SOURCE: Whitehorn Group

Whitehorn Group

October 22, 2013 13:32 ET

Brand Banksy, Christopher Johnson, CEO of Whitehorn Group on How the Allure of Anonymity has Trumped Identity

Why Businesses Should Pay Attention to This Genre-Defying Artist

NEW YORK, NY--(Marketwired - October 22, 2013) - The world famous graffiti artist Banksy, landed in New York earlier this month and the art world is abuzz. His or her, true identity is still veiled and the artwork continues to rouse passionate emotions. In fact, Mayor Bloomberg has ordered the NYPD to arrest the slippery artist for "defacing public property." Of course the Mayor says he is a supporter of the arts but believes that there are places where art is not wanted. Apart from Bloomberg, Banksy has managed to add fuel to the fire of the latest McDonald's PR nightmare. Banksy and assistants have been jabbing McDonald's image in the side using Ronald McDonald's iconic statue. In the latest of Banksy's representations of the corporation, one of these assistants -- playing the role of a shoeshine person -- is sitting to polish the clown's shoes.

Banksy is not your everyday graffiti artist; in fact the British street artist cannot really be defined as just a graffiti artist, or as just an artist. By leveraging the power of anonymity in a commercial world that almost always announces identity endlessly -- the Banksy Brand not only stands out, but also grows stronger. With a touch of humor often missing in other activists work, Banksy highlights the conditions of the poor and mocks the backwardness of global-warming deniers. Many ask, Where's Banksy? And for good reason. Banksy also criticizes the mistreatment of animals by food conglomerates. Christopher Johnson says, "Many street artists have tried to copy, but have not managed to build what I can honestly say is a stable and compelling brand that has reached beyond the generally untouchable art world."

Johnson says, "As a branding expert, I know that branding is a key driver in business and has the potential to make or break any organization." Many companies spend millions to create, develop and maintain their own brand value. A company can create a lasting brand by identifying what their audiences want, not what they need. Then the company can build on this by consistently delivering on their promises. This behavior will then serve to establish a real connection in the world. Johnson continues, "Banksy has managed to create this brand on the premise of intelligence, humor and rebellion against the establishment. People normally view the establishment as the source of most of society's mistakes -- conscious or not. Thus when done correctly, we celebrate anybody who has the guts to stand for alternative views." Johnson says, "Banksy is handling the work with a surety and deftness that is admirable, so it's not surprising that Brand Banksy has been born. I for one am paying attention to not only the art -- but the technique."

New Yorkers have been getting demonstrations of this rebellion-based art brand on city walls, dingy corners and even moving vehicles. In just under a month Banksy has criticized food conglomerates, large corporations like McDonald's and more. But the most striking demonstration of this exceptional artist's brand is when the same million-dollar art was sold for a measly $60 per piece. The elderly man tasked with selling the art pieces on the street, finally found his first customer very late in the day at a discount, despite the low price. The vendor only made a total of $420. Johnson says, "By selling multi-million dollar artwork for $60, Banksy is demonstrating the art world's limited, almost obsessive focus on investment value -- not the value of what we see and feel from the art itself. This truth about the state of the art world is hard to ignore -- especially when someone truly puts their money where their mouth is."

Johnson continues, "The major lesson from Banksy's unprecedented art give away is that Brand matters." Banksy would not be able to sell this art for millions if it wasn't already branded. That means that value in the art market depends on brand, more than any material properties. Johnson points out, "A brand can make a visually useless material into a priceless commodity that now only the super wealthy can access, and Banksy has surprisingly turned the rules upside down. Not easy to do given the direction the global art marketplace appears to be headed."

Just recently Banksy's thoughtful artwork was defaced. One of the defaced art pieces depicted a heart that was covered with plaster: a vandal tagged it with the words "Omar NYC." OK, fine. Another piece where the artist declares, "This is My New York Accent" was covered in graffiti by other spiteful artists. Banksy's work that depicts a dog urinating on a fire hydrant was also covered by artless graffiti. Though the vandals may be trying to mock Banksy's art, his fans can still identify his work and know that "Banksy Was Here." Johnson says, "This is because Banksy's message is consistently clear, regardless of the form or format -- and one of the strongest emerging brands in the art world."

Even though Banksy has been a magnet for criticism and has been called a madman on many occasions, fans remain loyal. The artist has managed to stay current in artistic depictions and is constantly pulling in more fans through intelligent unpredictability. By not following any approved artwork formula Banksy has managed to keep audiences in suspense and all the more ready to consume.

Johnson says, "It appears that not only the art world will benefit by watching Banksy. Every business can learn something new here -- even a few who have been schooled by the artist -- by keeping track of how this witty artist is building their own brand." Though pictures of Banksy seem to turn up online, fans don't really want to know the true identity. As the remaining days of the current Banksy period in New York are coming to an end, Johnson concludes, "Banksy has built this brand through a uniquely compelling combination of anonymity and fame, high end art and street graffiti -- and by making consistently clear statements that stand out powerfully in a sometimes inconsistent and complex world."

About Christopher Johnson

Christopher Johnson is CEO of branding firm Whitehorn Group. Mr. Johnson is a highly regarded authority on creating celebrity brands and business brands that change entire markets like Infiniti Automobiles and JetBlue Airways. He attended Carnegie Mellon University where he won the Tholenheimer Award and McCurdy Prize.

About Whitehorn Group

Whitehorn is a premier brand strategy firm. They create what's NEW and NEXT through global branding, design, product innovation, celebrity brands, business strategy, global marketing and distribution.

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