Guerilla Marketing

In a previous post, I briefly mentioned an advertising phenomenon known as ‘Guerilla Marketing.’ It occurs to me that this concept might prove useful as this examination of graffiti continues.

In 2005, Sony hired TATS Cru to design and carry out an advertising campaign in major cities throughout the United States. Stencil graffiti and wheat-pastes featuring space cadet-looking children using the Play Station Portable (PSP) as a rocking horse or skateboard or some other toy began appearing on the walls of various ‘hip’ neighborhoods in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.

This was not the first instance of such a ploy, but it stands in my mind as a sort of milestone or signpost in the graffiti milieu, due to the reaction the campaign received from local residents, the State and the graffiti community.

Initially, the advertisements appeared to be graffiti (or “street art”), and were thought to be an isolated incident, and there were vehement protests when it was later revealed that Sony paid for everything, including the right to place advertisements on buildings. The stencils and wheat-pastes were quickly crossed out, and some individuals began writing angry comments about TATS Cru, Sony, and the PSP on the streets and online. See here, here, and here.

Reactions from the graffiti community were equivalent to reactions to rival or inexperienced writers: stencil works and wheat-pastes were painted over, and comments expressing disgust were written nearby.

A Queens Councilman demanded that Sony take down the ads and pay $20,000 to New York City’s anti-graffiti program.[1] This same Councilman joined Mayor Bloomberg in opposing a 2005 graffiti exhibition and demonstration organized by Marc Ecko, and employed similar language to describe both events, claiming that the Sony advertisements and Mr. Ecko’s exhibition existed to encourage children to commit crimes.

From the standpoint of materials and techniques, there is no difference between the TATS Cru PSP adverts and, for example, Shepard Fairey’s OBEY posters, Banksy’s rats, or CHUNK Tags for that matter. However, insofar as the Sony/TATS Cru advertisements were legal—Sony rented advertising space from building owners—this separates the TATS Cru PSP ads from CHUNK tags and OBEY posters, but only in cases where CHUNK tagged an object without permission. (The existence of ‘permission’ walls should not be forgotten.)

But not all instances of Guerilla Marketing are legal (or sanctioned) in this same way. For example, in 2001, IBM was fined more than $120,000 for damages and clean-up costs associated with a Guerilla Marketing campaign for the Linux operating system. And the existence of illegal and unsanctioned Guerilla Marketing ploys largely erases the legal/illegal distinction between Guerilla Marketing and the various sorts of graffiti.

But there must be a difference, given the varying reactions to Guerilla Advertisements and graffiti. It’s just that I have yet to see any real, material difference between the two activities.[2] In fact, it could be argued that Shepard Fairey’s illegal OBEY works serve merely to advertise his clothing line, graphic design work, and/or gallery shows, though I am not comfortable making such an assertion at this time.

I think, however, that Guerilla Marketing is special sort of graffiti and believe I can define the phenomenon with some amount of specificity:

Guerilla Marketing – drawings, paintings, leaflets, wheat-pastes, and other materials placed on public and/or private property by individuals or groups acting as agents of a corporation or other entity for the express purpose of advertising a product or service. Advertisements may or may not be sanctioned by property owners.


[1] http://www.nypost.com/p/news/pol_get_graffiti_ads_off_the_wall_GROUpqVsiA2XHXmspywMNK accessed 22 January 2010.

[2] I would like to claim that the difference lies in the power of Corporations to influence public policy: Sony, for example, gives contributions to politicians. Politicians make laws and charge others with enforcing such laws. Therefore, Sony has direct control over what policies are enforced and what policies are ignored, and, hence, who is charged with crimes and who is allowed to go free. This is, however, completely fallacious and based in a Nouveau-Marxist Ideology that has very little relationship to everyday life. It is thus beyond the scope of this study at present.

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