Adfree Cities Newsletter – Black Friday special edition, November 2023

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Welcome to a Black Friday special edition of the Adfree Cities newsletter. Don’t panic – we’re not trying to sell anything! Quite the opposite. We wanted to take the opportunity to have a closer look at advertising’s role in consumerist culture and unpick the story behind Black Friday ads.

This is also a chance to shout about the fantastic ZAP Games, two weeks of creative action in response to Black Friday. ZAP is organised by the Subvertisers International and is a fun, family-friendly way to take action against outdoor advertising wherever you live. Read on for more details on what, why and how below.

As always, if you enjoy these newsletter and know someone else who you think might enjoy them too, then please share and encourage them to get involved.


A Festival of Consumerism

A bus top poster cut through into a design showing a face and the words "don't buy things. Enjoy your friends"

Black Friday approaches. What started as an obscure American custom has become an annual global festival of consumerism spawning scenes of shoppers crushing inside shops to grab bargains on everything from electronics to clothes.

Whilst bagging household goods at discount prices is welcome – especially in a cost of living crisis – Black Friday turns the dial up to 11, warping our need into excess. The consequences for our health, workers rights, and the environment have been well documented.  

Satisfying basic needs should not be a publicity stunt for big corporations, who in the end are the primary beneficiaries of Black Friday. They are not lowering prices out of the goodness of their hearts but in a bid to attract more customers and more revenue.


Effects of consumerism

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As noted, there is nothing wrong with satisfying our basic needs. But consumerism takes this to an extreme where needs can never be satisfied because they are constantly being reinvented with a new upgrade, a latest version, a novel style.

Advertising injects this consumerism into our daily lives, surrounding us with it, sometimes imperceptibly. The message to buy buy buy becomes, as Dr Nason Maari put it in his contribution to our guest blog series, the ‘water in which we swim’.

In her guest blog, Dr Amy Isham records how advertising promotes materialist values such as measuring success through the objects we own, which ultimately can undermine a person’s mental health and self-image, or make them less socially-minded and less likely to care about the environment.

Class matters here too. People from more deprived backgrounds are more likely to be exposed to outdoor advertising, and children especially so. A study of 9–13-year-olds in the UK found that children from deprived backgrounds were more susceptible to materialism’s detrimental effect on their self-esteem.


So what can you do?

Here are three things you can do right now to help push back against the tide of consumerist messaging flooding our streets and our lives.

1. The ZAP Games: 11 – 24 November 2023

A graphic promoting the ZAP Games

The ZAP Games is an international, creative response to Black Friday and the advertising that fuels it. Teams of activists take to the streets to repurpose advertising spaces like billboards and bus stops for art, community and anti-consumerist messaging.

ZAP (Zone Anti-Publicité) is french for Anti-Advertising Zone. It’s a framework for taking action against the outdoor advertising industry originating in the streets of Belgium in 2020. This is the first time ZAP has taken place in the UK.

Everyone is invited to take part in the Games. Actions could be as simple as using stickers and tape to interrupt marketing slogans on posters, turning off the lights of an advertising billboard, repurposing an ad stand with greenery and nature, or removing the posters from ad sites to reduce the volume of commercial consumerism in our lives.

ZAP is organised by the Subvertisers International: you can find out more about getting involved at the SI website. If you live in London or Brussels, there will even be an ‘Activist Awards Shows’ celebrating all the actions with prizes on Saturday 25th November.  

2. Take action locally

In this blog, Adblock Bristol offer some creative ways to respond to the calls of advertising in the run-up to Black Friday. These include cover-ups and community art projects, both great ways to engage local people with the issue of outdoor advertising and the possibilities available to us when we reclaim public space.

Adblock groups are a great way to join like-minded people in stopping outdoor advertising where you live. Find out more about joining your local Adblock group (or starting your own) here.

3. Get political

You can lobby your local council for action against outdoor advertising, such as taking down billboards and not installing new ones. Councils can ban high carbon ads, like Somerset have, or change their Local Plan to make planning approval for new advertisements harder to acquire (like Bristol City Council recently did).

Adblock Manchester and Adblock Cardiff are currently fighting to block new digital ad screens on their local streets (read more here and here) and you can do the same. Adblock Bristol have successfully blocked over 40 new ad sites from being installed – each makes a massive difference to the city.


Stop MSG Sphere

A large, spherical building illuminated to look like an eyeball.

The atrocious MSG Sphere, a 90-foot orb of advertising, is one step closer to achieving planning permission. If built, this shining beacon of corporate greed would envelop the homes of thousands of people in continuous ads for Coca Cola and Amazon. Appropriate perhaps for Las Vegas (where such a sphere already exists) such a monstrosity has no place on the streets of Stratford.

The decision will rest with London mayor Sadiq Khan. Opponents of the sphere are asking for your help to sign the petition to Sadiq Khan demanding that planning permission be denied.

Please take 5 minutes to lodge and objection on the London planning portal before November 20th.


Thank you for supporting Adfree Cities

If you are interested in Adfree Cities and the work we do, there are plenty of ways to get involved. We’re always interest to hear your thoughts, so get in touch!

If you know someone who might like Adfree Cities, please forward them this email and encourage them to join our mailing list.

If you’d like to donate to our campaign as we tackle greenwash, stand up for our public spaces and take on the juggernaut of commercial advertising, you can do so here: adfreecities.org.uk/donate

In solidarity,

The Adfree Cities team

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