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Two billboards with the same original content; the billboard on the right is an example of subvertising after being vandalized.
The ExxonMobil logo as subverted by Greenpeace.

Subvertising (a portmanteau of subvert and advertising) is the practice of making spoofs or parodies of corporate and political advertisements.[1] Subvertisements may take the form of a new image or an alteration to an existing image or icon, often in a satirical manner. A subvertisement can also be referred to as a meme hack and can be a part of social hacking or culture jamming.[2] According to Adbusters, a Canadian magazine and a proponent of counter-culture and subvertising, "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, with the apparent aim of cutting through the 'hype and glitz of our mediated reality' to reveal a 'deeper truth within'.[citation needed]

Subvertising is a type of advertising hijacking (détournement publicité), where détournement techniques developed in the 1950s by the French Letterist International and later used by the better-known Situationist International have been used as a contemporary critical form to re-route advertising messages.

In 1972, the logo of Richard Nixon's reelection campaign posters was subvertised with two x's in Nixon's name (as in the Exxon logo) to suggest the corporate ownership of the Republican party.[3][4]

Notable instances[edit]

In Sydney, Australia in October 1979, a group of anti-smoking activists formed a group called B.U.G.A.U.P. and began altering the text on tobacco billboards to subvert the messages of tobacco advertisers, although advertisements for other unhealthy products were also targeted.[5]

On November 6, 2008 The Yes Men recruited thousands of social activists to hand out 100,000 copies of a spoof New York Times newspaper set six months in the future. The goal was to utilize a tangible and trusted medium, the New York Times, to argue for a particular future.[example needed] Other groups involved with this project included Anti-Advertising Agency, Code Pink, United for Peace and Justice, May First/People Link, and Improv Everywhere.[citation needed]

At the 2015 Paris COP21 climate conference, the collective known as Brandalism installed 600 posters that attacked what they perceived as the hypocrisy of corporate sponsors.[6]

Around 2018, a group in London called Legally Black changed the race of the characters in Harry Potter posters from white to black.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Alexander Barley (May 21, 2001). "Battle of the image". New Statesman. Retrieved 2010-12-09. Subvertising is an attempt to turn the iconography of the advertisers into a noose around their neck. If images can create a brand, they can also destroy one. A subvert is a satirical version or the defacing of an existing advert, a detournement, an inversion designed to make us forget consumerism and consider instead social or political issues.
  2. ^ "Clearing the Mindscape". Adbusters. March 4, 2009. Archived from the original on September 27, 2011. Retrieved 2010-12-09. So I think that, for me, "subvertising", or "culture jamming", as I call it, is the art of creating a new kind of cool.
  3. ^ "Exxon Victorious". Time. March 5, 1973. One sure sign that Exxon has arrived as a brand name is that it has become the butt of cartoonists' jokes. For example, a cartoon in Mad magazine shows a picture of the White House with a sign overhead emblazoned Nixxon. The caption: 'But it's still the same old gas'.
  4. ^ "Sore-Loserman: From political parody to charity's windfall. CNN. 4 Dec. 2000". Retrieved 2014-03-29.
  5. ^ "Civil Disobedience and Tobacco Control: The Case of BUGA UP, Simon Chapman" (PDF). Tobacco Control Vol. 5, No. 3, 1996. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
  6. ^ a b "The hackers using street ads to protest". 23 March 2018.

External links[edit]