How one organisation is calling out the hypocrisy of fossil ads with its own spoof versions
Brandalism tells us how, through its Guerilla Billboard campaign, it wants to change the way we view the adverts we pass everyday on the streets and why “fossil fuels are the new tobacco”.
- Dalia Al-Dujaili
- 9 November 2021
A New Angle is an editorial series that aims to give a platform to creative industry changemakers who make it their mission to disrupt the status quo. Each week we’ll chat to a person or team doing important work in the sector, making it a fairer place, championing vital causes, supporting underrepresented groups and tackling pertinent issues facing creatives everywhere.
This week, we chat to Brandalism; the organisation that’s on a mission to confront the communications strategies of big polluters. Over four days, it created decentralised, coordinated actions across Europe for their Guerilla Billboard Campaign in the run up to Cop26, which began on 1 November and will continue this week. It brands itself (pardon the pun) as a revolt against “the corporate control of culture and space”. An international collective of artists, its members aim to “challenge corporate power, greed and corruption around the world” by disrupting spaces used for advertisements and which encourage consumption. It claims it uses a tactic known as “subvertising” as a means of which it can witness environment and social injustices that its artists and partners believe capitalism creates.
It’s Nice That: Why now? What was timely about this campaign?
Brandalism: Ahead of COP26, Brandalism joined forces with a number of European organisations like Adfree Cities and Badvertising to target advertising agencies promoting high carbon products.
Public awareness about big polluter greenwash is at an all time high – but behind that greenwash is usually an ad agency or a PR company using their skills to launder the reputations of some very dirty industries.
So artists in the Brandalism network put together a series of poster artworks or spoof adverts for Easyjet, BP, Jaguar Land Rover, Total and Shell and explicitly named their ad agencies like VCCP, Ogilvy, Vizeum and Mediacom. The posters were printed and distributed to guerilla installation teams in 20 towns and cities who learned how to hack Six Sheet (bus stop) ad panels.
It was timed as part of a new European Citizens Initiative to the EU commission calling for a tobacco-style ban on advertising and sponsorship for cars, airlines and fossil fuel companies.
INT: What about the creative industry are you hoping to change and why does it need changing?
B: Advertising is intimately connected to the climate crisis because of the high consumption lifestyles and model of consumerism it promotes. Every week, we hear from progressive voices inside the ad industry who are hugely concerned about climate breakdown and want to use their skills for good. We want to create space for those voices to stand up to ad executives and big oil companies to say, “We’re not going to work on those polluter briefs.”
Fossil fuels are the new tobacco so ultimately, we need new legislation to prohibit advertising for polluting products. This is the litmus test for the new Ad Net Zero initiative coming out of the Advertising Association. Will they continue to promote polluting SUVs and airlines? They’re dead against ad bans on polluting products because it will mean less work for agencies and less profit. That’s partly naked self-interest but it also reflects a free market ideology that thinks enhanced consumer choice will save the day. It won’t. We all make purchases within a certain choice architecture and that architecture is rigged against the planet. We need systemic economic change, not better ad campaigns promoting green capitalism.
INT: What have you built, and how does it tackle these industry issues?
B: We’ve built a network of art activists around the UK and Europe who are keen to re-purpose corporate ad spaces for radical art and to speak back to the one-way communication from advertisers. We’re very much outside the industry but our best contributors are often fleeing ad land.
Social change happens using a diversity of tactics. We’re outside agitators but that should open up space for inside negotiators. Check out Clean Creatives, Comms Declare and the Purpose Disruptors all working from inside the industry for change.
INT: What other organisations are out there like yours, and what sets yours apart?
B: We work with lots of other subvertising crews and train social change groups in ad hacking so they can use it for their campaigns. We explicitly want to see a reduction in the amount of corporate advertising we’re exposed to, especially in public space, to improve our mental wellbeing, our neighbourhoods and our environment. We use direct action to create the world you want to live in, namely more art, less ads.
INT: What are the major challenges you’re facing?
B: Because of the legal issues around ad hacking, we remain a largely closed organisation. It’s hard to join Brandalism. But there is an emerging network of groups in the Adfree Cities network in South London, Leeds, Bristol, Norwich, Birmingham and beyond. Those groups are organising in communities to create arts alternatives to corporate ads and to stop new digital ad screens going up. That’s rad. We encourage everyone to join or start a local Adblock group.
INT: What can the creative industry do to support your mission?
B: Join the network of creatives who refuse to work on polluting briefs like Purpose Disruptors or Clean Creatives. Get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org to hear about our next project and how you can help.
Response & Responsibility – Cop26
During the next two weeks, over 120 world leaders are meeting in Glasgow to agree on the actions needed to pull the earth back from the brink of a climate catastrophe. The most important conference of our lifetime, in response, we are exploring creative responses to the climate crisis throughout the duration of Cop26.
About the Author
Dalia is a freelance writer, producer and editor based in London. She’s currently the digital editor of Azeema, and the editor-in-chief of The Road to Nowhere Magazine. Previously, she was news writer at It’s Nice That, after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh.