Sony don't got game

The following post was originally written for the most part last December, but for one reason or another I was never able to finish it. Until now. The controversy may be little out-dated, but not the message.

The first time I saw these black and white characters across town I knew that they weren't legit. I smelled a rat. For one thing, they didn't look like they were done quickly, but rather done with extreme execution and time involved. No late-night bombing sessions here, no way. (For the uninitiated, "bombing" is graffiti and any street art activity done illegally and quicky -- so don't feak out.) These characters to me were done in a style that evoked 100% poseurism. No true graffiti writer would concoct such inane and insepid cartoon kids like these. Oh sure, there are many graffiti characters painted in styles similar to these, and many of them are just as idiotic, but there was something about these particular characters that somehow 'got' to me. And I couldn't put my grubby, painted-speckled finger on it.

The more I saw the more ruffling of feathers. It started to get under my skin, and since I had no idea who or what was doing such tripe, it only escalated the irritation.

Taking a closer inspection, I noticed that the items that the kids were holding and playing were unusually detailed. All the buttons on the hand-held devices were in their perfect and proper places. Almost TOO perfect, if you ask me. And that was it: subversive advertising done on walls made to look like legitimate street art. The culprit? SONY. To become "legit," SONY came up with the big idea to turn to what some writers and artists feel is the last bastion of free artistic expression: the street.

Not gonna fly with the crews, if you ask me.

Image from Secondary Screening.

And I'm right. Once WIRED wrote about the ad campaign back in December (Sony Draws Ire With PSP Graffiti), the brilliant graffiti/street art blog, Wooster Collective was flooded with emails and photos decrying this action. A great debate immediately erupted: Should a major company like SONY use graffiti as a means for reaching out to their youth-minded audience? And worse yet, should they make it look like it's illegal, in order to maintain some sort of legitimacy?

Wooster Collective reaction posts (warning: some big-boy language being used, so don't say I didn't warn you):

Reactions to the Ads
More Reactions
Sony Campaign May Be a Watershed Moment

There is plenty more on the site, all of which makes for fascinating reading (that is, if you have the time), but there is a good summing-it-all-up post: Fact Checkin'. Definitely read that one.

What I find even more fascinating is the reactions by writers and artists showing their disapproval through visible means:
Defaced Sony Ads
More Defaced Ads

Graffiti writers can be a bit touchy when someone -- in this case, a big media conglomerate -- tries to pull the wool over their eyes. Expect retaliation.

Of course, someone from the other side had to add his two cents:
Sony PSP Artist Speaks Out

SONY thought that they had something going on here. A sure thing. Instead, it just created a big mess of everything: from desperately trying to reach an audience to the walls themselves. Nobody won. To see a massive entertainment company rape an art-form that is so prideful in its history and communal bonds, it frustrates me. But I'm looking at this from the eyes of a writer, so of course I'll be sensitive to all this. I'm sure that others out there could care less that graffiti is being violated -- because basically that's what graffiti does anyway, right? Descecration of public property and an assault to the well-being of society, right? An "urban blight," right?

Hmmm. Well, apparently SONY didn't think so. And now we all have to pay.

Tell me, what's worse -- graffiti tagging or corporate tagging?


  1. Wardlaw ... getting all political.
    I dig what you're saying. It's never cool when someone or something (in this case Sony) tries to be something that they are not ... just by painting on a rough exterior ... expecting street cred.
    Sony blew beta ... now they are screwing up again.
    I give one thing to them though ... they take chances. They failed miserably on this one ... but they do take chances, big hairy scary chances.
    Good stuff, Ward.
    Thanks for the early morning social commentary.

  2. To further the discussion, did "a massive entertainment company rape an art-form" when Adult Swim, aka TimeWarner, launched their "urban marketing initiative last year", covering various urban landscapes with Aqua Teen Hunger Force characters?

  3. To a certain degree -- yes, they did. Although their approach was much different -- the Adult Swim ads were obviously an ad campaign whereas Sony was trying to be more subversive. Regarding the AS ads, I didn't like them. Some of the art was okay, but it was an obvious attempt to be "down."

