Banksy’s Marketing Lessons

If you don’t know Banksy you should. Banksy is a “graffiti artist” whose work is blowing up thanks to brilliant marketing. Doubt Banksy would call his secretive tags “marketing”, but as the HBO Documentary Banksy Does New York demonstrates Banksy is a social media marketing master.

Steal These Social Marketing Lessons From Banksy:

  1. Live By A Single Rule: If Your Content Is Generating Shares DO MORE.
  2. Other “Control Rules” Are Gone.
  3. Use existing distribution systems, but turn them on ther
  4. Create EVENTS and content people will CHASE and SHARE.
  5. Get THEM to do YOUR work for YOU.
  6. Keep some secrets as long as possible.
  7. Whatever happens is all good as long as Rule #1 still applies.
  8. Use the Internet and social media to amplify content & events.
  9. Define deadlines because deadlines heighten the web’s amplification.
  10. Rinse & Repeat

Banksy Hanging Louvre

Banksy’s Process

Banksy’s notoriety began by hanging his “old masters” at stuffy old line art museums such as the Tate in London and the Louvre in Paris. Banksy’s hangings asks important questions.

A museum provides context. Context creates legitimacy. Banksy’s “street art” wouldn’t make the cut to be in the Louvre or Tate so he forced the conversation. Now Banksy’s art sells for hundreds of thousands. The dream of legitimacy made material by ignoring conventional rules becomes reality:

“This painting here. I bought it ten years ago for $60 000. I could sell it today for $600 000. The illusion has become real and the more real it becomes the more desperate they want it. Capitalism at it’s finest.”
Gordon Gekko, Wallstreet movie by Oliver Stone

Rule #1: Shares = The New Game

Banksy understands an important change in the way things ARE. Gatekeepers are OUT, artists are IN. Under the “patronage” system a paternal/maternal figure, a gallery owner, decided whose “art” earned the limited investment. Doubtful we would know now famous work from Jasper Johns or Robert Rauschenberg without the highly influential art dealer Leo Castelli.

Castelli’s approval meant abstract art had legitimacy. The formula was Great Work + Patronage = Trending Acceptance.

Banksy jumps over middlemen / galleries. He makes galleries work HARD to extract his graffiti from walls paying small fortunes to extract and ship cement so they can charge an even larger fortune to art collectors (see Banksy’s quote about Robin Hood below).

The pain a gallery is willing to go through to share / steal Banksy’s work speaks to the power of Rule #1. If your content is being cut out of a cement wall, shipped halfway around the world and sold for millions you are a content marketing master.

Rule #2 & #3: Turn Existing Systems Upside Down

Banksy doesn’t sue galleries for extracting his work. He doesn’t prevent other street artists from tagging over his work. Over tags and galleries are necessary evils. Banksy uses existing  “distribution systems”, but he turns them upside down. In HBO’s documentary an art collector tries to buy a door with Banksy graffiti.

Overwhelmed by a growing crowd looking to take pictures of the latest Banksy the company whose door now includes an original Banksy puts a plate over the door. How did the crowd know where to go? Banksy takes pictures of his work and shares those pictures on his blog. Then an ARMY of supporters, hot on his trail, tweet where to find his latest piece.

Q&A on Banksy’s Blog only answers 5 questions:

Is there a film about your New York residency?

I made a short one you can watch here.
But now (incredibly) HBO have made a feature length movie about it.
I’ve had no involvement with it whatsoever – so who knows, maybe it’ll be ok.

What’s the worst thing about Street Art?

Having to make your mistakes in public.

What’s the best thing about Street Art?

Having to make your mistakes in public.

What do you think about people selling the art you put on the street?

As a kid I always dreamt of growing up to be a character in Robin Hood.
I just never realised I’d end up playing one of the gold coins.

Did you paint the spies in Cheltenham?


We have a million questions. Banksy answers five. He takes the online FAQ and Q&A idea and turns them on their heads. Everything Banksy does is a tease for everything else he does. Brilliant marketing using traditional process in unique ways.

Rule #4 & 5: Tease So They Do YOUR Work For You

Banksy understands an important truth about our social / mobile / connected time. A tiny tease can, thanks to social shares, work its way around the world. If you were lucky enough to see Banksy’s Sirens of the Lambs truck as it traveled around New York you were sure to share pictures and video on your social net:

Sink the hook deep enough in ONE or TWO and you gain the world.  We copied the YouTube embed code from Robert Stevens channel, but there are thousands of copies with millions of views now. TINY true things can become huge.

Perceived exclusivity in Banksy’s street art creates a race to share. People RACE to be the first to stand in front of a recently stenciled original Banksy. They want to arrive before “over tags” write over Banksy’s work. By creating work in the streets, a place where anything can happen, Banksy heightens his work’s uncertainty adding fever to the race.

