A few weeks ago, a mild display of semi-urban vandalism took place just outside our office. As I write this, I can look out the south-facing windows and see it. Some bold but misguided communicator (let’s call him Perpy) graffitied a railroad control box just across the railroad tracks immediately to our south. Twenty seconds and a can of black Krylon was all it took to send his message.

“you MeAN EVERYTHIИG” LISH!…

Graffiti_BlogYep. That’s what Perpy wrote. That’s the message that was important enough to sneak down an alley under the cover of darkness and risk a misdemeanor charge. Ok, so it’s not exactly Banksy-level in its artistry, nor is it a message that’s going to move mountains. But there’s more to unpack here than might be immediately evident— including a few good marketing lessons.

Lesson No. 1: Above all else, be clear.
There’s a lot going on in those four words, and almost none of it is clear. First of all, who or what is “LISH”? When I first read it, I thought it said “LISA,” which would have made a lot more sense. But no, that last letter is very open on the top. Is that the name of the person the message is for? Is it Perpy’s graffiti handle? We don’t know. And what’s with the second-person “you”? Can he reasonably expect that the person for whom the message is intended knows who they are despite the very unspecific sentiment?

And then there’s all the strange punctuation. The quotes around “you MeAN EVERYTHIИG.” Are those to indicate sarcasm? And the ellipsis at the end. Is there more to the story? And the exclamation mark seems, at best, out of place, if it’s necessary.

And then there’s the matter of the letter styles. I’ll give Perpy a break on the mix of uppercase and lowercase. The dude was in a hurry. But there’s that darn backwards И. Now I’d like to think it was just a mistake, but he got it right one word earlier. So is there a message there? What are you telling us, Perpy?!

Needless to say, clarity of message should always be your first goal. Better to be boring and clear than compelling and confusing.

Lesson No. 2: Your message has to be seen to be heard.
The railroad control box that Perpy tagged is in an extraordinarily low-traffic area. With the exception of the folks who work in our office and the fellas that drive the trains by twice a day, almost no one travels by. Perpy, your act of spirited defiance is going nearly unnoticed! So either it was more about the act of creating the message than about the message itself, or Perpy has a very small media budget.

Or wait … what if the whole goal was to incite this blog post? Is there a chance Perpy is that new-media savvy? Am I and the 2RM blog being used to help a heretofore unknown graffiti artist and his perplexing message go viral? If so, wow. Color me impressed, Perpy.

Lesson No. 3: Use the right medium for the right audience.
Graffiti is, by its nature, a public medium. It’s there for everyone to see, which makes it perfect for broad, sweeping messages like, “World Peace Now” or “Go Cubs!” or “Love Thy Neighbor.” But Perpy’s message was, I assume, for a single person. Now sure, there’s impact in splashing your personal declaration in such a public way (like putting a marriage proposal on the Jumbotron), but I’m thinking for an intimate message like “you MeAN EVERYTHIИG,” a handwritten note might have been better. Or perhaps a large back tattoo.

Graffiti may well have its place … even in our marketing world. It’s certainly an untapped medium. But I can’t help but think this wasn’t the right time or place. But Perpy, if you’re reading this, keep fighting the good fight. I admire your verve … just work on your mechanics.

About Drew Jones

As the managing director of the Two Rivers Marketing creative team, Drew nurtures ideas into creative expressions that motivate. When he’s not at Two Rivers, you might find him along a trout stream in Siberian Russia. You can drop Drew a line at drewj@2rm.com.