Tapping into underground cultures as sources of inspiration.

By Amber Hudson and Luke Sklar 

Listen up people!  A bunch of inner city kids are telling you what to put on your lips, your walls, your derrière.  Oh yes.  They are. 

Graffiti, or the more politically correct phrase street art (but you know how we feel about being PC, so we’ll stick with graffiti) has gone from what many simply hail as vandalism to a legit form of art and self-expression that is often found in, and sometimes on, respected art galleries.  But there’s graffiti – tagging, or what looks to me as nonsensical scribbling on bathroom walls.  Then there’s GRAFFITI.

 Even Toronto’s own Deadboy is setting trends, along with raising a few eyebrows over his use of Rob Ford as his muse.      

Where I’m going with this is the subculture of graffiti artists has a profound impact on the mainstream.  Allow me to connect the dots.  Pantone is the definitive authority on colour.    Each year this New Jersey-based company scours the globe for inspiration:  travel destinations, entertainment, art and to a great extent…graffiti.  They also read people’s tone, mood, vibe and even the current economy.  Then they announce the Colour of the Year (2012:  Tangerine Tango) and trend junkies in fashion, automotive, retail, CPG, interior design and cosmetics get all in a tizzy and scramble over each other to slap the colour on everything from lipstick, to pants, cars, walls, dishes, etc.  So all those colourful jeans you’re seeing out there (Gap is clearly betting the farm on these babies) are influenced by graffiti, and are an indicator that the country is feeling more positive and upbeat. 

What can marketers learn from underground cultures?  We can learn from their passion.  And since underground movements are a reflection of the current state of society, we can look to them for new sources of inspiration.  We often say get out of your office and into the stores.  But take a step further and get into the streets.  Just look around you for those new creators of your creations.  Restaurants and CPG could look to underground foodie movements or street food.  Big brewers to home brewers.  Pet food manufacturers to those making home-made pet food.  Even tech companies to hackers.  It’s out there, all around us.  And you don’t need to skulk around a back alley.  Hit up websites.  You just need to take a good close look.