Our final book of the month for 2018 is Advertising Shits in Your Head, just in time for the season in which we will see more adverts than at any other. From Coca Cola’s classic Santa; Elton John’s piano; Kevin the Carrot; those singing Amazon boxes, and even the Iceland ad that was banned (behold the power of advertising!) – we are increasingly bombarded with highly manipulative advertising, especially at this time of year. And those are just the obvious ones – the TV commercials; newspaper and magazine adverts; web banners; emails; radio plugs; billboards, bus stop and tube posters – there are many more, subliminal forms of advertising infiltrating our daily lives, infecting our brains, shitting in our heads.
So, Advertising Shits in Your Head is an extremely vital and completely necessary book, combining theory and practice in one short book about the modern subvertising movement.
Beginning with the AdHackManifesto, Part I of the book also lays down the theory of subvertising and how it fits into the anti-capitalist framework, in which outdoor advertising is seen as propaganda. Running right through the book are some of the most brilliant examples of subvertising, in both colour and black and white photographs. The sheer wealth of these is astonishing and heartening.
Subvertising is a portmanteau of subversion and advertising. It is a relatively modern term, but can be defined as any type of action that is taken to subvert advertising. This may range from improvised graffiti-style interventions, to the more co-ordinated campaigns of the modern era.
Taking examples from Sao Paulo and Grenoble – where outdoor advertising has been banned – the book moves on to give some some fascinating facts and statistics about the impact of advertising.
Quoting leading practitioners – including Jordan Seiler of the Public Ad Campaign, Bill Posters of Brandalism, the Special Patrol Group – as well as a host of theoreticians, such as Edward Bernays, Sut Jahally, Robert Heath, JK Galbraith, Louis Wirth, Guy Debord, Anne Cronin, Joseph Schwartz, Henri Lefebvre, and David Harvey, this is a neat and well-thought out book that also includes practical advice for how to take matters into your own hands, which is the theme of Part II of the book.
Part III takes us through the (fully illustrated) case studies of subvertising campaigns, including those from Public Ad Campaign, New York Street Advertising Takeover, Brandalism, and Special Patrol Group. The ethnographic research and theoretical analysis combine to show how subvertising practitioners work, and there is a strong focus on the UK, with many recognisable London bus stops.
These are spectacular.
Advertising is entrenched in our day-to-day lives, but that doesn’t mean we need to blithely accept it. With rich and detailed analysis of the pernicious hold advertising has on our lives, and practical solutions to fight back, Advertising Shits in Your Head is a real clarion-call to wake up and take stock of what we are being subjected to, calling into question a series of harmful practices that are so embedded within our consumerist culture that many of us don’t even notice what we are being confronted with. An absolutely essential read.
Advertising Shits in Your Head by Vyvian Raoul is published on 13 December by PM Press (9781629635743, p/b, £12.99)