at the counter and said, “is he the postman? I thought postmen wore uniforms…” He chuckled and shook his head. I’m guessing that was a ‘no’ then.

Now I can’t quite work out when Royal Mail postmen stopped looking like postmen. And I just can’t get the image of Postman Pat out of my head, with his smart cap and shiny buttons. This might come across as snobbish, but that postman from yesterday’s encounter was a slob. He was wearing his own Nike sports trainers, some grubby tracksuit bottoms, a shapeless fleece and a grimy old yellow tabard with ‘Royal Mail’ smeared across the back, with several coloured lanyards swinging around his neck. I was horrified. I know the Royal Mail has had a tough time over the last few years – the increasing digitisation of the universe has meant that mail is becoming ‘frankly’, obsolete. Not to mention the shocking documentaries of ‘what goes on inside the sorting office’: bandit postmen helping themselves to inviting-looking packages and bulging envelopes.

Instead of vans, many postmen have to drag around pathetic-looking trollies, which usually have only 2 or 3 wheels if any. I have a friend who was a postman, now he is working a desk job in the sorting office and is much happier for it. Most recently, the astronomical increase of First Class stamp prices have meant that the Royal Mail are enduring yet another public backlash.

But what I can’t understand, is how the idea of a uniform has broken down so badly. I am a big fan of the uniform, actually. I have always worn one in school – even in my 6th form. The idea of a uniform is to allow the individual to focus on the task at hand and not suffer in their environment because without a uniform, what a person’s clothing or hair or general appearance says about them can be judged. We use our appearance to define who we are – how we are different from one another. A uniform prevents this from happening and also serves to protect and allow you to ‘belong’. And yet I did exactly that to that postman yesterday – I judged him – not because he was representing himself personally, but because he was letting down his company by his sloppy appearance.

This year more than ever, the powers that be (governmental, council, brand…) of the United Kingdom are championing national and city pride in advent of the Olympics. Just this week, Procter & Gamble launched a global campaign to ‘tidy up our flat – that is, London’. They will be cleaning away graffiti and planting flowers etc. No doubt several areas are going to get a good hosing and a lick of fresh paint. So why can’t our national representatives also get scrubbed up?

Less of this:

..and more of this, please:

An (advertising) accident waiting to happen.

As a resident of Battersea I travel through Nine Elms everyday. Now, for those of you that don’t know, this is the site of the infamous Battersea Power Station – a majestic, iconic building that has been lying derelict for many years. The immediate area is a wasteland – the space of which is hard to come by so near to central London – but in turn this means lots and lots of sky space for advertising boards. Big boards. I have heard them referred to as the ‘big 5’ or 7 or something… They are clustered around the strip just in front of the power station and agencies make the most of the space with some punchy campaigns. Recently, Wieden + Kennedy for Lurpak – the ‘food rainbow’ arched up and over the board itself.

Most notably, the controversial Reebok ‘Reetone’ campaign which featured the bodacious body of Kelly Brook (whose brazen curves I had to endure for weeks in the summer of 2010…). This campaign was reported to have actually caused road accidents, by lascivious male drivers hanging out of their windows to catch a glimp of Brook’s 40-foot lady humps. The Daily Mail reported on this and oh look! There she is, with the power station looming in the background…

So we know exactly where those boards were. Its lucky I didn’t get mown down on my bicycle by some salivating white van man..

So, what instigated this observation? Currently the boards are sporting another driving hazard campaign for a car brand that sports long sentences, with some key consonants removed. SOMWHT LKE THS. Now, being a passenger yesterday, I could give these messages some decryption, but if a driver starts wrapping his brains (literally) around these boards, who knows what could happen.

I enjoy the innovative use of space, but perhaps they should call it ‘Rear-Ending Lane’ or something.

A bright idea.

Tropicana has proved itself to be the “sunshine juice” in a new marketing execution aimed at bringing the sun to dreary, grey London (and oh how we need it right now!) in collaboration with art collective Greyworld. A large orb has been erected in Trafalgar Square, as if the column had finally decided to bear fruit. Lit up at (what should be) sunrise and sunset, it glows majestically over the square. I have yet to see it, but you can watch a video at http://www.tropicana.co.uk and see passing faces lit up by its radiance.

The reason why this resonates so well with me is that it echoes an installation by Olar Eliasson held at the Tate Modern a few years ago – an artwork that rose out of a common language known to all of us: the weather. Oh how we run to the sun when we are lucky enough to see its glowing face in the northern hemisphere! Despite being one of the most economically and socially developed countries in Europe, Sweden has the highest suicide rate on the continent, purely because they suffer so many dark days. Light has a special place in the world of the seeing – it has biblical, spiritual and life giving power. Artists do beautiful things with light. Dan Flavin, James Turrell and even Tracey Emin.

A friend spoke to me animatedly about the Tropicana stunt, calling it an “installation” – typically a term used these days to describe a work of art in situ, working with its environment. This observation is spot on. The Tropicana marketing team’s decision to recreate the sun in Trafalgar Square is no coincidence: home to the National and National Portrait Galleries, as well as the Fourth Plinth space allies it with art. Now, if I was writing critically about art, I would probably be up in arms about this campaign, as one YouTube viewer sniffily commented, “My, did my heart sink when I got to the “part of Tropicana’s Brighter Mornings campaign.” I guess we can’t have art for art’s sake in public anymore without a corporate sponsor.“, but I appreciate Tropicana’s nod to the arts and enlightened vision of what its British consumers really want.

The brilliant thing about Tropicana, is that it in its past it has really reflected the 3-dimensionality of the orange: previous packaging had an orange with a straw rammed deep into its pulp. You can imagine holding it and taking a big gulp of refreshing juice (bits or no bits, as preferred). Although the packaging has had a sour turn or two, the current marketing strategy brings the tangibility back to the juice. It is a big, bold move that outstrips the competition for innovation.

Perhaps now it is time for Tropicana to take another bold step and revisit its packaging?