Banksy is the most famous name in street art.
More specifically, he’s an English-based street artist, political activist and film director who is known for art that combines dark humor with graffiti and epigrams executed in a distinctive stencilling technique, seen in cities throughout the world.
Notoriously subversive, Banksy’s work developed from the Bristol underground scene, and triggered strong opinions regarding the commercialization of art.
He calls galleries that sell his work “unauthorized”, and is represented instead by The Pest Control Office, which makes it close to impossible to authenticate or acquire Banksy’s work. Instead, his works are created in the dead of night on public surfaces, with “announcements” of their completion posted on his website the next day.
Throughout his “career”, Banksy has managed to create an artist-activist identity for himself that verges on the mythical, while remaining entirely anonymous. Many have wondered how, in the age of surveillance, he hasn’t gotten caught executing his works. Others are happy to revere him as a sort of guerilla demigod.
Banksy is almost a ‘megaphone’ for the concerns of our generation, and it is little wonder that he landed a spot in TIME magazine’s list of 100 influential people in 2010, amongst the likes of Steve Jobs and Barack Obama. His net worth is estimated to be at $20million.
So what can businesses learn from Banksy’s success?
1. Establish your brand identity with a distinct style, voice and image
Banksy demonstrates the importance of having a distinct aesthetic for consumers to instantly recognize and associate specific visual cues with your brand. However, building a brand isn’t solely about pretty colors or cool logos – it’s about creating an identity that resonates with your customers. This is where having a voice becomes of utmost importance.
Banksy invites viewers to participate in his citizen activism by provoking strong reactions and discourse through his work, cementing his position as one of the most important social commentators of our generation.
Similarly, businesses should consider the message its brand seeks to communicate, as this forms the crux of their corporate identity.
2. Keep people excited with a sense of exclusivity
Art on public surfaces are inevitably temporary fixtures that could be removed at any time, at the whim of the proprietor.
The combination of scarcity and difficulty of acquisition inadvertently drives up the value of Banksy’s artwork, and generates massive buzz from fans whenever a new one makes an appearance.
Businesses aiming to penetrate a niche market could execute similar strategies to create prestige around their product: by scaling down availability and pricing yourself out of the market (at least initially).
Consumers enjoy feeling special from owning a product that is by no means commonplace, even gladly paying extra for exclusivity, and no doubt bragging about it afterwards.
3) Believe in your vision 100% – take risks, make a stand
In many cities, graffiti is illegal, which essentially makes Banksy a vandal. Yet, he persists in the name of his art. The unwavering dedication to his work is exemplary – no doubt fuelled by desire or sense of social responsibility to get his commentary to the masses.
While we don’t condone criminal behavior, businesses should understand that consumers react to brands with strong conviction, or a fearlessness to pull out all the stops and confront massive risks for their product.
The consumer wants to see the brand believe in itself 100%. This builds consumer confidence and consequently inspires loyalty to your brand.
4) Keep people talking with novel social experiments
In the summer of 2014, an inconspicuous stall in Central Park, New York City was selling authenticated Banksy prints for $60. Each print was going to be auctioned at Bonham’s in London and could fetch up to £120,000.
This stall was set up on the sly, which meant that no one, not even the 3 customers who patronized the stall, knew that Banksy originals were on sale that afternoon.
Much furor ensued when the artist revealed his scheme later. While such a stunt doesn’t do much for short-term profitability, it definitely gives people something to talk about.
The experiment wasn’t ‘just’ a social experiment – it was also a way for Banksy to underscore his personal manifesto criticising the hyper-commercialization of art. The lesson for businesses here is this: while gimmicks are a fun way to get noticed, they should always be relevant to the brand’s core values.
But perhaps the largest social experiment on Banksy’s part is his decision to remain anonymous. The question of Banksy’s identity remains a talking point amongst those perennially curious about him, which has in turn sparked speculations on his gender and hoaxes regarding his arrest.
This persisting mystery keeps Banksy at the forefront of popular consciousness, something that businesses could emulate in building a charismatic brand identity. Controversy is inevitable in this regard, but after all, all publicity is good publicity.
5. Create compelling events and spectacles that represent your brand identity
Banksy’s works often contain commentary of pertinent social and political issues.
In 2015, Banksy organized a temporary art project, “Dismaland,” a satirical spin on Disneyland. He described it as “a family theme park unsuitable for children”. It featured works that showcased the darker side of history and popular culture, as well symbolic representations of real-world problems.
The project went on to receive loads of media attention. The high demand for tickets repeatedly crashed the Dismaland website– which Banksy fans considered to be an authentic part of the Dismaland experience. The park itself was only open for 36 days, but has had a lasting impact on visitors and critics.
- Establish your brand identity with a distinct style, voice, image
- Keep people excited with a sense of exclusivity
- Believe in your vision 100% – take risks, make a stand
- Keep people talking with novel social experiments
- Create compelling events and spectacles that represent your brand identity