    And for the record, I do not like TOTEM doing all his ads around town. That's just my opinion, of course.

  4. Marketing strategy is one of those topics near and dear to my heart, Ward. I spent ten years on the inside at the Toronto office of one of the world's biggest ad agencies and the stuff I heard and saw would make your jaw kabonk on the ground.

    One day somebody from Strategy forgot their profiles binder in the studio ( a giant no-no ) and I was stunned to look down and see myself described in astonishing detail - me the edgey loner artistic rebel ( I was a lot younger then ;-) and they had pegged my tastes and attitude to a "T".

    Sorry to go all conspiracy theorist on you but the sad fact is nobody in this modern world is making consumer choices without influence - I don't care how "free will" or "individual" you think you are... you've been analyzed down to the last drop of paint in your spray can, graffiti tagger, and suits are plotting to separate you from your cash even as you read this.

    Sony might have effed up - or maybe they didn't. The proof would be in how many graffiti artists still support SONY CORP... in spite of their angry protestations.

  5. Good grafitti gives the city character, introduces color and expression to drab and uninteresting concrete, demarcates neighborhoods organically, and gives the inhabitants something uniquely theirs.

    Mr Fang makes me feel at home.

    This Sony crap is just more spam-- a new way to butt in, to catch you with your eyes open and jam their branded fingers in so you won't forget that they have stuff you can buy.

  6. After giving it some more thought it occurs to me that Sony wasn't trying to appeal to the counter culture at all.

    Were these faux-graffiti characters in an area with a lot of traffic?

    Its a well-known fact among marketers that younger kids aspire to their older, cooler role models so these ads were probably tageting the eleven year old, upper-middle class white boy rolling by in the back seat of mommy's Escalade.

  7. Corporations exposing and corrupting yet another artform ...
    I used to snowboard and skateboard until AIRWALK decided to whore the sports out and now they are all over the bloody place.
    And to make things worse all the original companies that were there for the right reasons are now taking a back seat to the new 'jump on the band wagon "extreme"' CORPORATIONS.
    Makes me sick.
    Is nothing sacred? As soon as something new or relatively underground surfaces, the media and big business jump all over it, play it till theres nothing left and move on ... WTF?
    And everybody thinks its GREAT for the sports ...

  8. It's good for the athletes. They get to earn money doing something they love, rather than having to schlep through some crap job every day.

  9. I don't know what to say about all of this really... I sort of pride myself on being sort of out of the urban mainstream--kind of a redneck, philistine about such things...

    Still there's something sort of funny about it all. I mean, look how it has backfired--and after reading the artist's mealy-mouthed defense... I don't know. It's just amazing how low some folks will stoop to gain some street cred...

  10. I am not a graf writer nor am I a marketer, just a designer:

    I am just glad we are seeing hand-done advertising instead of a zillion pasted flyers or billboards. And this whole attitude of "we own the streets" from the "true" street artists is complete BS. Some kid who wants to tag his stupid name is just as annoying as some company who wants you to buy their stuff. It's all just more noise in my face.

    And Sony actually paid the property owners for the space; its a welcome relief from the taggers who have no problem making someone spend a Saturday afternoon repaint their wall when they could be spending that time with their family or on a bike ride.

  11. I don't think that graff writers "own the streets." Where'd you get that idea? What's complete BS is the way Sony tried to weasel into that market. I've seen other company's attempts to reach that "urban/street" market and some succeeded (Scion, for instance) -- Sony's attempt was, to quote Syndrome from The Incredibles: "Lame, lame, LAME."

    Oh, and at least that "kid" is creating something from his heart, even if it is annoying. What's more annoying is advertisers trying to do the same. It'll never be "true."

    SO WHAT if they paid for the property. The artwork was still terrible and retarded.

    And for the record for everyone out there, we never use the term "taggers" for graffiti writers. Only ill-informed reporters who did not do their homework for an article on the graff subculture use that term.