Advertising & Graffiti

Defenders of graffiti often point at the visual pollution of advertising, arguing that only economics separates the two and that graffiti if often more aesthetic than advertising.

Increasingly advertising campaigns are using graffiti as part of their campaign. In 2007 there were stencils advertising for the Borat movie in Lt. LaTrobe St, in Richmond and in Centre Place. The publicists for the Borat movie thought that they could grab some hip free space but were greatly mistaken. Their ad was quickly covered up with “No Ad” in marker pen and “John Howard killed the Glasshouse” in a purple and yellow stencil. This zone of “extreme tolerance” towards graffiti is not going to tolerate the invasion of advertising. The advertising dollar might rule in the rest of the world but its images will be resisted in temporarily autonomous zones.

Well, that is the idealistic version but some advertising does sneak through. The first stencil graffiti that I saw in Melbourne was the 1984 publicity campaign for the movie, Dogs in Space. That publicity campaign was a copy of the graffiti publicity campaigns that bands had used earlier (there is the notable use of stencil images from Crass and Black Flags).

There are lots of viral advertising campaigns employing street art techniques, including advertising stickers posing as street art. One of the most sophisticated of these was Adidas’s Zero Tag campaign (see my blog entry and the comments on Lex Injusta) From the comments it appeared that this advertising campaign did not impress many street artists.

Fly-posting of posters is just as illegal as paste-ups/wheat-pasting but because they are advertising they are tolerated more than art – there aren’t organizations against fly-posting but there are anti-graffiti organizations. The poster gangs of Melbourne quickly paste over any material that encroaches on their territory. The current use of chalk stencil advertising on footpaths is just as illegal as fly posting and graffiti. It has been used increasingly in 2009 to advertise universities, soft drinks, the Dali exhibitions, plays and awareness of sexually transmitted diseases.

Advertising for the play "Optimism"

Advertising for the play "Optimism"

The street artists are advertising themselves in their work, the signature tags write large. In 2007 there were lot of myspace addresses amongst the art in Hosier Lane. And, in the case of legit legal works the image will advertise business that commissioned the work and supplied the paint. Street art has always been a form of alternative advertising. Jason Dax Woodward points out that “the standard size of a billboard is much like that of the side of a train.” (Woodward, How to read Graffiti , p.12)


About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

7 responses to “Advertising & Graffiti

  • Helen

    Have noticed lots of chalk advertising on the foot paths. Really annoying…is it effective I wonder??? Just gets trodden on a lot!

  • xero

    chalk is actually not illegal under current victorian anti-graffiti legislation. the act defines graffiti as a mark that cannot be removed with a dry cloth.

    • Mark Holsworth

      I thought that too – and I’m not claiming any legal expertise – but I have already changed this entry after a conversation with the officer responsible for the City of Yarra’s anti-graffiti enforcement. The City of Yarra actually targets removal this spray chalk advertising as a priority.

  • Kat Black

    I would suggest that the issue City of Yarra have is that all public advertising needs to be approved under council guidelines, that it’s not the chalk that’s illegal per se. eg with guerrilla projection, we don’t project ads so there is no need for us to get council approval (as long as we are not blocking the footpath, causing a danger to traffic etc). When marketing companies do the same thing, they need to get council approval – and in the case of one marketing company they include public service messages after their ad in order to get the councils to agree. Anything that’s blatant advertising still looks like wall-spam to me, so I’m glad councils crack down on it.

  • The Spectacle of Street Art « Black Mark

    […] I was going to write something histrionic like “the end of street art” or “these are signs of the end of street art”. Instead I’ll try to discuss this without too many disparaging remarks or starting a flame war but I’ll wait to see your comments. (For more on problems with street art see my post on Street Art and Plagiarism and Advertising and Graffiti.) […]

  • Art & Advertising « Black Mark

    […] have written about the relationship between street art and advertising in an earlier post. Aside from the propaganda element of advertising that has always been important […]

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