Vandals (or activists) calling themselves the Special Patrol Group (SPG) have declared war on advertising hoardings in Transport for London’s (TfL) Underground network, claiming ads are a form of “visual pollution that is harmful for the public”.
Looking to encourage legislation to emulate São Paulo’s Clean City Law in which tens of thousands of billboards were dismantled and a similar scheme from French city Grenoble where ads were replaced with trees, the SPG claims it has dispatched 40 autonomous, anonymous Special Patrol Group agents to subvert ads in the London Underground.
Replacing the valuable ad buys by placing posters over existing ads that are running in the underground is the group's manifesto condemning outdoor advertising.
The extent of the damage is still to be confirmed by the TFL but the SPG is claiming to have altered 400 ads with a series of four ‘subverts’ looking to explain the logic behind the group’s actions.
Backed by a petition and a Facebook video documenting the supposed dangers of such ads, the group urged Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London to take action: “We welcome the Mayor's intervention on sexist advertising, but we're asking him to go further. Sadiq has pledged to take action against air-pollution in the Capital: will he take action to protect Londoners from harmful visual-pollution too?"
The petition added: “We're calling on Mayor of London Sadiq Khan… to take action to ban outdoor advertising - or, at very least, place restrictions on it (in the same way that there are restrictions on other things that have harmful effects).”
It posted its #Adhackmanifesto on Facebook, watch it here.
An SPG spokesperson told The Drum: “Ads are shitting in people's heads so the people that made them can extract profit from the people who view them - it is as simple as that. Almost all advertising plays on our desires, which serves to make us unhappy because you can't desire something without first feeling you lack something.
“Another part of the objection to outdoor advertising is that, unlike print, TV or even internet advertising, you can't choose not to see it. Outdoor advertising is literally sold on the fact that its ubiquity makes it almost inescapable.
“It's sort of patronising to say to people: well you can have cheap(er) travel costs but you've got to let us shit in your head because we want you to give us more money. It doesn't make sense. Is travel any cheaper because of advertising? It's barely affordable in London.”
The SPG is not the first group to willfully sabotage London Underground ads with commuters famously altering and adopting the memorably offensive and eventually banned Protein World creative ‘Beach Body Ready’.
Here's some of the group's handiwork as shared on Twitter.
— Special Patrol Group (@SpecialPatrols) November 14, 2016
TFL told The Drum: "This is not an authorised advert. It is fly posting and therefore an act of vandalism which we take extremely seriously. We have instructed our contractor to remove any found on our network.”