People who’ve probably never been inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art or MoMA raced around New York to be part of Banksy’s tribe. If this sounds like one of my favorite Faith Popcorn quotes we agree:

People don’t BUY brands they JOIN them.
marketing guru Faith Popcorn

People race to part of Banksy’s tribe. Are your customers racing to be part of your tribe? Are your customers’ beating their drums to signal love for your brands? Are you creating events that live longer in social media than in real life?

Rule 6 & 7: Secrets & All Good

No one knows who Banksy is. This “pirate” persona adds to the tease and Banksy’s legend. How can someone create large street installations without falling prey to the same social shares Banksy depends on to spread his work? Why aren’t there videos of Banksy painting?

Banksy’s tactic is to keep who he is secret.

Banksy doesn’t come off as corrupt or sleazy. His work speaks to who he is. His refusal to cash in continues his rebel legitimacy. One of my favorite parts of the HBO movie is Banksy’s Spray Art $60 booth that DOESN’T SELL OUT. Banksy didn’t say “this is a Banksy”. He sold a handful of pieces with an old many tending his booth. Pieces purchased for $60 are not reportedly worth $250,000 (see the Robin Hood quote above).

Banksy Spray Art booth Banksy decides what to share, what to tease and what to let go.

Once a piece is posted on a door or in an alley a million things may happen. None of what happens AFTER he leaves his work is within his control. Banksy’s content lesson is one of the hardest things for new to Internet marketing teams to learn.

Content creation is the TIP of a large iceberg, if you are lucky and creating real content marketing. Control ceases the moment you publish, paint or share a work OUTSIDE.

Are you and your CEO allowing “over tags” and changes to your content? Are you as comfortable sharing and watching your content change as Banksy?

NO is the wrong answer. Control is a dangerous illusion few can afford these social / mobile / connected times.

Rule 8 & 9: Social Media Deadlines

Banksy’s New York “event” had a beginning and an end. Banksy said he would spend the month of October making work in New York. His moth turned the city on its head. Most marketers, seeing an above expected response, would want to continue, milk and elongate the event.

Not Banksy.

Banksy came to New York, crated a piece a day for 31 days and left. This “little goes a long way” lesson speaks to the web’s amplification. Banksy knew his New York event would continue thanks to social media long after he left. If he kept creating he would step on his own signals.

We call the web the world’s largest lie detecting amplifier. If your marketing is confused the Internet spreads that confusion around the world. Banksy’s marketing isn’t confused. Banksy’s tactics are designed to reinforce legitimacy, exclusivity and create a “race to share”.

Banksy divides his workload. He does a little beaver in the Bronx and thousands take pictures, share the beaver’s location and incorporate his beaver into their work. Banksy creates tiny, quiet things that get blown up by the power of the crowd.

Banksy may be the most astute social media marketer on the planet. He creates a little true thing and gets out of the way.

Banksy Beaver NYC

Rule #10 Rinse & Repeat

Heed Banksy’s love/hate about street art:

Making Mistakes In Public

The only mistake your online marketing can’t recover from is doing nothing. This is one of those games where you MUST PLAY. Playing means risk, but not playing magnifies that risk so much and so fast the right choice is clear – you must make mistakes in public. You must create, curate and share content others want to JOIN. You know you’ve got it right when people race to share.

Far from “making mistakes” Banksy proves the power of leaving room for THEM (customers, supporters, brand advocates). Banksy creates work he expects to be “finished” and shared by THEM. Not leaving room for social to complete and change a campaign or other online marketing is another common mistake left over from the “over plan” era. Today you want to DO LESS and get them (customers, advocates) to do more. Your voice and content should evolve, leave room for input and be willing to change with your active curation.

There is only one way to arrive at that day, the day when your audience races to share your content, start making mistakes in public, steal some of Banksy’s tactical wisdom and rinse and repeat, repeat and rinse.

I wrote a piece in Scenttrail Marketing 2008 about How Damien Hirst Changed The Art World that predicts Banksy’s use of existing distribution systems turned upside down.

Banksy Gallery picture

Gallery in Southhampton who worked hard to obtain original Banksy graffiti.

How about you? Do you like Banksy’s work? What other lessons can we learn from Banksy’s power brand building? Do you have other similar examples of powerful brands built in cooperation with the social/mobile /connected mob? Share in comments or email martin(at) and we will curate your ideas, notes, and suggestions into our work with thanks and appreciation.

Wish we’d purchased several $60 Banksy Spray Art originals so we too could Robin Hood them for Cancer Research. Oh well, we appreciate the gesture and love Banksy’s present of one of his pieces to a homeless shelter NGO. #toogood

Animated Cover on homepage created by ABVH, a Serbian artist whose Banksy animations made the HuffPost:

Marketing Lessons Bansky Does NYC