The day after watching comedy shows like “The Drifters” or “Takechanman,” friends would reenact what they'd seen and laugh. “That was so funny yesterday,” one of them would say, and another would shoot back jokingly, “No way!” That daily banter brings back memories. Back when the family would gather around the TV in the living room, everybody was exposed to the same information, but since we all had a certain degree of knowledge about the topics, we got excited about the same things and could still have a smooth back-and-forth conversation about the subjects even if they were very specific. Today, with the rise of social media and the overflow of information in the world, if you want to gather information, you have unlimited means at your disposal, while archives can further swell the enormous quantity. If you dig up a detailed piece of information and you can understand it, you may at the end of the day reach an expert level of familiarity. Having a conversation with such an information-sensitive person may be a struggle for a person who is satisfied just with the information they happen to overhear in the course of their daily life. Perhaps that's because the person would be a listener in a one-sided conversation.
In such an era when we are inundated with information, what are people interested in? In the days before social media, it was the “golden age of the search engine.” You could look up a word you didn't know and efficiently acquire information from lots of different places. You had to pick out the information yourself. It may have acquired a little bit of effort before you found what you were looking for. But in today's social media era, if you configure things right, you can get just about everything you want to know brought straight to you automatically. We're like a colony of ants on a piece of melting ice cream, or cats craving Ciao Churu cat food. However, the flood of information makes people frigid. Do you sense that the surprise or the feeling of satisfaction we get from information that makes us exclaim “Is that so!” or “Really?” is becoming thinner? What do you think? And has our communication world reached a point where information is too frequent and has dulled the senses, giving rise to a need to create happenings or newsworthiness just to regain our attention?
At first, perhaps the preferred method was surprise. This involved situations that made you feel like you were on a candid camera program on TV, using tricks like large sounds or making an unexpected scene unfold right in front of you. People would talk on social media and spread the story, commenting that “I was so surprised!” or “What the heck was that?!” The followers who were half amused and half interested would mechanically retweet and the information would race around the network like a virus. Yes, the term viral marketing certainly fits. However, as you already know, they lack the elements of understanding, persuasiveness, and empathy, and they did not go so far as to overturn the audience's awareness or encourage action. Indeed, to make people act, you must in fact convince the person. And now a man who can do just that has arrived on the scene. (The artist's is gender is actually unknown...) You know the name: Banksy.
He's an unknown and anonymous artist based in England. As for what kind of person he is, the word on the street is entirely conjecture, and that mysteriousness actually fuels people's interest in the artist. He keeps popping up at unexpected places around the world, leaving only stenciled graffiti on walls, bridges, and elsewhere. His messages of social satire that come off as black humor, plus his guerrilla-style method of expression, have garnered great attention. However, is story art comprising drawings of pictures on public structures a form of art or is it just plain graffiti? The people who view them may see them as vandalism. Therefore, Banksy's work is constantly dogged by a mixed reception.
Banksy leaves his original street art in places that have absolutely nothing unusual about them. He is also called an “art terrorist” for displaying his works where he is not been granted permission. This guerrilla action, the mystery surrounding the unknown identity, the allure of his graffiti, and the low odds of being the one to discover a work have all made it into a bigger story that has even attracted media coverage. Even though he has already been at it for 20 years, people's interest has not waned, but has in fact increased. And yet praise for artist is not based on the external expression of his craft. He is hailed because the pictures (by which I mean the story art) he leaves behind are edgy yet empathy-inspiring, satirical messages that stick it to countries and governments without warning. His excellent timing, along with his choice of locations that are suited to the insecurity or dissatisfaction people feel or the words we want to say, are what make his works into “happenings” that then become “news.” He is, in a manner, a representative of regular people in general. That is to say, how can we not help but empathize?
