An advertising company called GreenGraffiti has come up with an ingenious way to provide clean marketing messages: reverse graffiti. By putting company-branded stencils on dirty sidewalks and pressure washing the ground, the stencils create a pattern in the shape of the stencil, often a company logo. Customers include Starbucks, Virgin Mobile, Patagonia, Range Rover, and Sony. But city officials in San Francisco are unhappy with this form of advertising and are seeking a way to have it banned.
The Case for Reverse Graffiti
GreenGraffiti CEO, Jim Bowes, argues that the method is an earth-friendly advertising medium. He says that they’re not using paper, ink, or backlighting like traditional billboards. The pressure washing is done with water, and even creating the stencil is done with a mach 2 water stream that cuts through steel to etch out a company’s design.
Graffiti laws in most parts of the country, including San Francisco, specify that it’s illegal to put anything on a public place without permission. However, the reverse graffiti artists argue that they’re not applying anything. They’re simply cleaning and there’s no law against that. Yet. The department of public works says they’re looking into enforcement codes to see if they can make a case for outlawing reverse graffiti.
It’s a Dirty World
The scary thing to note is just how dirty and gritty the world is. If by simply washing a surface with water causes distinct patterns to emerge, it’s a sure sign that urban streets are caked with a thick, disgusting layer of filthy grime. While this isn’t exactly surprising to hear, being reminded of it by seeing a small spot of clean sidewalk could have a negative brand effect, completely opposite of what advertisers are intending. Reminding customers of a dirty world isn’t necessarily the best way to sell products.
In fact, reverse graffiti can be equated to seeing “wash me” on a dirty car window. While swiping a finger across the surface to create the “wash me” message cleans the actual surface, most would agree that it’s an eyesore and rather immature. Companies reverse washing their logos onto sidewalks with this type of graffiti may face the same backlash.
Despite the potential “annoyance factor,” this type of green graffiti can potentially gain favor if advertisers show willingness to clean up other parts of the city or donate some funds to city projects where they’re posting their messages.