Imaginary (anti) brands

PSFK points out these recent fake products evidently placed in retail locations by TrustoCorp. An example of shopdropping, a form of semiotic disobedience discussed earlier on this site here and here (and also here, when shopdropping was, oddly, picked up as an alleged “trend” by a murketer). Some of these are fun, and an interesting example of using imaginary brands in the real world.

To Do in NYC: Contrabrand lecture

Friend of Murketing Sonia Katyal will be speaking at Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts next week:

In her talk, based on her forthcoming book from Yale Press, Contrabrand, Katyal will focus on the intersection of art, advertising, and intellectual property within the First Amendment, and to show how the law has shifted in response to accord with the constitutional challenges the branding movement has created….

Katyal will explore how brands occupy our everyday existence, as well as explain the massive cultural shift that is being played out in countless courtrooms across America, where ordinary consumers and artists have been sued by corporations for their anti-branding activities….

More here.

Monday, November 24, 2008: 6-8pm ( reception at 5:30)
VLA, 1 East 53rd Street, NY, NY 10022 (auditorium)
Artist/Student: $10 for VLA members, $15 non-members
Legal Professional: $100 for VLA members, $125 non-members

Q&A: (RE)


The widely discussed Product (Red) campaign has come up a couple of times here on Murketing. As you probably know, it involves various companies such as The Gap and Apple and American Express selling special red products: If you buy one, some portion of the proceeds go to fight AIDS in Africa. It’s fair to say that the response to this has been mixed.

One of the most interesting responses I’ve seen so far is an initiative called (RE). As its creators have explained, their view is that the (Red) campaign “implies that corporations, branding and consumption are a necessary and healthy part of involvement in a cause. ” The point of (RE) is to offer non-corporate alternatives for engagement in causes — and to provoke some deeper thinking about conspicuous consumption, engagement, and solving the world’s problems. (The while the name “(RE)” riffs off “(RED),” it’s also echoed by manifestations of the project that explicitly involve re-use.)

Through February 15, (RE) is part of an exhibition called Other Options, at (106) S. Division gallery in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a show originated by InCubate in Chicago. On February 15, the creators of (RE) will auction red items, any red item at all, donated by anyone who wants to donate. Proceeds will go to charity. This is an example of the sort of thing that falls under the (RE) project.

I had a few Qs, and (RE)’s creators, Ryan Thompson and Phil Orr graciously provided some As. Here goes:

I’m curious — having read your F.A.Q. — to what extent (RE) is a response not just to (Red) specifically, but to “cause marketing” in general. (It’s become quite popular, as you know, for products and brands to “give a portion of proceeds” or “raise awareness,” etc. — from the Livestrong bracelet to … well all kinds of things).

You’re exactly right. When the (PRODUCT) RED campaign started back in October of ’06 we saw the opportunity for a timely response to (PRODUCT) RED specifically, but as we continued to expand the project we became aware of its ability to speak to much larger issues — concerns within cause marketing as well as consumption, waste, labor, etc. These aren’t easy issues to engage as a business or a consumer. That shouldn’t mean that we give up on trying, but instead that we look carefully at what supporting a cause in a particular manner does for all parties involved.

There are three (RE) manifestations, or initiatives — were they all devised at once, or did the project start with one idea and evolve to include the others? Read more

Flickr Interlude

Vanity is Highly Addictive, Shoreditch, East London,

originally uploaded by ro_jo_sul.


[Join and contribute to the Murketing Flickr group]

Q&A: Anti-Advertising Agency CEO Steve Lambert

The mission of The Anti-Advertising Agency is rather strongly suggested by its name. But to be a bit more specific, it is funded by a grant from the Creative Work Fund, and “co-opts the tools and structures used by the advertising and public relations industries. Our work calls into question the purpose and effects of advertising in public space.”

Past AAA projects have included a collaboration with Graffiti Research Lab called Light Criticism (an idea that might politely be described as the inspiration for the Boston Adult Swim marketing campaign that kicked up such a fuss a few months back) and, with Amanda Eicher, PeopleProducts123, the shopdropping workshops mentioned earlier on this site.

The AAA’s CEO is artist Steve Lambert (, who was most recently in the news for a project he’s developing at Eyebeam called AddArt, “an extension for the Firefox browser which removes advertising and replaces it with art.” Mr. Lambert graciously agreed to answer a few Murketing Qs. Those, and his As, follow.

Q: Of the various projects the Anti-Advertising Agency has been involved in, which ones do you think have been most successful?

A: I don’t really know for sure. To know we would have to do what is done in any marketing campaign, which is an impartial evaluation — surveys, testing, etc. And we don’t have the budget for that. I can track some things empirically, like web hits, and I can hang out near where projects are installed and gauge reactions.