The coronavirus pandemic which this piece addresses acts in the same way as Banksy's other work. Rather than the two-dimensional heroes Batman and Spider-Man, the over-the-top creations of Hollywood films, the piece tells us that the real-life healthcare professionals determinedly confronting the coronavirus are our heroes. With people around the world moved by their courage and expressing their gratitude through words of praise and scheduled rounds of applause, the piece's position is that the phrase “modern heroes” is an alternative wording that plainly describes these workers. The title is “Game Changer.” The piece interprets this time as one of revolutionary and dramatic change to the recognition, thinking, and values that had until now taken these professionals for granted. It also represents the fact that these healthcare professionals are playing the lead role in that paradigm shift. Meanwhile, this art was delivered to a hospital in Southampton, in the southern part of England. The hospital has been handling clinical trials of drugs currently under development in the UK to treat COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The illustration was delivered on May 7, 2020, right around when these trials commenced and the day before World Red Cross Day, when the public's attention is directed toward healthcare professionals. Everything about the work – the place, the timing – made it easily newsworthy. The piece itself will be left up at the recipient hospital until autumn, after which it will be auctioned off and the proceeds provided to the National Health Service (NHS). From beginning to end, it is a typically Banksy story for its solid design. In addition, the winning bid is already expected to be in the neighborhood of over 650 million yen, giving the story exactly the kind of information the number-craving media want.
In addition, there is another perspective from which we can examine this art. Intellectuals have been sharing their views, saying things like, “Banksy is a caricaturist, and even in this coronavirus pandemic, this is not some mere act of sentimentality that will make us forget that.” For example, some say, “He treats healthcare professionals as heroes, but is he perhaps presenting a future where like Batman and the others, they, too, will eventually be tossed aside after we embrace them?” Although we all feel gratitude amid the turmoil, it is because we are seeing the volunteer spirit of those healthcare professionals, and the government is helpless because it is completely dependent upon them. Later on, our feelings will also include criticism that healthcare professionals perform thankless jobs. In addition, the same can be said of the red cross symbol drawn on the nurse's chest. As you know, the red cross is a symbol for the humanitarian relief fund that provides aid in times of war or natural disaster. In this picture, the healthcare worker is wearing the white uniform of the volunteer organization, meaning that she is forced to fight on the front lines of national crises. Certainly, when Banksy made a donation, he sent a letter expressing his gratitude for everybody's work and that even though his painting is black-and-white, he hopes that it will brighten their workplace some. While emphasizing the black-and-white design, there is actually one bit of color: the red on the red cross mark on the nurse's chest. It seems designed to catch the viewer's attention. The piece has stimulated discussion by people coming from different perspectives, and that is exactly what Banksy does.
This demonstrates the power of Banksy's messages to create empathy and his insightful timing. Furthermore, exactly because this work was not produced to turn a profit and it is not a mere publicity stunt (He's anonymous anyways.), there has been no backlash. Instead, the praise has come naturally. It would seem that the more he produces art, the more definitively people will feel that his is a noble spirit.
Want to get in on a secret? Banksy has an archetype: another artist by the name of Damien Hirst. Hirst has always been skilled at putting on a show and giving his works pizzazz. Like Banksy, he is also from Bristol, England, and has even participated in Banksy's work. When he announces a piece, Hirst creates a furor of some form or another. This is his hook for making him and his work worthy of gossip among people who aren't even interested in art. He has the good sense to know that creating a news story makes the value shoot up. And he is quite adept at this method. Perhaps he has always hated the idea of leaving behind fine works that only get people talking and become valuable after he dies. In another sense, you could say that he, too, is a game changer. However, in the coronavirus pandemic, perhaps Hirst can also pick up on society's mood and choose the path of empathy and praise rather than outcries and negative reviews. Like Banksy, he has produced a work to express gratitude to the staff of the National Health Service (NHS). This piece is “Butterfly Rainbow,” which Hirst created by painting butterflies into the shape of a rainbow. The work is available for free download from his official website. Many pictures of rainbows have appeared in the homes of windows in England, putting people in the midst of lockdowns into a more positive mood. This trend got started by Chase the Rainbow, a Facebook group in North Somerset. The group sent out a message calling on people to draw pictures of rainbows and put them in their windows so that children walking by will find them. Damien Hirst responded to this call to action. Using his renowned “Mandalas” as a motif, he produced a piece featuring a rainbow where each of its colors is formed by butterfly wings. Damien Hirst said that he wanted to do something to show respect to the amazing job being done by NHS staff in England's hospitals. He added that a rainbow is a symbol of hope and that he found it wonderful that people of all ages are drawing rainbows to decorate the windows in their homes. Hirst has since sold this work and donated the proceeds of around 400 million yen.
