What an Artist from Philadelphia Taught Me…

By Grace Gordon

We’ve been immersed in this whole ‘social media’ caper for a while now. We’ve got years of data, edgerank experience and analytics to tell us exactly where we’re at. Every day, week, month it gets easier to ‘game the system’; figure out what people seem to respond to and bait what, as an industry, we’ve kindly termed ‘engagement’ with inanities and generic social content.

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“Instagram has been really interesting for me.  In the 3 months that I’ve been posting…I’ve learned what will move the needle with the internet. So as an artist I resist the temptation to give the people what they want, and I try to push different work to challenge them and myself.” - Steve ‘Espo’ Powers

Steven Powers, or as he’s known in graffiti / sign-writing circles, ‘Espo’ gave voice to a feeling I’ve had for awhile about social media.

That in creating content for social, we should stop giving people what they want.

Stop giving them the click/like-bait they desire.

That simply asking people how they like their product served, what elements of the product they like (see here for countless examples), or some ‘topical’ event; while a clever and safe way to talk to people already interested in the brand, lacks the imagination I believe people truly crave.

This is what has marked the notably successful social campaigns of the last few years and made them different; something quirkyuniqueunexpected and completely imaginative. The right message to the right people before they even knew they wanted to hear it.


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(Steve Espo’s ‘Daily Metaltations’)

In the same interview, Powers goes on to explain the difference between graffiti and street art:

“Graffiti is 30,000 years old, more or less, and it continues to relate a simple, eloquent message, ‘I was here’. Street art is peeling faded wallpaper advertising a product that’s on sale at urban outfitters.”

Espo clearly draws the line between cruder forms of tagging, commercialized street art and in doing so has elevated himself to the status he maintains today. An artist, a craftsman of a specific medium – writing monumental love letters to cities and people alike, beginning each mission from his studio in Brooklyn.

The same split can be considered for brand communications.

When brands simply tag up a social space with the equivalent of ‘i am here’ – vs. the artistry of quirkier or more grandiose productions – you create your own destiny, and determine immediately whether you’re challenging anyone – or merely serving them, and yourself, in the easiest way possible.


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(from the ‘love letter to philadelphia’ series).

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