Last weekend, my girlfriend and I took part in another interesting SideTour experience, this time a walking review of street art in Brooklyn. (I posted some pretty cool graffiti pics on my Instagram and also put a slideshow at the end of this post.) Our guide, a young lady majoring in art history with a focus in street art, kept us entertained with the stories behind the artists and the imagery found on building exteriors, doors, sidewalks, and street signs.
In the midst of all the new visuals, we happened across a huge Andre the Giant sticker, which I immediately recognized from my younger days. What I didn’t know was the background story on this iconic image. What has been described as “an experiment in phenomenology”, Shepard Fairey, a Rhode Island School of Design student in the early 90s, wanted to teach a friend of his how to stencil and silk screen. They somehow ended up using a black-and-white picture of Andre the Giant taken from the ad section of a magazine as their focus. Fairey and his crew were into the skateboard culture of the time and began making stickers of the image to distribute to their friends and post all over the Providence area. Before long, thousands of the images were replicated and displayed throughout the country.
So, what can we, as marketers and brand managers, learn from this story?
- Many times, viral begins without the intent of going viral. For all those marketers attempting to manufacture widespread, fast-paced adoption, heed Fairey’s words: “The Andre the Giant sticker was just a spontaneous, happy accident.” Experiment, have fun, and something magical just might happen.
- We all know the influx of “influencer engagement” jargon going on in the industry right now, most of which focuses on celebrities and outrageous numbers of social followers. There is certainly value in the approach, but don’t overlook subcultures like skateboarding hip-hop heads. Their numbers may be small, but their passion and influence are tremendous.
- Strike when the iron’s hot and protect your brand. When he recognized the popularity of his Andre art, Fairey spun it into a larger graphic design business, licensing deal, clothing manufacturing, and even had a documentary produced about him. After a lawsuit against him, he altered the design slightly into an even more iconic image, which he protected with several cease-and-desist efforts against others trying to profit from his creation.