“We are constantly bombarded with advertising in today’s world. We can’t hide from its influence on our society. In order to combat this reality, we must resort to our own imagination and creativity...”- DeMelle
The word subvert originates from the Latin word “subvertere” where the prefix ‘sub’ standing for under, and the suffix ‘vertere’ means to turn. The word ‘subvert’ stands for overturning or flipping the conventional way of doing things. To subvert an institution, it is essential to overthrow or stop its ordinary course of function. Under this light, we can study the rising trend of ‘subvertising’.
Subvertising is a politicised art form that makes satirical parodies of corporate & political advertisements to make a bold and challenging statement.
Given below is an insight into the purpose of subvertising
Several decades are witness to the rising popularity of a particular form of cultural jamming scrawled in the walls of subway stations, city buildings and roadside walls. Cultural jamming is a tactic used by anti-consumerist social activists. Cultural jammers use art to subvert or disrupt mainstream institutions that propagate sexism, racism, homophobia, body shaming and other prejudices.
Which is the year that marks the beginning of this rising trend?
It is difficult to determine the specific time from which subvertising started to emerge as an art form. However, it can be said that organised outdoor subversion of advertisements started as early as the 1970’s.
In Australia, B.U.G.A.U.P (Billboard-Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions) started speaking against tobacco advertising in 1973. They claim that their activities can be recorded as one of the earliest forms of subvertising all over the world.
The 1990s saw the advent of ‘cultural jamming’ when a group of guerrilla activists aimed to disrupt the present consumer culture. To do so, they incorporated an innovative method no one had ever seen before. They started critiquing corporate advertisements with subversive messages using unique art forms. The activists used the method of ‘detournement’ to expose the questionable political presumptions behind the consumerist culture.
Today we have grown accustomed to the neoliberal ideology that has been normalised by the economic elites to retain their class positions. Previously, the social and economic policies favoured the consumers, workers and citizens over business interests.
After a thorough evaluation of the economic/financial policies and cultural activity currently propagated by the US and UK, we find that neoliberalism has become the hegemonic mode of discourse.
Today, the advertising industry is changing drastically. From mass-targeted mediums like billboards, advertising is shifting its course to a more individualised and private sphere of the internet. The effectiveness of advertising is not dependent on how many people see the ad, rather how many people click on it.
So, how can the cultural jamming technique fit into this new model?
As Madrigal explains, “Statistical noisemaking might deem helpful in this case”
Statistical noisemaking involves disrupting the corporate power on the internet by interacting with the ads randomly. This will be helpful in muddying the data that is collected. It is true that one person incessantly clicking on several advertisements on the internet won’t make much of a difference.
But what about a hundred million?
It will become extremely difficult for the advertisers to determine how much ads were effectively reaching the target audience and how much of it is subversive noise. When millions of people click on an advertisement on home loans, it will effectively disrupt the marketers’ ability to target the real users with behavioural advertising.
Will this bring about a new incarnation of cultural jamming where you move away from the streets into the laptops and mobile phones? Will the hissing of spray paint cans be replaced by tip tapping of the keyboards? Or will anti-corporate activism and subvertising gradually fade away with the development of technology? Only time will tell.
Let us now look at some of the most popular subvertisements that have made a global mark.
Six Brilliant Subvertising Examples
From Barcelona to Los Angles, advertisements are frequently rearranged, covered and replaced to convey a completely different story. Here are some of the famous examples of subvertising that have made a global mark.
- Beach body ready
This extremely misogynistic ad by Protein World was subverted by the people of London who took various measures to protest against the offensive ad.
- Fox news: We Deceive You Believe
In 2003, Fox News got into a legal dispute. But when the court verdict finally came out, it said that they were not obligated to tell the truth. So, the people distorted their old tagline “We Report, You Decide” to “We Deceive, You Believe.”
- US Marines: The Change Is Forever
The original billboard of the marines showcased a clean-cut young man in the iconic uniform was replaced by a skull to convey a more sinister message.
- Photoshop on the U-Bahn Line
The objectification of women and conventional definitions of beauty projected in the advertisement was challenged by adding toolbars and option trees of Adobe Photoshop beside it.
- Decapitator: Headless Corpses
The Decapitator of East London uses his art form to give a strong message by targeting the Sex and the City movie posters and other fashion advertisements. His surprising and sophisticated technique certainly got London talking.
- BLF: McDonald’s
The Billboard Liberation Front is a satirical advertising agency that made a significant mark in the subvertising field by their subversive message on McDonald’s. The glaring poster of McDonald’s showcased the message “kill them all” and the famous “I’m loving it” motto was replaced with “I’m sick of it.”
On a final note, we can conclude with this famous saying of McAuliffe, “I think environmental and social movements have been getting a lot smarter about how we campaign against corporate abuse and we can use a company's PR channels and branding against itself in creative ways.”
Subvertising: An Overview
The global rise of neoliberalism has resulted in a massive growth of corporate power all over the world. One very blatant expression of that power is advertising. Any sort of advertising has a mystic influence on the people and makes them indulge in an intense (almost ridiculous) level of commodity fetishism.
From buying Rolls Royce and McMansions to starving themselves for days to attain the “fashion model thinness’ are all greatly influenced by advertising.
The very nature of subvertising heavily relies upon disrupting the traditional advertising models (billboards in subways, buildings and buses). The tactics involved include refiguring fashion statements, product images and logos to challenge the traditional prejudices.
Subvertising intervenes the visual landscapes that shape our thinking process. This means, subvertisers puncture the ‘existing regimes of truth’ by disrupting our habitual ways of thinking.
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