Arts actions around Europe stand up to aviation advertising

What a fortnight! Over the past couple of weeks Adfree Cities has been part of an international arts project led by Brandalism and the Subvertisers International network. The project has targeted aviation advertising, drawing attention to nefarious greenwashing practices used to justify dangerous levels of airline and airport expansion and the ad agencies that continue to normalise air travel as the impacts of climate change worsen around the world.

A report released earlier this year estimated that, in 2019, global airline advertising could be responsible for emissions equivalent to those of the country of Denmark in 2017.

More than 10 grassroots groups were involved in the campaign, which saw more than 500 ad spaces hacked in clandestine ‘subvertising’ actions in 15 cities across Europe. The campaign also involved community events, with 6-sheet cover ups in 5 Dutch cities engaging members of the public in questioning the role of advertising in our public spaces, and Adblock Bristol’s giant billboard-sized community paint by numbers event.

Robbie from Adfree Cities spoke to the Mirror

“Advertising for airlines and airports is driving up demand for flights and trashing the climate. We urgently need to see the creation of viable, sustainable transport alternatives to flying that ensures job security for workers currently employed in aviation. In the meantime, a simple step that government, both local and national, can take is to prohibit advertising for polluting products – for the benefit of peoples’ health, air quality and the climate.

Adblock Bristol’s community paint by numbers event saw passers by, volunteers and local artists painting in a giant artwork calling attention to the issues around high carbon advertising and airport expansion.

In the Europe-wide ‘subvertising’ actions, commercial advertising at bus shelters and billboards was replaced with more truthful messaging, with satirical artworks calling attention to the disproportionately large ‘luxury emissions’ of Business Class passengers, the false solutions promised by polluting airlines to sell tickets today, and the paradox of promoting extra climate-harming flights even as wildfires rage through the world.

The artworks also name-dropped some of the advertising agencies complicit in greenwashing for major airlines, such as Ogilvy for British Airways, VCCP for Easyjet, and DDB for Europe’s most polluting airline, Lufthansa. (For an example of the worst type of greenwashing, check out Lufthansa’s ‘We Make Change Fly‘ video, featuring SHARKS (do not be convinced)).

Artist: Darren Cullen. Ad-hack image courtesy of Brandalism.

The campaign featured artists in collaboration with Brandalism, including Lindsay Grime, Darren Cullen, Hogre, Soofiya, Michelle Tylicki, Roelof Bos, Webster, Street Market Subvertiser and Matt Bonner, and campaign groups including Reclame Fossielvrij, Liège Sans Pub and R.A.P. 

The arts project was timed to support European calls to #BanFossilAds, and encouraged UK citizens to also take action to ban fossil advertising despite not being in the EU.

Tobacco-style ad bans

Cities including Haarlem, Utrecht, Amsterdam and The Hague, as well as Norwich, Liverpool and North Somerset councils in the UK have introduced low-carbon advertising motions that prevent adverts promoting products that harm the climate, just as advertising for tobacco is no longer permitted owing to the harm it causes to public health to promote such products.

As part of this international week of action, Adblock Bristol submitted an Open Letter to Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees calling for an end to advertising for airlines and airports, as well as other ‘high-carbon’ ads that promote polluting products, as a way to help meet net zero goals.

In a Mirror article about the actions, Tona Merriman from Brandalism says: “There is a disjunct between what people hear about in the news, the record hot temperatures and floods in Pakistan, and what the airline industry presents business as usual,”

We need industry, government and consumers to all take effective measures to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions from travel – especially regarding wealthy frequent flyers. The onus is on government and industry, however, to change the system in which we as consumers make decisions. Ending advertising for airline flights is a simple first step to reducing demand.

Featured image courtesy of Brandalism, artwork by artist Webster.

Artist: Street Market Subvertiser. Ad-hack image in Paris courtesy of Brandalism.
Artist: Soofiya. Ad-hack image courtesy of Brandalism.

Published by