The Skittle Fairey…Yum!

19 03 2009

mb-headshot33This past weekend I went to the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston to see the Shepard Fairey exhibit Supply & Demand. You know him for his Obama portrait, a pop cultural icon that now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. For someone who came up in the art world by graffiti tagging and plastering stickers with the face of Andre the Giant and the word “Obey” just about everywhere, being featured at the ICA and National Portrait Gallery is a sign that what was once street is now truly mainstream.fairey

And when you think about it, what’s really happening in the world today, from a communications standpoint, is that the Shepard Faireys are taking over. Before there was a Facebook wall for you to write on, Fairey was tagging walls with his graffiti art, and spreading his stickers virally. His “Obey” stickers preceded the Internet age and became so ubiquitous that they’re the precursors to those “Original Irish Gifts” and other Facebook flotsam and jetsam that is seriously clogging up my information arteries (not that I don’t love a virtual Guinness as much as the next guy).

In the way that Fairey is subversive by taking traditional images of propaganda (Mao, Stalin, Bobby Seale) and giving them an ironic (and often hilarious!) twist, marketers are using the power of social networks to have you, the consumer, mess with their brand and help to define it anew, remix it, make of it what you will. Consider Skittles, the bite-sized candy in a rainbow of fruit flavors. I love them because they’re delicious. And as someone in marketing, I also love them because the brand is going outside of its safe zone. With its “Interweb the Rainbow” campaign, they’ve created a widget that floats from Facebook page, to YouTube channel, to Twitter, to product page so you can seamlessly experience their brand as a participant. Like Shep Fairey, you can “tag” Skittles by tweeting about them, creating a video and uploading it to YouTube, write on the FB wall, etc. Skittles is opening themselves up wide for all that YOU have to say about them.

We’ve all heard the joke about the bad blind date who talks on and on about his many accomplishments to his companion, and then pauses to say, “Well, enough about me, what do you think of me?” In our increasingly digital age, where self-publishing and social networking technology is free to everyone with a smart phone or an Internet connection, who you are isn’t what you tell the world, it’s what the world tells you. Now go have a Skittle.