Category: Tactical Media

Truthiness in advertising



Wooster Collective posted these images from CNN’s ad campaign in Turkey, “Stories with the full background.” Aesthetically this is by far one of my favorite marketing stunts (see my book cover to understand why). The thing is, why don’t they run ads like this in the US? I think the answer is self-evident. The US press is generally chckenshit to be too honest at home, but will present a different face abroad in order to appease the generally oppositional view of the US overseas. This kind of two-faced approach is a disservice to the American public and also points to the ethically crippled state of corporate media.

Logo extraction

Unlogo Intro from Jeff Crouse on Vimeo.

The marketer’s big secret is that you can put an image in a person’s head but you can’t take it out. But with unlogo, a brilliant video application being developed by Jeff Crouse, you can at least blot out intrusive product placement in your visual media. Maybe not quite as effective as the memory erasure deployed in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, it’s a valiant defense against the corporate invasion of mindspace.

You can see a prototype in action here.

A gift for the holidays from the media gods

Ever had an idea that someone else executes better than you imagined it? Well, here is one of those situations. The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal is one of my favorite short films. For years I have photographed the ephemeral state of street art as if it were an unconscious process of spontaneous creation. This film plays with this idea and does much more with it. Please watch and enjoy!

(Un)tactical stencil lab

There is something ironic yet unconscious about the Tactical Stencil Lab’s attack on Marine recruiters in Brooklyn: in their noble counter-recruiting effort to challenge the Marine’s tactics, they have revealed how deft and sophisticated the military really is. In other words, the activists lost the info battle before it even started.

It’s time for old school activist tactics to change.

Having done workshops in neighborhood high schools featured in the video and also having worked in “minority” schools heavily targeted by the US military, I have observed that the military is much better at engaging the community and speaking a language it understands than many activists who come in from the outside who have no experience engaging locals. The difference is market research. The whole aesthetic of Tactical Stencil Lab comes from the avant-garde and speaks a nihilistic language that will draw no one into its movement except those who already understand their aesthetic (note the video’s dreary atonal soundtrack). In this video there is a short clip from a Marine recruitment video that speaks better the symbolism of escape and transformation that makes military recruitment successful. This doesn’t mean that activists should pander to persuasive ad techniques of the Marines, but notice the quasi-religous beauty of the ad featuring the African-American male jumping into the pool– a scene practically lifted from Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl‘s Olympia.

Whereas the Marines are doing market research and engaging directly with the community they are recruiting from, I’m doubtful Tactical Stencil Lap is doing such grassroots work. Consider the dressed-up Hummer at 0:50. This demonstrate the skillful marketing techniques of the Marines that draws upon an Afro-Carbean and hip hop aesthetic that is more common in the area.

Tactical Stencil Lap would be perceived as invaders, whereas the marines are far more compelling and intriguing because they speak directly to those they want to recruit. The whole videos unconvincingly utilizes a foreign dialect lacking a local sensibility. Who is this message supposed to appeal to? If I showed this video to the students of this community it would not engage or interest them. I know because I have tried. Putting up graffiti “kill or die” on the shutter is no better than advertising, but done with lesser skill or research. Why not do it in vernacular style? If you want to uncool the Marines, at least do it in a way that a kid with no future prospects will understand.

It’s better to find ways to engage youth and to propose alternative solutions that are more attractive and viable. There are already is enough “kill” and “die” slogans filling the rhetorical atmosphere. The key that makes marketing work is that it’s an invitation. What kind of alternative activity could Tactical Stencil Lab invite local kids to do? Create art!

The first one is always free..

Upon reading Ann Elizabeth Moore‘s awesome polemic, Unmarketable, I’m tempted to create a new blog category, “clusterfrak.” This would be necessary for posts in which I feel compelled to document nefarious marketing practices that have infiltrated the counterculture, but in doing so am forced to give free publicity to the offender. What is one to do?

Moore’s book is a passionate plea for the return to integrity. As a former Punk Planet writer and most excellent journalist, Moore brings in her passion as an activist who believes strongly in community spaces free of corporate marketing. She laments (as do I) the inevitable commercialization of community spaces that she holds dearly. She decries further the willingness of scenesters to sell out their peers for a buck, noting that in her own social experiment that she was able to get zine-makers to give away all their rights to her in exchange for free candy.

Moore articulates a sound criticism of culture jamming and Adbusters, which echoes my own rants on this blog. Essentially culture jamming ends up creating more mindshare and attention for the brands they intend to criticize. Even a book like Naomi Klein’s No Logo becomes a primer for ad agencies on how to market to the anti-marketers. Talk about a clusterfrak!

I think the one unarticulated irony that results from reading Moore’s book is the fact that punk has always depended on capitalism for its existence. Just as Satanists need Christianity to define themselves, punk depends on an industrialized system to justify itself. With postmodernism that all ends because you no longer have a clear target or something to bounce off of. That is is why I always refer to punk as the last rebellion of the Industrial Age. Note, I’m not saying the “last rebellion,” just one that can claim a distinct space outside of corporate control. Clearly that is no longer the case.

Speaking of which, what initially compelled the writing of this post was another blog post about Groove Armada offering its music for free on the Web, but the catch is that you have to register into a Bacardi social network site to get your “free” stuff (BTW Mog appears to also be advertising the Bacardi ruse– actually, it’s not a ruse at all, which is even more depressing). Unlike Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails who did offer their albums for fee on their own Websites, this is clearly a Bacardi marketing ploy that surely paid Groove Armada well.

At first I felt like ignoring this, not wanting to draw attention to Bacardi who, thanks to me, has a little more free advertising. But because I find it reprehensible that musicians remain blinded to the devil’s pact they make with alcohol companies I feel the need to speak up. Considering how much alcoholism and drug abuse has ravished the music scene, I just find it unconscionable that music magazines and artists continue to support the alcohol industry.

Which leads me to the conundrum of how to draw attention to this without giving Bacardi more air time than it deserves. I suppose the only thing I can do at this point is to warn you that that the Groove Armada track really sucks. OK, I actually didn’t even listen to it, but I’m offering this preventative measure as a last ditch effort to remind you that the first one is always free…

To paraphrase former Homeland Security tzar Tome Ridge, You’ve been warned!

Cultural vampires strike agian

This should come as no surprise but marketers are taking a perfectly great public theater tactic and turning it into a advertising technique. In the above ad T-Mobile takes the idea of flash mobs and Improve Everywhere to turn them into a hokey displays of corporate performance art. Why is this a problem? Obviously everyone are enjoying themselves. The difficulty is that practices like this contribute to an increasingly confusing environment in which the work of activists and artists get mixed up with marketing. People will no longer be able to tell the difference between guerrilla theater, performance art, street protest and marketing tactics. Ads like the above clip trivialize human creativity in the service of selling objects.

Alabama: forget Neil Young, here comes Banksy


Give it to Banksy, he is the master of ironic juxtaposition. Trouble is, it’s one thing to be provacative and challenging as an outsider, it’s another to live with the output, i.e. the community is going to deal with the consequences of this kind of provocation. Could an image like this stir up enough hatred and anger to cause real physical violence? Hard to say because we’re not there to see what happens. Everything has a context, even street art.

Via Wooster.