Microsoft Admits to Illegal Graffiti Ads

En Español

A week after graffiti-like stencils appeared in the Mission promoting the upcoming launch of the new Windows Phone, Microsoft Corporation has confirmed it was behind the guerilla-style marketing campaign.

A statement sent to MissionLoc@l today by Jackie Lawrence of Waggener Edstrom Worldwide —Microsoft’s PR firm—reads, “Microsoft and one of our marketing agencies used chalk art in select neighborhoods to help promote these concerts. The chalk designs are temporary and are easily washed away with water.—Microsoft Representative.”

However, almost a week after the stencils were discovered — and after Saturday night’s torrential downpour — all three images remain in pristine condition. Rub your hand over it, and the chalk stays in place and feels like it’s part of the sidewalk.

The City of San Francisco said late last week that the city will request the company clean up the stenciling, a city official said.

“There was no permit issued for this, because it’s not legal,” said Christine Falvey, director of communications for the city’s Department of Public Works.

A pedestrian walks by Microsoft stenciled graffiti on the sidewalk in front of 740 Valencia Street. Photo by Jessica Lum

Gregg Schoenberg, 41, who lives near 20th and Valencia, first noticed three stencils Wednesday night within a three-block radius of his home.

“It was kind of a slap in the face to see a corporation come along and do that,” he said.
“We lived through all the construction to widen the sidewalks, and they look beautiful, and people have been pretty reasonable about keeping them clean. It’s pretty offensive if they think that is an appropriate way to advertise.”

Similar stencils have appeared in New York.

Falvey said last week that she had not yet heard of the campaign, and asked for photos from MissionLoc@l so that she could contact Microsoft and request that it remove the stencils if the company is responsible.

“As a first step, we generally contact the company and rely on them for a cleanup. If not, we can bill them for any cleanup costs the city incurs,” Falvey said.

Mike Hernandez, a 25-year-old New Yorker, contacted Mission Loc@l and said he was arrested in June while making similar guerilla-style ads for Attack!, a marketing firm with offices in New York, Los Angeles, Boulder, Colo., and San Francisco.

Hernandez said Attack! hired him as an independent contractor to create chalk-based stencils on New York sidewalks for Havaiana, a Brazilian sandal-maker, but he was arrested in the act and temporarily held in jail.

“I did it during daylight, because I was getting paid by a company and I didn’t think I was doing anything illegal.”

Hernandez said the firm covered his legal expenses during the trial, but soon afterward severed all communication. “It felt like I was left out to dry,” he said. “I knew I was walking a thin line, but work is hard to come by these days.” Attack!, the agency, did not respond to a reporter’s calls.

Graffiti art has defined the Mission District for decades and is generally tolerated by law enforcement in select locations, such as Clarion Alley, and when permitted on private property. But Article 23 of the San Francisco Public Works Code states that any form of graffiti on public property is a violation.

The stencils appear on the sidewalk at three locations on Valencia: 740 Valencia, between 18th and 19th streets; 675 Valencia, between 17th and 18th streets; and near the corner of 17th. It’s not clear if they have appeared elsewhere in the city.

The Valencia Street stencils, roughly 2×2 feet, feature the logo of Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system, which is slated to launch today, November 8, and promote a free Maroon 5 rock concert at the Fillmore that evening. The URL listed at the bottom of the stencil leads Microsoft’s Windows Phone website, which further leads to a Facebook page for the event.

Microsoft has had its hand slapped for guerrilla-style marketing before, such as when it plastered Manhattan with butterfly decals in 2002 to promote its MSN 8 Internet service.

While these stencils are made with a green semi-permanent chalk rather than spray-paint, Falvey said the medium used doesn’t change the code infraction.

The concert/phone release graffiti marketing is also taking place in New York, where it includes a free concert at the Roseland Ballroom featuring Katy Perry. According to promotions, Maroon 5 fans can drop into any AT&T store in San Francisco for a chance at the free tickets.

UPDATE: 11/11

Christian Jurinka, a managing partner of Attack!, returned our phone call on Thursday and said that his company went out of its way to ensure Hernandez’s protection, even though he was an independent contractor.
“I sought out the best legal representation,” he said. “We did everything that we could to make sure he wouldn’t get into trouble. The New York police were not particularly kind to him, and we don’t think that he was doing anything illegal. There’s no job that we do that should involve getting arrested and going to court.”
Attack! says they were not involved in the Microsoft campaign.

Filed under: Business, Front Page

11 Comments

  1. Great article! I love you guys. Just another reason I love living in the Mission. Great research done to get different sides of the story. Great back in your face Microsoft! article.

  2. randolph mortimer

    i remember the similar incident in 2002.

    totally unsurprised to see they’re still doing it – they probably see this as great cheap pr, it gets picked up by the media and they pay (to them) a meaningless fine. everyone’s talking about microsoft and this new windows phone, and we should all know the first rule of pr…

  3. Christopher

    There’s one in front of Valencia Farmer’s Market at 24th St., too.

  4. There’s one on the northwest corner of Castro & 18th.

    (PS: Your Facebook commenting is broken.)

  5. Yet another reason to avoid Microsoft products.

  6. randolph mortimer

    not even a classless advertising campaign like this can make us forget the Kin debacle, Microsoft.

  7. 0101

    microsoft = toys

  8. This isn’t the first time Microsoft Graffiti Ads have hit SF. I discovered some Microsoft graffiti in SOMA (closer to South Park) last year promoting Windows 7: http://mobilelibertyy.blogspot.com/2009/09/microsoft-is-soooooooooo-street.html

  9. rebekah

    I work in the Marina–I know, I know–and there is one on Fillmore at Union by a bus stop. It’s funny that it’s there too cause there is a larger stencil thing with two people dancing with gas masks on right by it. That image even has a plastic thing on it as if someone wants to protects it from further graffiti.

  10. wut

    there are a couple over by sfsu on the walkway between the school and the mall.

  11. Ryan

    Maroon 5? Are you serious?

    Android FTW.

Comments are closed.