see also update
For a few years now the "Culture Jammers" have been
taking aim at the destructive nature of corporate advertising.
Kalle Lasn, the founder of Adbusters
Magazine, wrote a book called, "Culture Jam: The Uncooling
of America." It spoke about the need to understand the crippling
effect that advertising culture has on the public conscience,
and disable it through shock tactics. Being an ex-advertising
executive himself, Lasn spoke passionately about the need
to turn corporate images against themselves; to playfully
twist distorted meanings back to reveal the sinister reality
of mind control that lies at the heart of the propoganda project
of corporate advertising.
Closer to home I heard about a bunch of locals who, fed up
with the amount of McDonalds rubbish in their street, published
a series of 'vouchers' whereby people were guaranteed a free
Big-Mac with every two pieces of McDonald's litter picked
up off the street. Though dishonest, this was a highly ingenious
way of bringing McDonalds' waste back where they would be
forced to notice it.
Culture jamming is a broad and diverse movement which operated
on many levels. It involved mischievous acts like the one
above, street theatre, global action days (such as the 'Buy
Nothing Day'), advertising on television, graffitti, re-facement
of billboards (such as the 'Billboard Liberation Front' in
America), life-sized puppets (Such as 'Jo Chemo' who would
follow American politicians around and, closer to home, Melbourne's
own Snuff Puppets who ritually sacrificed babies with Nestle's
Baby Milk Formula.)
The common ground shared by these people is a reaction against
the dehumanisation of people, as is captured in Lasn's slightly
arrogant attempt at a 'manifesto':
Culture Jammers Manifesto
We will take on the
archetypal mind polluters
and beat them at their
We will uncool their
on TV, subvertisements
in magazines and anti-ads
right next to theirs in
the urban landscape.
We will seize control of
the roles and functions
that corporations play
in our lives and set new
agendas in their industries.
We will jam the pop-culture
marketeers and bring their
image factory to a sudden,
On the rubble of the old
culture, we will build a new
one with a non-commercial
heart and soul. [Lasn, p.128]
I strongly encourage anyone interested to look up some of
their critique at www.adbusters.org.
In response to the increasing popularity of culture jammers,
Nike has taken the battle to a new level through its latest
billboard campaign around Melbourne which contain the message,
"Our most offensive boot ever."
It comes as no surprise that Nike has tackled the notion
of offensiveness. After the amazing success of the Nikewatch
to highlight the appalling conditions within factories manufacturing
Nike shoes, and Nike's million dollar marketing campaign to
convince consumers that they are misunderstood ethical manufacturers,
a recent BBC documentary has shown that human rights abuses
continue unabated within factories manufacturing the Nike
(and GAP) label. In a massively popular email interaction
with a person wanting a personalised pair of Nikes with the
label, "Sweatshop," Nike refused the request without stating
any good reason.
This has been the most popular email forwarding this year
around many networks.
Nike needed to respond in the face of their haemorraging
And their latest billboard campaign around Melbourne is that
Nike's advertising people are professional enough to see
that their name is in danger of becoming offensive. People
are morally repulsed by the fact that a company with massive
profits and power can be tight-arsed enough to not even ensure
a living wage and safe working conditions within the factories
that manufacture its product. Nike is faced with two options:
Either stop being offensive by reforming production conditions;
or appropriate and trivialise the idea of offense. It chose
At a first glance Nike's latest billboard, "The most offensive boots we've ever made," uses a simple word play
to confuse the notion of offensive. Offensiveness is a football
tactic, they tell us, not a response to injustice. This created
fictional sense of 'offense' crowds out any notion of real
moral offense. The passive spectator of the ad, the one who
doesn't consciously notice the billboard and couldn't be bothered
thinking about it, has their notion of 'offense' blurred and
slightly confused. It's far easier to think sport than to
think about the complexities of human rights abuses in other
countries. The powerful cultural voice of Nike is telling
me that offense has to do with sport, and I don't like getting
Not content with the normal boundaries of advertising, Nike's
publicity takes it further. They build upon this fictional
offense by 'jamming' their own billboards. They paste over
their own billboards (though conspicuously never covering
over the Nike swoosh) with messages, "What next, rocket packs?,"
and "Fair Minded Footy Fans say Not Fair Mr Technology" in
order to feign outrage at the supposed injustice of boots
that are simply too good. These 'jams' even go as far as to
mimic the messy typefont used by previous authentic jams.
They've done their homework.
Some of their billboards go even further with a jam by the
"Fans Fight for Fairer Football" group. This is truly frightening.
What appears at first glance to be a community group concerned
with the state of football turns out to be nothing other than
a thin and deceptive marketing ploy on the part of Nike. Here
is some of the blurb from the website, www.ffff.com.au.
A few seasons ago, a small group
of Footy fans set aside their club allegiances and banded
together for a single cause that they believed was fair
and just and righteous and honest and really very important.
We are that group. We are the FFFF. Which stands for, Fans
Fight for Fairer Football. As you can imagine, our cause
is a provocative one. Perilous to those involved. So you
will forgive us our anonymity. But just because you can't
put a face to us doesn't mean that we aren't real. As this
world wide web site proves, we are SERIOUS. We believe in
football. We believe in fairness. Perhaps you do too Fans
Fighting For Fairer Football believe in a future where fairness
is the only winner and integrity the key to true happiness.
Like us, you may have noticed a decline in fairness in our
towns and cities. A loss of goodwill and generosity. Declining
friendliness and outwardly insubstantial lessening of overall
niceness and kindness. We believe this decay in our once
fair minded society can be attributed directly to a decline
in fairness in football.
