By Joe Sare
Subvertising, Anti-advertising, protest and the commercial.
You open the window, a bus passes by. You roll over, get up and take a shower. You pick up a t-shirt and put it on. Then your trousers, then your shoes. You check your phone. You go eat breakfast and leave the house.
At every waking moment, advertising invades your view.
I recently attended a group meeting with Adhack, a group of anti-advertising activists who plaster their own messages in 6 and 48 sheets. For them, they see advertising as an invasion of public space. I haven’t consented to see your messages, so why should they be so freely distributed through my eyeline? it sells an idea of the world they don’t buy into, and mentally plays games with us. For them, they saw taking down other advertisements as not revenge, but putting themselves on an equal pegging in spreading the messages they wanted to see in the world.
And a poster can change the world. If you haven’t yet gone to see Hope to Nope at the design museum, it’s worth checking out. It examines the relationship between graphics and politics over the last decade, looking at its influence on how governments have been strengthened and crushed, elections won and lost, and atrocities within our society retributed. From Shephard Fairey’s propaganda-esc posters to north Korean postage stamps, national press pages plastered with trumps face to tea towels depicting the now dead Brexiters, the exhibition covers a huge volume of graphics that have gone into changing the social-political climate we live in today. And hardly any of it was advertising a commercial message.
But, apart from a lack of general guidance about the messages Adhack put out, what was most interesting is many of them didn’t see past TV and print. It’s both scary and exciting that many of us don’t realize how deep the tentacles of advertising digs. A podcast I listen to had an episode on advertising to children suggested most children cannot tell the difference between a commercial and a TV program, or cannot comprehend the idea of a commercial message until the age of 7. I think, when looking outside of conventional advertising and marketing, it’s got to be a much higher age. We’re already seeing this through the systems being built by Facebook and the implications of a politically biased content machine on our world stage. The reason the posters and protest images at Hope to Nope could spread so quickly was the result of the internet and the media. It was the intangible messages in design that most of us are now only waking up to that suggested to us what to think. I remember talking once with Phil about how Pokemon go could potentially sell their Pokemon Gym hubs (where Pokemon can be virtually battled with other players) to Mcdonalds and Burger King to get much greater footfall into their stores. That’s not a poster, but it would sure as shit get a lot more kids buying burgers for breakfast.
I’m not saying I don’t believe in commercial messages and won’t advertise- the free market exists so that there is ‘fair’ competition, and advertising is often the deciding factor in a category where products are, in essence, the same. I have no concern over selling products that I believe improve the world, or take away from a competitor who does less to the progression of humanity.
We have, at our disposal, one of the most powerful social tools in existence; the power to mass communicate. What we decide is worth telling can end up on every street corner and television set. And systems, such as Facebook and the American press, allow us to ricochet our messages through the brains of the world if they’re sticky enough. When you put it down on paper, it suddenly seems such a waste to use this tool only to sell crisps. I don’t hate advertising. I’m motivated and scared by it. I think it goes bigger than making a poster- it’s all about the context you can build around it.