What would Banksy do?

Banksy may or may not be a ‘great’ artist. But he certainly is great at marketing.

Back in the 1990s, Port Talbot resident Ian Lewis built a garage to protect his car. But after waking up one morning last December, he became more concerned about protecting the garage. On one side, a spray-painted mural that had appeared overnight showed a child apparently enjoying snowflakes in his mouth…while the adjacent side reveals that the ‘flakes’ are really ash from a bonfire.

Graffiti artist Banksy confirmed that the work was his…and then the art world descended on the site, a nondescript patch of residential land mid-way between Port Talbot’s blast furnaces and the M4 motorway. After a few tense weeks with security guards and a fence protecting the ‘genuine Banksy’ from vandalism, its lucky owner sold the whole garage to a gallery for a six-figure sum.

It’s the latest in a brilliantly-conceived series of guerrilla artworks by the Bristol-based artist. Last year one of his ‘Girl with Balloon’ images spontaneously shredded itself seconds after selling at auction for £1,042,000. The bidder went through with the purchase, which has been given a new title, ‘Love Is in the Bin’. Sotheby’s described it as

the first artwork in history to have been created live during an auction.

Banksy’s murals have appeared on the West Bank partition wall, the Bataclan in Paris following the ISIS atrocity and in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. He espouses social causes and anti-war movements and uses his talent to comment satirically on the news. After Britain voted to leave the EU, he created a mural at Dover, the country’s major port of entry, showing a workman hacking one of the gold stars off the European flag.

As a figurative artist, he’s competent. As a marketer he’s a genius. His murals are now worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. Many of the walls he’s sprayed have had to be removed and relocated to galleries for their protection. At a time when so many want to be famous, he’s famous for being anonymous.

As he’s consistently anti-consumerism, it may seem cynical to suggest that brands can learn from Banksy. But Banksy himself is a brand. His work is topical, unexpected, and witty. It’s simple in concept yet appeals to the intelligence of his audience to make the connection. It’s universal; he hardly ever uses language because his images communicate so clearly. In comparison, so many issue-based marketing campaigns are wordy, patronising and behind the zeitgeist.

So the next time you find yourself in one of those uninspiring, windowless conference rooms lit by harsh strip lighting for a ‘creative brainstorming’ meeting, try asking yourself, ‘what would Banksy do?’ At the very least it could stimulate some left-field ideas.

And when your meeting is over, don’t erase the whiteboard. It could be worth a lot of money someday.