Dialog over Public Advertising Gets Sticky
ALISON STEWART, host:
Bus shelters and commuter train stops are the sights of another debate. A debate over public advertising. Think about it. how many ads in public spaces did you see today or yesterday, or all week, for that matter? Or how about up in the sky? You know, there's actually a company that uses artificial snow to generate floating logos in the sky?
They're called "flo-gos," to get the company's message across. Well, the big ad agencies are working overtime to push products. There's a little ad operation that's encouraging people to respond to these ploys by placing stickers on advertisements that say, quote, "You just don't need it."
The designer of those stickers, and the mastermind behind much more, is Steve Lambert, founder and CEO of the Anti-Advertising Agency. He's also a research and development fellow at Eyebeam's OpenLab in Manhattan. He's in the studio today. How are you?
Mr. STEVE LAMBERT (Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Anti-Advertising Agency; Senior Fellow, Eyebeam OpenLab): I'm great. Thanks for having me.
STEWART: Sure. What's the genesis of the Anti-Advertising Agency?
Mr. LAMBERT: Well, I lived in San-Francisco during the dot-com boom and there was a lot of construction because of either earthquakes retrofits or people just putting up buildings, and when they put up those buildings, they'd put up a construction wall, and sooner, rather than later, there would be a bunch of posters for advertising for cell phones and movies and things like that.
And you know, I'm an artist and I knew a lot of artists and a lot of muralists, and we're all looking for places to put murals, and at the same time, there seemed to be all this space that was used for advertising, so I started to ask why? And after awhile, I realized if I was going to really be effective in this, I needed to organizing and get a few other people together, and it would be nice to be able to pay them. So I organized the Anti-Advertising Agency and started to do some fundraising.
STEWART: All right. So once the fundraising was done - I want to talk about the stickers specifically. we'll talk about some of the other projects as well. You've got one right there. Describe this to folks.
Mr. LAMBERT: It's a small sticker. it's about eight inches long and an inch and a half high and it says "You don't need it." And it has a little arrow on the right that points off to the side.
STEWART: And where do you suggest that people place these?
Mr. LAMBERT: Whenever they see something that they don't need.
STEWART: Where have you placed one? Without incriminating yourself?
Mr. LAMBERT: My favorite place to put them is on cigarette advertising. It's just nice to see, you know? I don't think it's ever been more true that we don't need cigarettes, and yet, advertising is all over the place, you know, at like drug stores and delis and stuff.
In San Francisco and Oakland, I don't know about here in New York, but there's a ban on any billboards near schools, you know, for cigarette advertising, but these aren't billboards. these are small ads, and so, you know, kids can see them, and it's just nice to remind people that they don't need these things.
STEWART: Well, how does someone get the stickers? Are they free? Who's paying for them? How are they getting...
Mr. LAMBERT: They are free, and I am paying for them.
STEWART: Really? Out of your own pocket?
Mr. LAMBERT: Yeah. You know, it doesn't cost a whole lot. I think I can get like a thousand for about a 160 bucks, and as an artist, that's a deal to do a project. So I buy them in bulk and then people send me a self-addressed, stamped envelope, and I mail them back to them.
STEWART: How big is the demand been?
Mr. LAMBERT: Well, in the last week, there were some complaints at Eyebeam about how much mail I was getting. I got like a five-inch stack of letters over the weekend.
STEWART: You redid your website, and you started getting a lot of hits from various media organizations.
Mr. LAMBERT: Yeah. I just did a sticker in Spanish. This is "No lo necesitas" and when I put that up, Gawker picked it up and then some other news outlets picked it up, and since then, the demand has been very high.
STEWART: Now, I wandered around some of the New York City law, and it's illegal to slap a sticker on something. So have you gotten in any trouble? Have you been contacted by the city? Is there a disclaimer on the back of that thing?
Mr. LAMBERT: No. You know, I'm not too worried about it. For one, I just send out the stickers. I put them up myself, but I don't tell people where to put them. There's a lot of illegal advertising up in the city. so if you wanted to get them and put them only on illegal advertising, that's fine. that's kind of up to you. The other thing is that it's a vinyl sticker, and it's really easy to remove.
And I think in order for it to be vandalism, you'd actually have to damage something, and it doesn't really do that much damage. The other thing is I think public space is worth defending, and this is one way to sort of remind people that our public spaces are being sort of overtaken by advertising. And that's worth sort of talking about. that's worth doing something about.
STEWART: The stickers aren't the only way that your group has gone about project that you've been involved with. It was really interesting. There were some benches at bus shelters which you covered with art?
Mr. LAMBERT: Yeah. Yeah. So that was the inspiration for these stickers. I did a project with a great artist named Packard Jennings, and basically, we polled people in the neighborhoods in Oakland, or near these bus benches. So there's bus benches and on the backs where you lean against our advertising, and we asked people what bothered them most about advertising in their neighborhoods, and then based on their responses, we created new work.
Packard did some great illustrations that we've printed out and then unbolted the back of the benches, stuck these in there, and then bolted them back on. One of them said, "You don't need it," and there was a great response to that. People really enjoyed it. It's actually shown up in some textbooks about advertising. So we decided to make the stickers based on that.
STEWART: So, I'm curious about the people who have paid to have these advertisements up there. Are you targeting the wrong person? I mean, shouldn't maybe the conversation be about the various transit authorities and the people who sell the space, rather than some ad agency, or some guy who worked really hard to make a beautiful glossy ad, or some company that said, you know, I just paid a 100,000 dollars to have this ad here?
Mr. LAMBERT: Yeah. And isn't it great that a sticker that costs a few cents can sort of counteract that? Yeah. That's an issue. I think if, you know, paying for something made it right, we'd still have a Governor Spitzer. But there's a lot of reasons why we do this anyway, and I think the most important thing is that people defend their public spaces.
So there's a lot - like I said before, there's a lot of illegal advertising out in the city and the things that you see don't always have permits. And so we sort of try to attack from every angle. So one is through these stickers.
Another one is we're organizing with a guy named Rami Tabellow who's from a website called illegalsigns.ca. He researches permits for billboards in Toronto and has had dozens of billboards removed because they were placed illegally. So we're going to be working on that this summer, too. So we're also going after the legal angle.
STEWART: So we just shouldn't assume just because we see something postered up there that it should be there?
Mr. LAMBERT: Exactly.
STEWART: Is advertising ever appropriate? Are you OK with it?
Mr. LAMBERT: Sure. I think the phone book is great.
STEWART: Steve Lambert's the founder and CEO of the Anti-Advertising Agency and inventor of the stickers that say "You don't need it." May I have one of those?
Mr. LAMBERT: You bet.
STEWART: Thanks. Steve, thanks for coming to the studio.
Mr. LAMBERT: Thank you.
STEWART: I got to get creative about where I put this. I won't break the law. don't worry. I'm sure my boss just twitched somewhere.
RACHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm watching you, Stewart. Such a scoff law. Hey, coming up on the show, the Canadian government is paying farmers there to kill their pigs. It's being called an "unprecedented move" to change the supply of pigs in the Canadian market. We're going to talk with a hog farmer. Coming up next, learn a little bit more about that issue in Canada. This is the Bryant Park Project and we're from NPR News.
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