Bill Posters KennardPhillipps Paul Insect Ron English Space Hijackers


Photos: NolionsinEngland except Brandalism where noted

On Tuesday evening (writing on Thursday) news came through of a fresh Paul Insect piece on Hackney Rd, too late to grab a photo but never mind, there’s always Wednesday. Later that night a web link took me to the slick, well laid out website of anti corporate advertising campaign Brandalism.

The objective is to rail against mind manipulation on a galactic scale by the advertising strategies of global brands. Or as Brandalism has it – “This exhibition is about trying to open up questions about the ills created by advertising, the false needs and destructive desires it attempts to instil in us, and it is about trying to reclaim some of the spaces taken from us. “.  An impressive list of 24 artists from UK and abroad have taken over billboards in London, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds to, oh irony, promote their campaign.

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Ron English, “Unicorn Flesh”, Manchester – Photo from Brandalism website

You can’t help a further chuckle at Brandalism’s media savvy strategy to spread it’s message fast and far, truly it picked up the tools of its oppressor. The website, the feature on Vandalog, the mainstream media coverage in the national daily Independent and London’s Evening Standard smack of just more of the same PR planning as the mega corporate. One of the artists on the Brandalism list is Jordan Seiler whose work disrupting commercial ad campaigns has achieved global publicity in the past. In NY, a large scale campaign against illegal advertising eyesores was hugely successful, who’d have imagined in a locked down hood like NY such a problem existed. Graffoto also shares and applauds his pops at the most successful anti establishment media manipulator Banksy. Brandalism channels the spirit of NY PublicAdCampaign best with this hoarding by Space Hijackers pointing out the ruthless and grotesque control by the Olympics Committee, using he law to crush un-licensed use of phrases it deems itself to have exclusive monetising rights over, plus – if true – the allegation that this site is actually illegal too. You could hurl a javelin from this spot into the Olympic park at Stratford.

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Space Hijackers, London – Photo from Brandalism website

The first flaw in the campaign is that complete obliteration of the existing paid-for ad means that there is no sign of who is actually being targeted. You want to see a bloody nose but this looks like a punch thrown against a shadow. As evidence of the evil corporate is missing this begins to look like artists advertising themselves. The work of Poster Boy, Zevs, Dr D, Ludo and Cut Up Collective (are they still active?) covered this angle by modifying the original advert leaving little room for doubting the corporate target.

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Bill Posters, Manchester – Photo from Brandalism website

The media blitz and consequential high profile may have been Brandalism’s undoing. Wednesday arrived (AS PREDICTED, HERE, ON GRAFFOTO) but the Paul Insect piece hadn’t lasted, papered over by an “official” ad for Macmillan Trust. Damn.

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Paul Insect, former site of

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As it was – “Jamphel Yeshi”, Paul Insect

FYI – Jamphel Yeshi, Tibetan living in exile in India, burned himself to death in protest against Chinese rule in Tibet.

KennardPhillips survived the day, beautifully juxtaposed with an un-holy alliance of two brands currently exerting a vice-like legally enforced grip on public messaging space in London.

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Leo Murray had gone the same way as Paul Insect, covered over with the same MacMillan Trust ad.

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Leo Murray – gone already

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Leo Murray in situ – Photo from Brandalism website

Artists annexing public space without permission are exposed to the charge that they are in effect advertising themselves, that is nothing new. Broken Fingerz’ stunning piece is signed in his usual style by UNGA, unintentionally ironic in a campaign against excessive brand promotion.

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Dirty Beards – Broken Fingerz

Brandalism’s associated media campaign ensured its own demise, they tweaked the tail but then hung up neon signs saying they’d chopped the head off. The billboard owners couldn’t let such high profile annexing of their lifeblood run, they had to act immediately. Advertising industry suits barked that they would not let the blighters get away with things, as covered at length here. As one says: “”We want to squash it as quickly as possible and return to normal”, adding that the OMC took the activity very seriously and was prepared to issue a cease-and-desist order.”

Intriguingly, the mad ad men are forced to admit that their clients are guilty of using the same space ambushing tactics as Brandalism “Nike is a brand sometimes associated with ambushing. Now they [Brandalism, I think] have ambushed the ambusher”. In fact, this “borrowed guerrilla” approach has been recently used by a shopping website in an ad which fooled us less well informed street art fans into pondering if the ad was in fact dogged. You take their spots, they bite your style!

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With a little less of their own media blitz perhaps the art and the idea would have survived longer. This opportunity has been lost in favour of a high viz short sharp shock approach.

The radical is the new conformist, a career in marketing awaits.

0 replies on “Brandalism”

But look at how the ads have been covered with ads for a charity. JCDecaux knew that they could not possibly cover the billboards right away with McDonalds ads. So that's at least a small plus. And although the ads might have stayed up for a few more days without the big push for publicity, now far more people are aware of them and potentially inspired to take action themselves. This is has Jordan Seiler's strategy for some time: Do a take-over, document it, post a photo online for the world to see and identify as a disruption, expect the ad to be replaced within an hour of that photograph being published.

Maybe they could have waited a couple of days and let the ads stay up a bit longer, sure, but should they never have tried to get attention for the project? I'm sure they have inspired people to reevaluate public advertising and perhaps do takeovers themselves, something that would have been more difficult without a website and articles in major newspapers.

maybe you have preached too soon about the project being finished, i hear they are jsut getting started, check @brandalismUK

Homogenisation by the ad industry is anticipated, it is the only way they try and control potentially problematic issues.

There is no sign of them slowing down just yet. Lets wait and see what happens before making such statements eh?

Clearchannel scored a modest moral victory with the Macmillan Trust ads, wasn't going to mention it though 😉

Seiler is between a rock and a hard place on which path to chose in promoting the campaign, big swift high profile hit or sustained action aimed at longevity and results. Just pointing out the ambiguous position they place themselves in with the means they chose to push out this particular message.

You know I despise the proliferation of intrusive public advertising as much as you do, I think we've agreed to agree over Banksy before. I've been photographing a particular spot in East London on my ride to work which used to be pretty synonymous with counter culture and creativity, then got clamped down on, heavily buffed despite all the work having owner’s consent, then more recently replaced by an ever increasing number of 3 story canvas advertising banners. Curiously, the criticism disappears when the spot around the corner is painted by commissioned commercial graffiti artists.

It's all advertising, just some generates a revenue stream and so is accepted.

I would personally find this project more credible if it wasn't so heavily associated with named artists (or their pseudonyms) which are in themselves a form of branding.

People used to do protest art/slogans completely anonymously, just for the sheer passion and principle of it, with no expectation of personal glory or the associated financial rewards which that might bring further down the line.

That was a long time ago though, before hyper-capitalism made cynical predators out of us all.

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