Fearless Girl: Advertising or Art?
Harry Eustace explores whether advertising can overstep the mark, even if it generates huge talk-ability.
Fearless Girl is one of the most talked about statues in 2017. It is a bronze statue in the image of a young girl, whose chest is puffed up in confidence, fists buried into her side so her elbows pop out, dress billowing in an artificial wind and a fierce, determined look on her face. As a piece of art, it is quite striking. It was all the more striking because Fearless Girl was placed in Wall St. staring down the Charging Bull.
The Bull itself was created after the Wall St. crash in the 1980s. It was commissioned by the artist Arturo Di Modica, who designed the Bull to show the resilience and strength of the American people in times of hardship. It was a rallying cry and an ode to the spirit of America. Like Fearless Girl, it was an instant hit. It became one of the most iconic images of New York.
Time changes meanings and distorts reasons. The Bull came less to symbolise the endurance of the American People and more about the unruly and runaway nature of Wall St. So here comes Fearless Girl, to stand up to it. It became a feminist icon, a shorthand for the struggle for gender equality in the work place. It was a symbol of the fight for social justice.
Like the Bull, it was an overnight success. It stirred debate, prompted news stories, and drew people to it. As a work of art, it was a huge success.
But it is wasn’t art. This was a creative execution as part of an advertising campaign. McCann was responsible for the installation. People within the sphere of advertising fell over themselves to shower Fearless Girl in plaudits. It is touted as one of the most daring OOH stunts of 2017, perhaps ever. It won big at Cannes Lions, the industry’s premier back-slapping event. It is generally recognised as one of the most important pieces of work of the year and I am sure the decade.
This is the lens that we should talk about it from an advertising point of view, not its artistic merits. It is said that advertisement is art with a strategy. So what was the strategy or what would success look like for a brand? Their submission to Cannes said that they recorded nearly a million tweets about it. But those tweets were about the statue itself, not the brand behind it. They said they got countless inches of free PR from it. But most of the articles had a line about the brand with the rest of the article was dedicated to the art itself. They claim that their SHE fund (an investment fund which invests in gender diverse companies) grew by over 300%. But is this the Fearless Girl effect or the effect of being one of the few funds of this type in the market?
So it begs the question, did they create advertising or art? It seems that most people assigned a deeper meaning to it than a brand hoping to talk about its gender policies. It also seems that other than the brand shouting about its involvement, most people don’t really acknowledge them for the work. The artist is receiving the praise from the public, not the brand. To me, that seems more like art.
Of course, if you work in advertising the opposite is true. This is being touted as one of the greatest triumphs for the industry in recent times. To quote one of the judges: “We may not be here anymore one day, but that thing, that icon, will stay there forever. That’s what we love about it, that longevity. In our business, the stuff we do can be fish-and-chip paper the next day. But this thing has a permanence.”
Lofty ambitions. A permanent and perpetually relevant ad. But it’s not that. Because an ad at a fundamental level tells us about a brand. And I don’t think it did that because most people think it is guerrilla art not guerrilla marketing, forgetting or not realising brand involvement.
And if you are unsure if that is the case, ask yourself, who is the brand behind Fearless Girl? And if you don’t know, most people outside of our bubble won’t.