Brandalism better known as Subvertising is the practice of altering product or political advertisements by spoofing, subverting or parodying the original message to reveal new meanings and definitions, typically to illustrate an antimessage or radical commentary about the source. The forms of subvertising can be simple bumper-sticker commentary, such as “Obamanation ’08” (a play on abomination), as well as T-shirts, posters, and logo vandalism, such as the word “Capitalism” in the form of the Coca-Cola logotype.
Videos, such as the eternal Saturday Night Live Bassomatic (a humorous fake infomercial aimed at parodying the 1970s 1-800-number direct-marketing craze), were early examples of mass-culture subvertising, which led to a proliferation of the social hacking school of creative expression.
The now defunct Subvertising Defined Through Samples was an excellent source of collected visual examples, spanning everything from Reason Brand cereal to iRaq in the style of the iPod ad campaign, featuring the infamous silhouette of the hooded Abu Ghraib torture victim adorned with white iPod headphones. One stellar example that has inspired hundreds of counterfeits and variations is the original McDonalds Prayer by TheCrookedGremlins, which uses a voice-over of a soundalike Lords’ Prayer but with references to McDonald’s, such as “happy be thy meal” rather than “hallowed be thy name.”
Many groups have formed to promote subvertising as a defined genre, including Graphicattack, the Memefest International Festival of Radical Communication, and the Adbusters Media Foundation, an anticonsumerist, not-for-profit organization founded in 1989 by Kalle Lasn and Bill Schmalz in Vancouver, Canada. Adbusters describes itself as “A global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators, and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age.”
Here’s how Adbusters describes the standard for subvertising excellence: A well produced “subvert” mimics the look and feel of the targeted ad, promoting the classic “double-take” as viewers suddenly realize they have been duped. Subverts create cognitive dissonance. It cuts through the hype and glitz of our mediated reality and momentarily reveals a deeper truth within.
Also be sure to check out the tabTV playlist EnterTising that has many of the above works as well as many more not found here.