Football's overall importance to
life in general should not be underestimated. And with the
recent slip in fairness on the field we can see an era of
hardship emerging for the young and young at heart wanting
fun and jocularity but receiving only sadness and an unnerving
sense of confusion. For example, what kind of example is
a player like Matthew Lloyd giving to future generations
when he kicks 100 goals a season? Not a fair one, and one
that might lead to frustration and possible teen angst.
We are ready to fight those trying
to introduce unfairness to our great sport by introducing
technologically advanced products such as the Nike Air Zoom
Total 90 and Nike Air Zoom Internationals. And say Enough
is enough! To the players hell bent on helping themselves
to fame and fortune with the use of technology and no doubt
damaging the game we love.
This is really dangerous stuff because it adds to the cynicism
felt by ordinary citizens to do something about their world.
By pretending to be a group of ordinary citizens expressing
community concern, but in fact being just the latest branding
tactic of a largely faceless transnational corporation, it
casts doubt on every other community group organising around
principles of community concern. Every time I now hear a community
group expressing concern I will wonder what corporate interests
are at stake. Sharon
Beder, a lecturer from Woolongong University, has recently
documented in "Global Spin: The Corporate Assault on Environmentalism"
the process by which corporations in America have been able
to manufacture 'grassroots support'
for an issue when, in fact, no such spontaneous feeling existed.
jammers jamming the jammers jamming
It makes a mockery of public democratic discourse and, on
a deeper level, fuels the fire of a cynicism that scorches
everything it touches - including our most cherished notion
of ordinary people having a say in the decisions that affect
them. If this protest isn't real, one may ask, then is any
oppositional discourse in society really real? If Nike can
blur the lines so easily between authentic process and corporate
spin, then how can we tell the difference? Nike is ruthless
is fictionalising authenticity when authentic offense threatens
the profit margin of the company.
There's a cultural trade off occurring in this process. Nike
is destroying the true spirit of meaningful democratic participation
so that such a voice won't damage its profits. It's like the
abusive hushband ripping out the vocal chords of his wife
because she has threatened to speak out against him. It's
the corporate equivalent of crying wolf on every billboard
until nobody will have the trust left to believe the facts
of Nike's corporate crimes. This is compassion fatigue taken
to a whole new level; the lack of belief that any ethical
imperative is sustainable in the face of corporate power.
BUT THE MOST SCARY FACT OF ALL IS THIS: Nike has commissioned
me to write and distribute this article. They paid me a very
handsome sum up front and further bonuses according to any
media coverage it gets. This includes the number of times
this text passes around email networks, something Nike considers
an crucial form of information distribution. You have no idea
how much Jonah Peretti's email hurt the Nike company.
You may be disappointed in me. You may wonder how such a
seemingly intelligent and moral voice like mine could possibly
shake hands with the devil. I do this as a photo opportunity
for you to ponder, a cultural soundbyte for you to ruminate
upon. Nike not only fucks with the lives of innocent people
in developing countries, it also deeply fucks with our emotions
in rich countries. How could you never name the demon that
possesses Western culture? Our protest over the mistreatment
of overseas workers is largely emotional projection. What
we really need to focus on is the cultural violation it does
to us every time we are bombarded with their imagery. You
need to discern the receeding horizon of cultural reality
for yourselves; you can't rely on people like me to show it
What are the implications of Nike owning the cultural critique
of itself? REALLY THINK ABOUT IT. Unfortunately I can't fight
this battle because I am not real. I was created by corporate
And you thought 1984 was scary!
[this text was supposed to have been
found on a photocopied poster stuck on a melbourne nike billboard,
and was emailed to us]
NIKE have withdrawn the FFFF advertising campaign in Australia
after a strong backlash against it and the publicity of website
step a. placed billboards declaring new boots to be 'the
most offensive boots we've ever made'
see jammed version:
step b. photocopied flyers handed out at train stations by
'activists' (actually actorvists) chanting "ban the boots"
warning of the unfair advantage the 'perfornamce enhancing'
nike football boots.
they were called Fans Fight for Fairer Football with website
the website was amateurish in design. the site also went
into the relative merits of nike's star aussie rules and rugby
( the fax number used to register the website owned by international
ad. company foote, cone & belding )
step c. parts of the billboards were covered with a red square
containing an idiosyncratic range of anti-tech slogans in
a stencil font and the ffff.com url.
FAIR MINDED FOOTY FANS SAY
"NOT FAIR" MR. TECHNOLOGY
we (s11.org co) put up a critique
of the campaign at
anon sent this to us
we used the graphics and some slogans from the ffff.com.au
to produce http://www.bantheboot.com
"THERE WILL BE NO NIKE SHOPS *OPEN ON MAY 1ST 2001
"*UNLESS NIKE SIGN THE FAIRWEAR AGREEMENT + WAYNE CAREY
SAYS SORRY TO ALL THE NIKE SWEATSHOP WORKERS WORLD WIDE!!!!!"
(wayne didnt apologise, nike's melbourne megastore was boarded
up on may 1st all day)
we direct people to their local mayday 2001 website. we have
a homo-erotic animation of football players.
people all around the city of melbourne graffittied on the
billboards with slogans like
$1.25 per day wages.
"Not Fair" Mr Nike.
the bantheboot.com url got street coverage thanks to a sticker
campaign and grafitti.
two days after the site was mentioned in a mainstream news
source the www.ffff.com.au site was taken down. reports also
came in of billboards being covered, but most stuck around
with broken url.
bad layout and Impact font belong to the activist community
again. (for now...)
VIDEO: FFFF = Fans For Fairer Factories (ban-the-boot
3min) by Access News
www.ffff.com.au = PROHIBITTED - indymedia
Protesters target Nike ads - mainstream
'magazineX' refuses to publish Jean Poole's article
BACKGROUND: a computer hacker hijacked the nike.com
web site on 21 june 2000 and redirected all its traffic to
s11.org for 19 hours