Reverse Graffiti: A green alternative for modern advertising

Here in Colorado, we are truly fortunate to have some impressively clean streets. In our urban areas, such as Denver and Boulder, tourists and locals alike are often amazed at how clean our streets are. Still, with a little extra elbow grease our city streets could gleam…like the top of the Chrysler building!

I have to admit, reverse graffiti is new to me. But I am earning that it has been a medium used by environmentally conscious street artists for some time. It involves removing dirt and grease from areas such as windows and sidewalks using fingers and pressurized water. British artist Paul Curtis, a/k/a “Moose,” is credited with being the pioneer behind the medium. The benefit is twofold; it cleans up a dirty urban space, and conveys the message of the artist. And savvy advertisers are jumping on board with this growing, and cost effective trend.

A sample of reverse graffiti courtesy of Starbucks

Companies such as Starbucks have been using reverse graffiti for some time in front of their stores. Consider this; in this day and age of hustle and bustle, how much time do we really spend looking up? Statistically, we are looking straight ahead or even down…to avoid the onslaught of folks coming at us. But in those moments we look down, an advertisement created by reverse graffiti is not only eye-catching, it’s  environmentally savvy as well.

With minimal production cost, it seems to be the perfect answer to an advertisers problem. Or is it? It is if you don’t mind what inevitably can be a temporary impression, as weather, traffic, or even simple street cleaning can spell the demise of the work. Still, the impression left behind can be most effective in creating an advertisement with an indelible impression.

Follow this link to see some examples of some of the most impressive examples of reverse graffiti, including some of those by the innovator behind the medium, Paul Curtis.  Let us know what you think.


2 responses to “Reverse Graffiti: A green alternative for modern advertising

  1. There are some valid concerns about companies like ours using public space for yet more advertising. The concept behind using reverse graffiti goes much further then just making a buck, it is demonstrating that advertising can be part of the sustainable solution. If the consumer and our governments are demanding that companies act more responsibly throughout all of their business processes, then it is important that when it comes to the last link in their chains of custody – advertising and marketing- there are alternatives for them to use.

    Out door media (posters and billboards) are an effective form of communication but also have a huge impact on the environment consuming staggering amounts of paper (posters), using often petroleum based inks (printed full coverage on two sides to give rich colors), electricity for back or front lighting (much of it used in the middle of the night when few are even awake to see them) and in the bin in a very short period of time. Billboards are even worse using pvc plastics and solvent based inks.

    The new innovation put forth by the outdoor advertising industry is the digital billboard which has been proven to cause more traffic accidents and you can only image how much energy they are using- burning 24 hours a day.

    Reverse graffiti has an impact on the environment as well but it is far lower and many reverse graffiti companies are even compensating for their usage (it takes about 10 times less water to make a reverse graffiti image as it does to produce a piece of paper of the same size) providing water to people where clean drinking water is scarce.

    The biggest challenge faced by this new form of communication is our governments themselves who have very cozy relationships with the dominating out door media companies who pay millions of dollars a year for the rights to fill our cities – a relationship that stifles any small, innovative companies from doing things differently. That is another story.

    This story is one about providing companies with a more responsible choice. And choice is needed if companies must operate more sustainably otherwise we can not demand they act more responsibly – that is just not fair!

    In our case, we can not get permits that allow us to operate legally while governmental institutions are by far our largest client group.

    The test of true innovation is that it often bumps up against old rules, if ruffles feathers and it tends to get the discussion started.

    We, as a young but fast growing industry (there were two companies doing this 4 years ago and now there are over 50), see ourselves as the pioneers. Are we perfect? No, far from it but we are better and we are challenging the industry to clean up its act. What we have found is that our clients want to be involved, want to be part of the solution and would use this form of advertising much more if they were allowed to legally.

    Once cities stop seeing their dirt as a problem or a negative and start seeing it as an asset, one they can use to help fill badly strapped budgets, we may see a real explosion of this form of communication. If you look at our dirt as a canvas, we can then begin to use advertising and CSR budgets to fund the cleaning of our cities or contribute to local communities. This is the goal of our small company and I think the industry as a whole.

    It will ruffle some feathers along the way and it will show that there are truly sustainable alternatives that go much further then any of the outdoor media companies seem willing to go. It is as much about a test as to whether small companies will be allowed to compete in the outdoor arena as it will be about cities actually walking the talk and allowing for new ways for them to reach their own “green” ambitions.

    The good news is that the general public is for the most part very supportive as it is a very simple demonstration of sustainability at work. Simple, using off the shelf technology and an old form of street art that has been around for over 100 years. Paul Curtis is the grandfather of the reverse graffiti movement, but the first person to write “wash me” on a dirty car was the first person to use this form of communication. Sometimes old ideas recast in a new light are the best.

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