BoohooMan and the Street Art Saga – Big Brands and the Exploitation of Artists
Just before the World Cup, the fashion chain Boohoo ran a campaign starring Dele, the popular England footballer. Anticipated to be a hit at the tournament, Dele didn’t disappoint and so for the fashion chain to associate themselves with such a key player was wise indeed.
The campaign itself featured Dele wearing clothes designed for the BoohooMan label. In the photos he is standing against an edgy backdrop of street art murals. Certainly, the combination of Dele, the clothes and the urban art backdrops must have been considered well by Boohoo. Targeting a younger male demographic it was a glorious combination of associating clothes with the edgy street art scene and the name power of a footballer like Dele.
MARKETING PERFECT STORM
So far so good! Some good marketing and timed particularly well to take in the excitement and association of the World Cup. The street artists involved in the campaign must have been delighted too. Alongside Dele, the photographers, the graphic designers, the printers, the advertisers and the people in the marketing team at Boohoo, they must have been well rewarded right?
You see despite the art itself being integral to the imagery on display and despite the clear associations that street art gives to a brand marketing itself to a young male audience. It would appear that none of the artists involved got any sort of remuneration for their work at all. In fact, many only knew that their art had been used in such a way when adverts started to appear featuring the work. Eventually forming part of a major marketing campaign, poster sites across the country were bought and suddenly the images were all over the place.
ARTISTS VS. BIG BRANDS
Now the brand is at the centre of a legal battle. It’s a dispute which surely must ask the question, is it okay to use creative content for advertising purposes and not pay for it? It’s something that brands have fallen foul of before. H&M in America ran an advert which heavily featured the work of the American graffiti writer Revok. The resultant furore on social media resulted in lashings of bad publicity.
Of course the argument here always centres around whether something created either legally or illegally in the public domain can be used in such a way. The Revok example with H&M was something created in the public domain which did not have official permissions attached to it. However, it was deemed to be sufficiently of value for H&M to want to associate their brand with it. The art itself was identifiably by the artist and was clearly his work. H&M by using it as a backdrop to their marketing campaign clearly thought that they would be able to appeal to their target demographic in order to sell their products.
The Boohoo example is slightly different. The art was not in the public domain and was in fact created as part of a legal ‘paint jam’ in a building. Permission was granted for the jam to take place and all the art created was for fun. The jam itself was organised by our friends at the London Calling Blog in order to celebrate their blogging birthday. Think of it as a group of pals getting together in order to paint and have good times. We covered the jam on Inspiring City but never revealed the location. This was very much an undercover and quite personal event.
A UNIQUE AND EYE-CATCHING BACKDROP
In reality the issue is quite a common one for street artists whose work is becoming ever more sought after. It is after all a unique and eye-catching backdrop for photographers and videographers. People stop in the street to admire it. They take selfies and they post to social media. Most of this is fine of course and the reality is that street art is becoming ever more recognised as a way of bringing people into an area. Look at the likes of Shoreditch, Brighton and Bristol to see what kind of associations an area can make to appeal to a younger type of audience.
KEY SELLING POINT
The reality is that the art created by street artists is considered by brands such as Boohoo to be key selling points. They enhance the appeal of the products that they are selling to certain buying groups. For the brand it helps them identify as cool, as part of the mainstream and in the moment.
Where artists really seem to take offence is when art is used in a way which is clearly meant to add value and where that brand is clearly using it to sell goods or services. Would the pictures of Dele have been as appealing to the target demographic of BoohooMan if he was standing next to a blank wall? Would it have been as appealing if he was standing against an average street scene or maybe in a natural setting? The truth is that at some point it was decided that urban art was a key feature for selling clothes.
BUT THINK ABOUT THE EXPOSURE
One of the biggest in jokes on the street art scene is the “it’ll be great exposure” line. The excuse that people make when using artwork to sell as if on the back of it the artist would magically gain a treasure trove of contacts and commissions. The exposure line is one which companies like Boohoo perhaps have in the back of their mind when they use images like this. Exposure however, does not pay the bills!
At best the Boohoo saga exposes a flippant disregard for the creative rights of artists. Advised on a number of occasions that the creative used was without the artists permission, at the time of writing many are still there now. Perhaps not wanting to distract from the no doubt significant investment of the campaign during the World Cup. In hindsight it might perhaps just have been easier to work with the artists to see what compromise could be reached. Perhaps it’s a conversation that could have started with the word sorry!
The original art subsequently used by BoohooMAN on their advertising campaign was created on 7th and 8th January 2017 in a building in Soho. The event was organised by the London Calling Blog as part of a private paint jam and was covered by Inspiring City here.