One more point to make here is that Damien Hirst is good at encouraging people to join in offering support. By participating, a person can gain the social satisfaction of cheering on healthcare professionals, while also satisfying the personal desire to own a publicly released Damien Hirst work. On top of that, it's free. The project is designed so that participants can kill three birds with one stone. You could say this project is structured to inspire people to take action, very carefully calculated so that instead of being pushed to commit a public act of self-sacrifice, they can join while also satisfying their personal desires. Just looking at the two cases of Banksy and Damien Hirst presented here, we can learn the same thing from this scheme, and perhaps get the sense that these projects have gone through some sort of evolution through an occasional rearrangement.
It is exceedingly difficult to create something entirely new, but if you consider that by learning from the past and building upon it we can produce big results, there is likely some meaning to be taken from making the effort.
An artist from Bristol, England who was born on June 7, 1965. While studying at Goldsmiths, University of London, Hirst gained notice for exhibiting works on life and death that used materials such as animal corpses. He later created huge sensations that catapulted his name to worldwide recognition, such as his piece comprising a shark in a giant tank filled with formaldehyde, and a work featuring a cow and a calf each sliced in half down the middle. Along with his outrageous works, Hirst's statements and behavior have attracted attention, making him a constant public agitator. He is one of the most important global artists in the 21st century. Hirst is also in the same category as Banksy, with whom he unveiled a collaboration that got people talking.
We can see a case from last year's Cannes Lions, when the same scheme of creating a happening from something small was put to use. “Fearless Girl,” which won a Grand Prix in 2017, serves as the example. It is a statue of a young girl standing opposite from the “Charging Bull,” a bronze statue in New York City's Wall Street area that evokes thoughts of a male-dominated society, and it was placed the day prior to International Women's Day to emphasis women's social status. The installation of “Fearless Girl” caused a storm.
As examples of how the statue succeeded in getting people talking, in the three months or so after the start of the campaign, it appeared on Twitter timelines 4.6 billion times and on Instagram over 700 million times. State Street Global Advisors, which kicked off the campaign, is actually not an NGO, NPO or the like, but rather an asset management firm. The company provides consulting services to improve financial performance based on market research. This research produced analytical results showing that companies where women are commonplace and entrenched as managers and leaders have relatively better performance, and they create value over the long term. Based on this data, the company thus put on this campaign to publicly make the point that women should be promoted more.
State Street Global Advisors made this point with “Fearless Girl.” In a time when we are all about digital communication, installing a bronze statue, something that is in the real world and limited to a fixed location, seems like an out-of-date tactic, but it became a starting point for stimulating empathy worldwide. It was also the application of an incredibly clever tactic based on insights about people. First is the character the statue depicts. A little girl is the epitome of innocence, and that is a key point because she is unsullied by the unpleasant customs of society. Most adults, when they join society, lead their lives with an open mind that is tolerant of all sorts of people. In the process, we become unable to bluntly point out faults and urge people to fix them. This is something all of us can sympathize with. When we free ourselves of this burden, we can directly confront problems. This is the issue the statue brings up. Another important aspect that makes this statue an ingenious tactic is where it was installed. Men are quite conspicuous on Wall Street. Plus, the statue of the young girl stands right in front of the charging bull that was placed as a symbol of this district. The scene seems to depict a moment just before the two are going to collide head-on, but the girl seems at ease, as if she knows she will win. She truly seems to be a girl who knows no fear. Reportedly, women who have seen the statue were at first astonished. Why would a little girl face an angry, crazy bull? After the initial shock, however, nearly all of them no doubt wanted to be like her. The women fell in love with the girl and took pictures with her and shared the photos as a means of self-inspiration. Those who shared were sending a message to themselves. Without any compulsion, explanation, or encouragement, their action continues to spread.
