Subvertising: billboard ads for the public interest

We live in a world where children find it easy to identify brand names but difficult to identify native plants. This cultural phenomenon is highlighted by American Artist Heidi Cody’s brand alphabet installations.

The online sphere is alive with blog posts arguing that advertising is wrong, unethical and even ‘evil’.

In 2010 the UN warned that climate change and a culture of consumerism were the greatest threats to the civilisation’s future wellbeing and prosperity – and there is no doubt that advertising drives consumerism…

Tim Kasser, Professor of psychology at Knox College in Illinois, US, is strongly for advertising bans. He says ‘Public advertising on places like billboards and in subways contributes to social norms suggesting the consumerism is a good thing and also serves as a stimulus in the environment that can momentarily activate materialistic, self-enhancing values.’ Both of these effects are associated with worse ecological attitudes and behaviours.

Holding a bad attitude towards the environment and prioritising materialistic values makes us less happy. Kasser adds: ‘Much advertising relies on creating a discrepancy in people’s minds between where they are and where the beautiful, successful, highly loved people in the advertisement are; such discrepancies are known to create negative emotional states.