Turning corporate communications into community conversations: six-sheet cover ups in Bristol

Adblock Bristol put three advertising sites across the city to better use on Saturday as part of the European days of action to ban fossil fuel advertising and sponsorships. At a phone kiosk and two standalone ad units, we used sheets of paper to cover up commercial ads and instead asked passers-by a question – “How are you today” and “What’s your wish for a green city?”.

The action reclaimed spaces that usually broadcast big brand advertisements for junk food, fast fashion and high-carbon products like airlines and cars, turning corporate communications into community conversations.

With colourful pens left for people to use over the day, the sheets of paper filled with Bristol people’s thoughts on how to make the city green, from trees, bees and community gardens to fewer cars, safer bike lanes and more public transport. Rather than walking past adverts for big corporations selling consumerism as a way of life, people interacted with the space, taking time to read the comments and add their own words and drawings.

On North Street in Bedminster, we were joined by videographers from the Bristol Cable, while outside the Fish Shop on Gloucester Road, an artist collective came over to chat about their vision for a green city, with artist-led solutions helping reimagine our way of life.

A part of the action, members of Adblock Bristol spoke to passers-by about our current campaign to remove two of the city’s largest digital billboards, situated by the M32 in Easton, which overlook the busy motorway and shine directly into the windows of people living nearby. The screens use a huge amount of energy, broadcasting ads that can be seen for miles. Conversations with residents taking part in the six-sheet cover up showed that the harmful effects of these and other digital advertising screens are felt throughout the city. 

The advertising industry has been facing a new level of scrutiny lately. UK anti-advertising group Badvertising has recently called attention to advertising as ‘brain pollution’ that contributes to the climate crisis by promoting, idealising and normalising high-carbon lifestyles feeding the climate emergency.

Meanwhile, a European Citizens’ Initiative launched in early October is calling for a ban on fossil advertising and sponsorships in the EU, and the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has just released a new Green Claims Code in response to concerns over increased levels of greenwash advertising as big businesses battle to stay relevant in an increasingly climate-conscious society.

Like many city councils in the UK, Bristol has declared a climate and ecological emergency. Meanwhile, a growing number of places in Europe have recently moved to ban fossil advertising, including Norwich and Somerset in the UK, Amsterdam and most recently the Hague.

Adblock Bristol and the Adfree Cities network are calling for UK government and local councils to match their advertising and sponsorship policies with climate emergency declarations, by removing energy-intensive digital screens and banning all advertising by companies selling or dependent on fossil fuels, such as oil and gas firms, airlines and petrol, diesel and hybrid cars. While Bristol has banned other forms of harmful advertising including for gambling, junk food and pay day loans, it has not yet banned high-carbon ads. 

The European Citizen Initiative to ban fossil ads and sponsorship was launched last week. If you are an EU citizen you can sign it here: www.europa.eu/citizens-initiative/initiatives/details/2021/000004_en

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