Building brands by vandalising the status quo
First published by Tracey McDonald Publishers, 2022
Suite No. 53, Private Bag X903, Bryanston, South Africa, 2021
Copyright © Mike Sharman, 2022
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission from the publisher.
e-ISBN (ePUB) 978-1-990931-64-2
Text design and typesetting by Patricia Crain, Empressa
Cover design by Duncan Blackhurst
Front cover artwork by Jaime Sanchez (@JaimeSanchezArt
Cover compilation by Tomangopawpadilla
Back cover photograph by Marc Gregory
Digital conversion by Wouter Reinders
ALSO BY MIKE SHARMAN
The Best Dick – A Candid Account of Building a $1m Business
To Tazzle, Eli, India, Kingsley and Zel
Mom and Dad, Judy, Jeanette, Teneale and Luke
And all of my inspiring nieces and nephew:
S-J, Kelly Jelly, Courtney, Shannon, Hudson and Frankie
The only decent thing to come out of the 1980s was the 1990s. And Mike Sharman. And Cardies. Cardies rocked. By 1980s standards anyway. It sold those dreadful motivational rigid plastic desktop ‘quote-tents’ with messages printed on them. One of them read: ‘You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps.’
If Mike doesn’t have that emblazoned on a wall somewhere, he should.
Before I became aware of his involvement in the delightful spoof of the surprise Netflix hit of 2020: ‘My Octopus Teacher’, I watched the two-and-a-bit-minute video done for Kreepy Krauly delivered in the same somnambulant tone of filmmaker Craig Foster whose year-long video diary had captured the attention of a fearful world locked down against Covid-19.
‘… and then I just had this crazy idea, what if I went every … day …’ had me in hysterics … ‘the waaay it moves … its pipe never gets tangled …’ It was bonkers. But it was also sheer genius. It tapped into the enormous positivity of Foster’s messaging with a sweet, clever, parody.
I watched it a few times and tweeted: ‘Everyone involved in this is quite deliciously mad. Brilliant.’
Then I learned Retroviral was involved and it all made sense.
Much of what happens in the world nowadays is so carefully filtered, stage-managed and sanitised to ensure that it passes the focus group test, that we are losing cutting-edge creativity. When last did you see an ad that made you guffaw with your hand over your mouth because you can’t actually believe ‘they just did that’?
When Nando’s had a guide-dog lead a blind person into a pole because it could not resist the aroma wafting into the street it caused outrage, but it also differentiated the chain, which today is one of South Africa’s most successful franchise exports.
How often do you see a piece of advertising or branding that is worth talking about?
Not often enough.
If, as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, once said: ‘Your brand is what others say about you when you are not in the room’ then B R A N D A L I S M has ripped off the roof, knocked down the walls and taken a dump in the pot plant.
Nobody meets in rooms anymore and conversations about your brand are happening everywhere all the time. Unless they aren’t, in which case your business – in the third decade of the 21st century – is probably dead.
Once your brand is in the public domain, it is no longer yours. If you don’t live up to your promise, you will be ‘brandalised’ because your customers will very soon tell you what they think.
This book will not help you guard your brand from the renegade attentions of people like Mike Sharman, but will position you to capitalise on the opportunity it presents.
Radio, TV and print journalist. Business speaker. Author.
‘To the extreme I rock a mic like a vandal …’
– Vanilla Ice
Every brand has its genesis as a challenger. It’s created to compete with an existing offering, or borne out of innovation to provide a new solution or product to its target market.
Forbes details how a business lifecycle evolves from startup, to growth; it then progresses to its maturity phase, and finally, is faced with the crossroads labelled ‘renewal’ or ‘decline’.
Maturity is synonymous with comfort. Mature businesses take fewer risks because they’ve hustled their way to meaningful market share. Mature businesses tick boxes, as opposed to thinking outside of them. However, in this modern age of fickle, hyper consumerism, they also expire quicker than ever before.
Credit Suisse has shown that the average age of a company listed on the S&P 500 fell from almost 60 years in the 1950s to less than 18 years today.
Brands are constantly required to reinvent, or die. 2021 has had its fair share of corporate decimation and death.
BRANDALISM is a phrase that was first coined in 2012 where street artists – led by an unknown Scotsman, Robert Montgomery – hijacked billboards in the black of night by plastering B&W typographic poetry over your standard ‘buy-buy-buy-call-to-action’ outdoor media.
‘Brandalism: Street artists hijack billboards for “subvertising campaign” ’ – The Independent
These actions tapped into the authority-versus-anarchy zeitgeist; it became a call to arms for street artists, graffiti craftsmen, and vandals alike, and established a cult – albeit illegal – following across the UK, US and Australia.
Twenty-six ‘artists’, including Montgomery, brandalised 35 outdoor locations across Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and London as an opposition statement to advertising and its ‘destructive impact’ on issues such as body image, consumerism and debt.
One of the participants, Bill Posters (every part of me wants this to be his real name and not his street artist ‘personal brand’), was quoted as saying: ‘We’re lab rats for ad execs who exploit our fears and insecurities through consumerism. I’m a human being, not a consumer. So by taking [on] these billboards, we are taking these spaces back. If Sao Paolo in Brazil can ban all outdoor advertising, so can we.’
At the start of 2020, Bushfire Brandalism was executed at the bus shelters of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane suburbs, ...