Street art against Olympics

It was only a matter of time before the image of a London looter running off with the olympic ring would become commerce. The Olympics 2012 in London are well on their way, and the brand police is out in full force. The rioter we saw stealing the Olympic ring is now on T-shirts, available all throughout London in a dodgy shoppe of your choice. The Olympics is a well protected trademark, if you're not a sponsor you can't even say at least 40 words that allude to the olympics in your ads. And the crackdown on people tagging along on the worlds biggest sporting event doesn't just stay within advertising, street art gets it too. FoxSports reports that a US Knitting contest called the Ravelympics received a C&D for having a name too similar to "olympics".

Organizers of the contest - in which participants are challenged to complete a personal knitting project over the 17 days of the games - were shocked last month to receive a letter from lawyers for the U.S. Olympic Committee, ordering them to rename the event because it was ''disrespectful'' and denigrated the name of the Olympic Games.

Donna Bowman, one of the organizers, said knitters understood the Olympic committee's need to protect its trademarks - but were angered by the suggestion their craft competition was mocking the games.

''The cease-and-desist letter seemed to go out of its way to suggest the events we were doing - like an afghan marathon or a handspun heptathlon - were somehow jokes that were intended to parody or disrespect the Olympics,'' she said. ''That's not how people feel about it at all.''
Eventually, a spirit of Olympic compromise prevailed. Organizers renamed their event the Ravellenic Games, and the Olympic Committee apologized for its heavy-handed approach.

Those who are truly fed up with it all are street artists in London, and they are striking out against advertising in the run up to the olympics by replacing ad posters with street art.

Street artists from a range of countries including Ron English, Broken Fingaz, Know Hope, Banksy collaborator Paul Insect and Manchester’s Polyp contributed artworks for the “brandalist” action which saw 35 takeovers of billboards in Manchester, Leeds, London, Birmingham and Bristol in the weeks before the Olympics.
Activists say they were provoked into the project by Olympic Games organisers’ strict enforcement of corporate brands, and their desire to reclaim public spaces from what they say are the destructive impact of the advertising industry on issues including debt, the environment, self-image and consumerism.
Protesters also said they were acting in response to official findings by the government’s Riots, Communities and Victims Panel, which raised concerns over “the aggressive marketing by brands to young people, who cannot afford their products”.

So, we're using advertising to attacks brands.... Gotcha. And in response, graffiti artists are being rounded up in London to clean up before the Olympics. Ironically the arrested artists all work for corporate clients (read: brands) now, most gave up illegal graffiti 15 years ago. I think this street art vs ads has been turned on its head so often it got dizzy and fell over.

Comments (4)

  • purplesimon's picture

    Right! The ire in me has been building all night. Now, to comment. Possibly incoherently.

    So, ironic, isn't it, that the medium chosen to bash 'brands' (yes, brands, not advertising - they seem to confuse the two) is advertising? That's so sticking to to the people in advertising. Even more ironically, they are relying - pretty much - on those same people they pretend to hate to pass their message around the internet. You can't bite the teat you're sucking from.

    That's not to say I don't share their values in some ways - I'm sick of seeing crappy, tactical billboard ads about with celebrity pics and no idea and I prefer it when ads are entertaining and interesting. Who wouldn't?

    But this street art, well... I'm impressed with some of the cleverness. I admire how they did it (takes some guts in today's legal climate, especially around the Olympics). But, these same people will be taking corporate cash sooner or later. Interesting that one of the world's most generous art buyers is a man who made his millions from advertising.

    And finally, none of this is going to stop the way things are done. It looks pretty. Tomorrow it will be forgotten. I miss the 80s and early 90s when action was more direct. That period of time when I was anti-everything and doing similar things. Funnily, that's what got me into advertising.

    Ironic, isn't it?

    Jul 20, 2012
  • purplesimon's picture

    Agree, it's rather lovely stuff.

    But my arguments stand.

    And with only us two commenting, seems no one else gives a fuck. That'll rile them.

    Jul 23, 2012

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Dabitch Creative Director, CEO, hell-raising sweetheart and editor of Adland. Globetrotting Swede who has lived and worked in New York, London, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Stockholm.