Advertising shits in your head
We are bombarded every day with messages to consume harmful products, whether it’s the latest car, fast fashion, junk food or short-haul flights. High carbon industries use advertising to normalise the ongoing consumption of dangerous products. Their aim is to maintain their profits without regard for people’s well-being or the impact that their products have on the environment.
The brand effect is the ability of reputations to influence people’s future behaviour and to try to create just the right meaning for the brand in the mind of its target audience. This weaponisation of psychology drives the consumption of products and services that have hugely destructive impacts particularly when we are facing a climate and ecological emergency.
What is subvertising and why do people do it?
Subvertising is an attempt to turn the iconography of advertisers against them. If images can create a brand, they can also destroy one. A subvert is a satirical version or the defacing of an existing advert, a ‘détournement’, an inversion designed to make us forget consumerism and consider instead social or political issues. Subvertising offers a way of speaking back to advertising, ‘forcing a dialogue where before there was only a declaration’.
The subvertising movement has been growing over the last few decades with crews like Brandalism, Special Patrol Group and artists like Darren Cullen of Spelling Mistakes Cost Lives operating here in the UK. Their work has inspired other movements like Animal Rebellion to begin using the highly effective method of mimicking McDonald’s ads. These ads have the look and feel of the targeted ad, promoting the classic ‘double-take’ as viewers suddenly realise they have been duped, creating cognitive dissonance.
“The constant imposition of advertising in front of our eyes is an oppressive, dictatorial and violent act. Subvertising reacts to this visual pollution with an equally violent and direct aesthetic, without asking for permission or waiting for consensus. Removing, replacing and defacing advertising is an act of civil disobedience that is both legally and morally defensible.”
Dog Section Press made a nice short film in 2019 about subvertising in London featuring Darren Cullen, Dr. D, Hogre, Double Why, Protest Stencil and Special Patrol Group.
XR Subvertising guide just released
The new XR Subvertising Guide focuses on campaigns targetting big polluters and financial institutions that support fossil fuels. It brings together inspiration, advice and instructions about how to carry out a subvertising campaign as a form of protest to draw attention to the damage being done by organisations that are increasing their funding of fossil fuels across the globe at the cost of life on Earth. The guide starts with simple ideas for disrupting ads, then looks at subvertising bus stops and billboards. There are case studies on campaigns featuring McDonalds, Coca Cola, HSBC, Barclays and BP. Join the Paint the Streets Telegram chat to find out about subvertising in your area.
Further reading and helpful resources
Ad Free Cities —Campaign to stop new advertising sites in UK cities. There is an AdBlock Lambeth group too.
Advertising Shits In Your Head: Strategies for Resistance —Book.
Badvertising —Campaign against advertising for high carbon products.
Client Earth —The Greenwashing Files critiquing the marketing campaigns of major fossil fuel companies.
How effective is psychological targeting in advertising? —Blog post.
Paint the Streets Info Pack —XR guide to creating art on the streets.
Paint the Streets Telegram Group
XR Subvertising Guide —PDF (15MB)
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