The installation of the statue is the heart of the campaign. Of course, the project involved a passion for the craft, and there were undoubtedly unimaginable difficulties involved, such as negotiating the statue's location. When drawing up the blueprint, however, the person who came up with the idea probably imagined that from this humble starting point, the statue would spread around the world in a plethora of parabolas. When you hold an idea with conviction, you naturally generate the confidence and readiness to follow through on it.
Another example is “The Organic Effect.” The installation of the aforementioned “Fearless Girl” statue created a happening, but in this case we are looking at people rather than an object. One family spent two weeks eating only organic food. It was part of an awareness-raising campaign about organic foods put on by Swedish supermarket Coop.
To promote the efficacy of organic food, the supermarket extracted data showing that as a result of the family spending two weeks leading the organic food lifestyle, there were nearly no components of agrochemicals (also known as insecticides) in their bodies. The campaign gave consumers a clear choice, adding substance to the message that regular foods leave insecticide toxins inside the body, while organic food is okay. You could also describe it as a documentary serving up validation of an argument. The experiment to measure how much of an effect insecticides have on the body did not have a wide range of test subjects, but rather covered a typical Swedish family. And although it was only one family, its members were men and women of different ages, including members of adult, child, and infant age. This supported the argument that insecticides have the same effect on people with different traits. Normally, when extracting data from a clinical trial, the standard practice is to arrange for a certain number of test subjects. However, Coop's approach of closely following a family for two weeks added elements of openness and reliability to the clinical trial.
Although Coop partnered with a national research institution, the small sample size raised doubts about the data's reliability. But what won over consumers was not rock-solid data, but the idea that if you change your diet for two weeks, you can very likely change your health. It was a unique approach to purposely use video to directly show consumers the results of the process. More than being surprised at becoming clearly aware of the data, consumers felt their vague misgivings had been justified, convincing them that they were right all along.
Another notable thing about this campaign was that the goal was not to gently change people's minds into thinking that organic foods are better for the body than others, but rather to loudly raise the alarm that without organic foods, your body will accumulate a buildup of hazardous substances. You could call this a sort of shock therapy, but the strong push to get people into thinking that they have to do something, rather than that they should do something, was altered in an accompanying change in attitude more inclined toward purchasing organic foods. Even if the campaign got consumers to think and get to the stage where they consider purchasing organic foods, that would not have achieved the end goal. Perhaps this campaign was aiming to spur a strong change in awareness that all at once got consumers to think, “I'm gonna buy some and try them out.” Additionally, although a message like this may be on the receiving end of attacks from various organizations with an interest in the subject matter, it is beyond a doubt that Coop was prepared for this and that there was also empathy for the power of the company's will, which was delivered in a loud voice. The supermarket achieved its highest sales in 20 years while having a sustainable effect that boosted organic food sales across Sweden.
The Organic Effect
With the various constraints in place in the current coronavirus pandemic, schemes that start with a small happening to spread news and generate large-scale empathy like those introduced here will likely become more and more important and come into greater use than carefully calculated plans. For example, instead of creating an experience for a gathered crowd to have in the real world, it might actually make more sense for an event to create empathy in a simulated experience through the use of technologies such as AR or VR. The most important thing at this time is to operate within an environment of empathy by bringing people together to share a single idea. In modern society, if a company unilaterally decides on a plan and executes it, it is difficult to win accolades, even if the plan produces positive results in society or among consumers. What is welcomed is an approach where a company listens to what consumers have to say while working with them to achieve something. As in Kotler's “Marketing 4.0,” companies need to take a position where they closely support the goals of consumers. Adopting this attitude will allow companies to create a large wave from something small.