Is Ikea’s ‘clean graffiti’: advertising of the future or just vandalism?

This week Ikea narrowly managed to escape a fine for graffiting the streets of Nottingham with their new ‘wonderful everyday’ campaign. Lizzie discusses whether this was great advertising or just plain breaking the rules.

‘Clean graffiti’

I noticed one of these ‘clean graffiti’ adverts walking home from work on Friday and thought to myself “that’s cool – I wonder how they did that,” – not thinking for a second that it hadn’t been approved by the council.

So when I found out that Ikea hadn’t paid to put the message there and worse not even asked permission, my gut reaction was to be offended. If it’s illegal for individuals to get out their marker pens and draw on bus stops or get the spray paint out and tag a wall, surely it should be illegal for multimillion pound companies?

‘Clean graffiti’ also known as green graffiti, reverse graffiti, is something that street artists like Moose and Alexandre Orion have been doing for a while. It’s a technique where you remove dirt, either by hand or jet wash, to create a semi-permanent image.

Ikea are not the first company to use this type of advertising. Starbucks, The Co-operative and Ariel have all jumped on the ‘reverse graffiti’ bandwagon but not on the same scale.

I do admit I was fairly angry, possibly angrier than I should have been, at the idea that the very ground of my city was being exploited for advertising. If it’s now acceptable to write slogans on the pavement, what’s next? Nike baseball caps on our lions? Are we looking at a future where everything is either sponsored or endorsing something?

But you have to admit, as a guerilla advertising campaign, it is very clever. Ikea is on everybody’s lips in Nottingham this morning, on the radio, in the paper, all over twitter – although not on the street anymore. The advert I’d seen on Friday evening on Angel Row had gone this morning. Even me writing a blog about it and continuing to talk about it makes the campaign a success in a way.

The marketing manager of Ikea told the Nottingham Post and the BBC that Ikea didn’t need to ask permission due to the environmentally friendly and temporary nature of the messages. She is right as these adverts don’t use as much paper as posters and billboards and doesn’t use as much electricity as flashy, revolving signs.

So maybe clean graffiti is going to catch on and be a new tool for advertisers everywhere. Perhaps councils will find a way to regulate it and raise a bit of money while doing so. Or maybe the city residents will sign a petition to ban this kind of thing. Needless to say, Ikea have gone for the ‘ask for forgiveness rather than permission’ tactic and it’s paying off.

By Liz Cartwright

Liz heads up the team and set up Cartwright Communications in 2006 after working as a journalist for more than 20 years on titles including the Nottingham Post and Daily Mail. Liz’s PR experience spans the property, professional services and public sectors and she has significant crisis communications and internal communications expertise.