Adbusters is a Canadian nonprofit media group and activist hub founded by Kalle Lasn and Bill Schmalz in 1989. The foundation was born out of their belief that citizens do not have the same access to the information flows as corporations. One of the foundation’s key campaigns continues to be the Media Carta, a “movement to enshrine The Right to Communicate in the constitutions of all free nations, and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” In addition to their advertising work, the group publishes a high-quality, full-color magazine that is often a launching pad for campaigns.
Adbusters has been an early adopter in using social media and digital tools, such as memes, to spread its message. It mobilizes its large “culture jammers network” by sending out calls to action over e-mail and on its Twitter and Facebook feeds, with the intent of countering the message saturation orchestrated by corporate and commercial forces. Through the creation of memes and “mind bombs,” Adbusters has inspired and popularized international protests like Buy Nothing Day and Digital Detox Week. In a world saturated by consumerism, advertising, and political messaging, their work stands out as at once subtle, powerful, and necessary.
In mid-2011, Adbusters proposed a peaceful occupation of Wall Street to protest corporate influence on democracy, a growing disparity in wealth, and the absence of legal repercussions behind the recent global financial crisis. They promoted the protest with a poster featuring a dancer atop Wall Street’s iconic Charging Bull. On 13 July 2011, it was the staff at the magazine that created the #OCCUPYWALLSTREET hashtag on Twitter.
Having come about in protest of corporate dishonesty and ecological delinquency, today Adbusters treats everything from politics to pranks, consumerism to cosmology, aesthetics to activism as within its purview. Its uncompromising approach and distinct visual flair have made it known among designers as well as activists around the world. Currently, the team is attempting to wield their influence and experience to stave off extinction.
We had an opportunity to speak with Kalle Lasn about ‘culture-jamming’ and political resistance on our podcast, Social Design Insights. Listen to the episode below.