Banksy on Advertising

People are taking the piss out of you everyday. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are The Advertisers and they are laughing at you. You, however, are forbidden to touch them. Trademarks, intellectual property rights and copyright law mean advertisers can say what they like wherever they like with total impunity. Fuck that. Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head. You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.


I guess this Banksy quote is a response to the notion that defacing billboards is wrong. I agree with Banksy. A lot of advertising is nothing but emotional abuse. It’s insidious, and it’s so pervasive that we barely notice it. That’s deliberate, because it’s designed to affect you on an emotional level. It doesn’t work so well when you rationally dissect it.

When an advertisement next catches your eye, examine it. Think about what you see, who you’re looking at, why the image looks as it does. Bear in mind that a large sum of money and teams of people worked together to get that image in front of your eyes. It’s not just random imagery, it’s very carefully assembled. Whether or not the person’s looking at you, that’s a very deliberate choice to serve a purpose. We evolved to trust our eyes, and to respond to what we see.

Now remind yourself that the person in the advert is just a paid model. They may might have taken the bus there. Maybe a struggling actor, trying to make ends meet. The scene doesn’t exist. The dog jumping happily on an evening stroll is probably shut up in a kennel, along with other ‘live props’. The couple smooching by the shiny car on a beachside road? They don’t know each other. They may not even have been photographed together. There was no beach, it was painted in digitally.

They were actually at a warehouse studio, on an industrial estate in Slough.