Britton on Hacking Advertising

Glyn Britton, strategy director at London digital advertising agency Albion, provides us with some thoughts on hacked ads. Britton presented his top ten hacking list to a breakfast in May 2011, illustrating his challenge to the advertising industry with examples of culture jamming, hacking advertising and impending change via emerging technology.

Glyn Britton


Much has been written about how the music and newspaper industries have been broken and reconstructed by the internet. Less has been written about how the advertising business has been through the same upheaval. Yet we wanted to prove that by hacking advertising, there are organisations and people out there that are broadening, deepening and subverting advertising channels and this is broadening the definition of what ‘advertising’ is, and thus making it a more useful discipline. Consequently, Albion has released the following list to challenge the industry to do more than just play with the content; to address the need to reinvent the form of the core advertising media too. This is Albion’s definition of ‘hacking advertising’ — Making the media do things that the people who control it didn’t think of –- and by refocusing on tech start-ups, whose chosen focus is the reinvention of the core advertising channels, they believe that these hacks are about to move from the fringes into the mainstream.

It baffles us that media owners haven’t taken the ideas behind the one-off ‘stunts’ and turned them into premium advertising formats. We know from experience that they take a LOT of time and effort to set-up –- so why not then monetise them? Smart media owners should be looking with interest at these start-ups. Freeing up some cash, or raising a fund, to buy the talent and the ideas that will help them to redefine their market. JCDecaux needs to learn to act like Facebook: to make talent acquisitions, and to acquire and protect the intellectual property that will reshape their industry.

Culture jamming

‘Culture jamming’ is the modification of advertising content to subversive ends.

1. Adbusters is an anti-consumerist organisation, and a self-styled ‘global network of culture jammers’. We like their ‘subvertisements’, especially Absolut Impotence: http://www.adbusters.org/content/absolut-impotence

Adbusters Absolute Impotence

2. Director Max Issacson made a fake Sprite ad involving the fizzy drink as a metaphor for a ‘sex act’, as an experiment to see how many people would be fooled into thinking it was real. Almost everybody was.

Sprite Hacked Ad

3. American contemporary artist Ron English explores popular brand imagery and advertising in his work, which includes ‘liberating’ commercial billboards with his own messages. This is our favourite, ‘for’ Fox News.

Fox News We Deceive

4. The East London Decapitator removes the heads from billboards, replacing them with a gory stump and splash of blood. Why? We don’t know, but the Moët & Chandon ad is powerful and the KFC logo makes us smile.

Moet Chanon Decapitator

KFC Decapitator

Hacking advertising

The more experimental media and creative agencies have played with the content of advertising:

5. Most famously W+K and Channel 4 broadcast a live ad, an attempt by a team of parachutists to form the word ‘Honda’ while Skydiving.

Click on the image below to play the Honda Skydiving video in YouTube (HD)

6. Albion’s own TV ads for eBay, pulled a live data feed for a listing into a 10” ad, targeted around show content e.g. an auction for a vintage leather jacket during Trinny & Susannah.

7. McCann Erickson created press ads personalised with a subscribers name for the launch of Fable III on Xbox 360. But (although they weren’t ads) we preferred Wired’s personalised covers for their privacy edition.

Wired Your Life Torn Open

Change is coming

8. Tech start-ups that will be to advertising what Napster and then Spotify were to the music industry; what torrents, and then Netflix, were to Hollywood:

9. Immersive Labs who are creating digital billboard technology that changes the creative based on who’s looking at the ad, and what’s going on in the area.

10. Adalyser created a Google Analytics type tool for traditional advertising campaigns.

Glyn Britton is Strategy Director at the digitally minded integrated advertising agency Albion London. Follow Glyn on Twitter and on his blog.

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