Culture Jamming and stuff.

This was supposed to be a post about culture jamming. But in a very early status of figuring out what to write I realised how diversified the area of culture jamming – offline and online – is and how single-minded my view on culture jamming is. It’s the view of someone who works in advertising. So all the stuff following will mainly be influenced by this point of view. The common explanation on Wikipedia describes it as

“the act of transforming existing mass media to produce commentary about itself, using the original medium’s communication method.”

From the examples Wikipedia gives I took two in order to find a differentiation between two ways of offline culture jamming. The first is Nikeground which represents the artist’s way to interpret brands and their communication in order to make people think about the part that brands take over in our daily life. For example, the artists behind Nikeground designed a branded outfit for cities, based on the idea “You wear it, why shouldn’t cities wear it too?” Here you can see the Karlsplatz in Vienna that was “dressed up” with Nike boxes and renamed “Nikeplatz”.
A very subliminal and intelligent way that should make people think about brands taking over every part of our life. But on the other hand a very elitist thing as well. Though it’s a intelligent effort, it acts the same way as brand communication does: it’s an uninvited guest appearing in your daily life trying to communicate a message.

It’s a tricky thing. And I am not sure if this act of culture jamming wouldn’t become an aim for another way of culture jamming: the people’s way or the direct way. You have seen it a million times in form of commenting tags on advertising billboards. The Bubble Project took it one step ahead. In the form of bubble stickes like the one above it encouraged people to leave their comment on billboards and advertisements. Not a lot of people would tag a billboard. But with a bubble on it…why not? To spread the message of the bubble, their website offers bubble templates of different sizes and a documentation that later was pubilshed as a book. This book featured pictures of jammed billboards around the world. Political comments, sexual comments, social criticism and commedy – it’s amazing to see how diversified the stuff people wrote into the bubbles was. While going through all these pictures you may find that all comments follow one rule: They only appear on advertisements of brands that seem to be not true or have a “dark side”. Ever seen criticism on brands like innocent, american apparel or howies? Probably not. But as soon as you are McDonalds, you get culture jammed a hundred times a day with films like “Supersize me” or with spec ads like this one: The positive point is that via culture jamming and it’s success the people are able to force brands to think different. More and more the consumers seem to discover that they have the power to change the way brands act. And in the course of time more and more brands notice this fact as well. That’s probably why more and more FMCG companies seem to somehow try everything to jump on the train to Sustainable Consumer Goods.

Okay, so more and more brands try to be good brands in order to receive consumer’s appreciation. That’s it with their products. But what about their advertising? Most of the big companies only seem to follow one rule: the more, the better.

“Let’s forget about the message, we have prepared some USPs here. But the most important thing is, that it’s everywhere. Cut that 45 second TVCs into three 15 seconds TVCs. More media power, more channels, more messages. Advertise everywhere!

Do you remember the time when there were no pop-ups in the internet? It was wonderful, wasn’t it? It was okay that our favourite TV show was interrupted by ads as long as they were nicely done and not as long as the programme. It was like this: But since this time (I am telling nothing that really suprises you, am I?) the picture changed to this:
Or in the words of Banksy:“Billboards are like having millionares throw rocks at your head. You never asked to see them, they invade your life and make you feel inadequate.”
More and more the mainly mindless messages of most advertisements have become the real graffiti problem of cities as the Anti-Advertising Agency and the Graffiti Research Lab point out with the following culture jamming titled:
Here’s the film:
Brands should learn more from the opinion of their consumers. Advertising should evolve from the uninvited guest that tries to hammer brand stuff into your head to the uninvited guest that surprises you with a nice story or image. Don’t get me wrong: I am not one of those people desperately trying to turn advertising into some sort of art. And I fully agree that advertising is pointless if it doesn’t sell. But I think the growth of culture jamming in the cities and in the internet shows the consumer’s wish to not to be taken for a fool. And I deeply believe that only good ideas consenquentially will result positive perception of the advertised brands. The problem of people disliking or just ignoring advertising is a home made one. Most ads lost the ability to be interesting, imaginative and original. That’s why nobody is listening, why nobody will know what it has to say and why nobody will believe in it. Therefore what applies to products also has to apply to the advertising. It must be entertaining and intelligent. Interacting but not obtruding. Emotional but not mindless. And above all: interesting and true. It’s not enough to just be there. And there are some brilliant examples for advertising fits that aim. The Dove campaign. It’s not a creative masterpiece but it hit the heart of the consumer. Or the Honda work in the UK. They are not everywhere, but when they appear they are clever and entertaining. The same applies to the new Coca Cola films “Happiness factory” and “Video Game”. So advertising must turn into advertainment to be relevant to the people out there again.

Before finishing this post here is a nice example for a brand using culture jamming for its advertising. Some time ago adidas installed white billboards with the outlines of adicolor sneakers to encourage passers by to tag them and design their own one. Nice idea, isn’t it? By the way most of the pictures and information are taken from the lovely Wooster Collective. If you’re interested in street art and culture jamming visit their website. It’s worth it.
Did all of this make sense? Because after reading this post again I guess most of you already knew the stuff I was writing about and figuring out. Maybe a hundred people before me thought out the same things in a far more brilliant way. But it was nice to think about this stuff while writing it down. And hey, I am 25, a young gun who likes to have a think but without a lack of the experience brilliant people like Russell or Richard have. Nonetheless I hope there were some interesting aspects in there for some of you. The last words belong to SACRUM:
Friends may use it. Open source.

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  1. lauren

    hey seb,
    nice post! i just read an article about banksy that regurgitated everything i’ve ever read about it him, so to actually have some new thought is good.
    i thought it was interesting that you separated offline and online jamming and i’d be interested to see some examples of online jamming.. it’s not something i’ve especially thought of, but would be so easy!

    some other great examples of jamming i’ve seen have been the ‘missing link’ images kicking around NYC (an image of the ‘missing link’ icon from web plastered on ’empty’ poster lots, highlighting the lack of image being a strange thing.

    other forms of jamming i love include the type i will be doing soon, which is replacing products, like the Paris Hilton CD debacle.

    I’ve decided I am going to write a ‘companion piece’ and i’ll let you know when i’ve done mine. Some of the stuff i’m also looking at is about the effect on the GP (general public), art markets (as well as consumer markets), our need for anonymous acts of visual display, and the relationship with architecture.. (all artwank!)

    i think the fact that (some) adland people are engaging with culture jamming is fantastic.

  2. Val

    good article, there are many more examples of your point. we just discussed this problem a week ago when working on a fashion brand. i stumbled across these two links, refferring to urban spam:

    http://www.psfk.com/2006/07/urban_spam_our_.html

    &

    http://russelldavies.typepad.com/planning/urban_spam/index.html

    any chance for a spontaneous coffee morning in hamburg middle / end of this week?

  3. Seb

    coffee morning sounds good. early in the morning sounds even better. just let me know when.

  4. lauren

    hey seb.. i’ve posted a whopper of a post about culture jamming too.. i’d be interested to see what you think about it too 🙂




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    I like to change a few things from time to time. Because change is vital. And because I get bored being at the same place for some time and nothing really happens. That's why I moved this blog to another website you get there by clicking on one of the links below. Hopefully we will meet there again, maybe not. If so, we just were not made for each other. Sorry. Bye.

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