Friday, August 31, 2012

Running on Empty: Part 2

This post is for those who were curious about my query into how the anti-graffiti Graffiti Me Run Series was doing in finding a charity to give money to. I have news! (My Email exchange with organizers resulted in being told: watch the webpage for more info)

This morning my partner noticed Facebook was presenting ads for the Color Vibe Run [sic], which looked strikingly similar to the Graffiti Me Run. Low and behold, the folks at Graffiti Me have gone through a marketing change of heart.

Gone from the website is double talk about graffiti; so too, however, is the charity-speak. Nary a mention about donations to charities or community beautification projects may be found. Will organizers be offering refunds to those who signed up believing a portion of their registration fees would go to charity? Bah...these are questions for the participants to ask, I suppose. Caveat emptor.

My beef with the Graffiti Me branding was the organizers reluctance to acknowledge the countless graffiti writers since the 1970s who have collectively produced what most people recognize today as urban graffiti, all the while drawing up these efforts to sell the event. Worse than that hypocrisy though, the web page condemns the act of writing graffiti, by calling it a crime: "We don't condone vandalism" Oh no just want to exploit it to sell people on your crappy little run and the fiction that you are charitable.

I called bullshit and clearly others must have too, thus uncovering the organization's true colours.

While perhaps not a shocking discovery, this change in branding strategy provides evidence that corporate entities and other profit-driven organizations will draw upon altruistic rhetoric when it conveniences them, even at the detriment of others. In this case, when the use of graffiti to promote the event ceased, so too did the interest in being a charity. Think about that the next time a box store in Parkinglotopia tries to sell you on what environmentally responsible community members they are.

More importantly for me, though, this change shows that holding the authors of public texts accountable for the double speak they use CAN result in at least some kind of change (admittedly a small change - they are still using some graffiti aesthetics in the header, but they have dropped their explicitly dysfunctional relationship to graffiti).

You wanna make a buck by organizing a race? Go for it. But don't brand people as 'bad citizens' in order to sell your product. A mentor of mine taught me early on in my academic career: Only people without merit rely on putting other people down to prop themselves up. If you are indeed a person of quality, you need only demonstrate your skill in order to convince others of your value. (Thanks Dr. Michael Overington!)

I think Kenneth Burke would be happy with this change in branding. And so too am I.

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