But then, what is success? Our goal is rather tough to measure — to cause the public to re-examine advertising and the role it plays in public space. But I think we reach that goal with anyone who spends more than a moment looking at our work. It’s some measure of success if they look at it at all. And if they do, how much do they take away? This is what I dwell on when I think of “success.” Read more

More semiotic disobedience

I just realized I forgot something I wanted to mention in my post a little while ago about the Point of Purchase show: two other recent examples of semiotic disobedience in the news lately.

Street-art star Banksy got a lot of attention for his latest stunt, which was shopdropping some altered Paris Hilton CDs. “Banksy is notorious for his secretive and subversive stunts,” the BBC explains, adding some details about this particular prank:

Banksy has replaced Hilton’s CD with his own remixes and given them titles such as Why am I Famous?, What Have I Done? and What Am I For? He has also changed pictures of her on the CD sleeve to show the US socialite topless and with a dog’s head.

Banksy’s done some cool stuff, but this seems pretty lame. Seriously: Paris Hilton? Is there supposed to be something surprising — let alone subversive — in the idea of criticizing Paris Hilton for having no talent? Hasn’t that idea already been expressed by, oh, I don’t know, everybody? Maybe this doesn’t even count as semiotic disobedience after all, since the aim seems to have more to do with hyping Banksy than striking a blow against a silly socialite. Or maybe it’s all a meta comment on publicity.

Anyway, the other example: The Ronald McHummer Sign-o-Matic. This, too, is getting a lot of attention online. A response to a McDonald’s promotion that involved giving away Hummer toys, it is “an interactive website that lets you write your own slogan or message about the Hummer giveaway, display it on a McDonald’s marquee, and send a message to the president of the fast-food chain.”

As I type, the site says, “over 99,000 signs served,” presumably referring to the number of messages sent to McDonalds’ execs from the site. If that’s accurate, it’s pretty impressive.

Point of Purchase

There’s no Consumed in today’s issue of the Times Magazine, so here is a bit of a follow-up to last week’s “semiotic disobedience” column. The Point of Purchase show at the Dumbo Arts Center through September 24 (mentioned in the Rosemary Williams Q&A below, which you should really read if you haven’t already), includes a few other artists whose work could, I think, be considered in the realm of the semiotic disobedience concept that Sonia Katyal described in that column.

One example is the “Whirl Mart” project, which I’d heard about before and always thought sounded fairly amusing: “It is a ritual during which a group gathers and silently pushes empty carts through the aisles of a superstore.” Silly, childish — but, again, sort of amusing. (Recall the previously mentioned Wal-Mart podcast — maybe somebody should do a group show on Putting the Art in Wal-M(art).)
And then there’s “shopdropping.” I can’t remember where I first read about this, but basically it’s a project of Ryan Watkins-Hughes, who replaces the labels on canned goods with his own photography/artwork, and puts the results on shelves in stores: “Shopdropping strives to take back a share of the visual space we encounter on daily basis,” he explains on this site, where you will also find (click “related projects”) a list of precedents and/or similar actions. Some of these could be counted as semiotic disobedience (especially the work of the Barbie Liberation Organization, dating back to 1989), others not.

Obviously not everything in Point of Purchase can be classified as semiotic disobedience, but there’s a lot of very thoughtful work about consumer culture. I’ve long been interested in Julia Christensen’s Big Box Reuse project. I wasn’t familiar with, but enjoyed learning about, a shopdropping variation by Zoë Sheehan Saldaña: She buys clothes from places like Wal-Mart (there it is again!), hand-makes a duplicate, moves the tags, and returns the duplicate for a refund, meaning her hand-made version is presumably put back on the racks and sold. I was also interested to learn about Stefanie Nagorka, who constructs sculptural forms out of materials in places like Home Depot, then photographs them, and leaves.

And the show had work by several photographers who do nice stuff, notably: Brian Ulrich and Monika Sziladi (whose site seems to be down). Also worth note is the cool “limited edition weekly circular” for the show, by Nicole Tschampel & Bryan Bennett.

In all, a nice job of pulling together a good group of artists by curator Gretchen Wagner. Too bad the Dumbo Arts Center site doesn’t have links to the sites of all these creators — but luckily the aforementioned Brian Ulrich pulled just such a list together, and I’ve raided it liberally in writing this post. Check his site for links to artists I haven’t mentioned here, since I didn’t want to rehash the entire show.

Gaming The System

In Consumed: Disaffected! An online anti-advergame as a form of “semiotic disobedience.”

Persuasive Games, based in Atlanta, is one of many companies that create online games. Sometimes it does this for name-brand clients, including Cold Stone Creamery and Chrysler. Earlier this year, however, Persuasive Games released a game about the copy-shop chain Kinko’s that was rather different. For starters, Kinko’s is not a client. And the game, called Disaffected!, is not a typical example of an “advergame.” In fact, it’s billed as an anti-advergame. As the company explains: “Disaffected! puts the player in the role of employees forced to service customers under the particular incompetences common to a Kinko’s store.” …

Continue reading at the NYT Magazine site, by way of this no-registration-required link.

Additional links: Persuasive Games; Water Cooler Games blog; McDonald’s Video Game.