Adbusters: The real rebel?

(All pictures are adapted from

Adbusters, the headquarter of culture jamming and a pro-environment organization, is a media foundation which owns a non-for-profit, reader-supported,ad-free magazine ( As a media institution, Adbusters can be considered as the outcome of active audiences’ interpretive resistance against media messages conveying consumerist values(Croteau, Hoynes, & Milan,2012).It regards commercialism as shackles of citizens’ creativity and turns citizens to  slaves of  consumer culture. Besides, Adbusters is a alternative media created by citizens to counteract the concentration of mass media( Croteau et al.,2012).The magazine  of Adbusters, based on the notion of Media Creata created by themselves,  tries to promote a more democratic media system and offer a platform for people to access and express freely ( Adbusters is a platform that voices for “subverters”.

Culture jamming is the ideological and behavioral guide of Adbusters.In culture jammers’ point of view, consumerism engages too much in people’s life.There are studies claiming that people’s free- time activities are related to consumer behaviors, such as entertainment and shopping mostly(Center of Communication & Civic Engagement [CCCE],n.d.)Some people argue that these consumptions isolate people from public affairs (CCCE, n.d.).In addition, culture jammers believe that during these consumptions, lifestyles, cultures and social values are  manipulated by big corporations and the underlying consumerist ideology, from corporate logos and slogans to media content(CCCE, n.d.).The goal of culture jamming is to free people from the spectacle that the consumerism builds1661 (Lasn, 1999a).People should live their own lives-they define their lifestyles and focuses.To culture jammers, people should be citizens rather than consumers. They encourage people to connect with the society and the planet(Lasn, 1999a). It is better to be “spontaneous, authentic, alive”(Lasn, 1999a, p. 424).

Based on these ideas, the goal of Adbusters is to “change the way information flows, the way corporations wield power, and the way meaning is produced in our society” ( Regarded as anti-consumerist,  Adbusters tries to minimize consumption and encourage “the small, the slow, the local, the personal” rather than “the big, the super and the mega”(Lasn, 2009,para.1).

Adbusters, guided by culture jamming, uses various communication strategies to make people be aware of  implicit problems and the underlying ideology of consumerism(CCCE, n.d.).The most distinct strategies of it are using memes and subvertising. Meme refers to “a unit of information”(Lasn, 1999b, p.123) and “the core unit of cultural transmission”(CCCE, n.d., para.5).It is important to culture jamming and Adbusters. Lasn,the practitioner of culture jamming and the father of Adbusters, believes that “potent memes can change minds, alter behavior, catalyze collective mind shifts and transform cultures”(1999b, p.123).Adbusters creates new memes such as “Media Carta”, “Demarketing” and “True Cost” to convey its core beliefs. Subvertising refers to the practice of detourning the original media messages to spoofs(Barley, 2001).These media messages are often the core memes used by the corporation, such as the big “M” of McDonald’s. The videos, spoofs and magazines of Adbusters are the outcomes of these strategies . The activity of Kick It Over  is aimed at encouraging students to create their own memes to express their opposition against capitalism and rethink the current economic system( In addition, there are other activities such as Buy Nothing Day and Digital Detox Week conducted to promote their beliefs.



Several campaigns conducted by Adbusters are notable. One is NOSTARBUCKS. In 2010, Adbusters organized a campaign to boycott Starbucks. Adbusters created the tag “NOSTARBUCKS” and organized both online and offline protest against Starbucks. They also made a video and posters as they did before. In the video, it added a clip of the Early Show talking about Starbucks’ coffee into it. With the aid of the credibility of this show, their boycott seemed more logical(Seedssa2013, 2013). The video was regarded as a mature and persuasive one(Seedssa2013, 2013;“Adbusters: In Busting Starbucks’ credibility”,2012) and the campaign was relatively comprehensive. The other one is a counter-image campaign for Coca-Cola held by Adbusters and Greenpeace. They detourned Coke’s classic polar bear icon and drew it on a melting ice flow. This campaign complained about the cooling and bottling process of Coke, which produced HFCs that could cause environmental problems(Bennett,n.d.).In addition, they created a rogue version of Coke’s websites during the Olympics, which was Coke’s most important commercial events(Bennett,n.d.).Coca-Cola then committed to improving their production process and changing the chemicals use(Bennett,n.d.).What’s more, it is Adbusters that calls for Occupy Wall Street at the beginning. It seems that Adbusters does a great job in confronting the hegemony of consumerist and capitalistic ideology.

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However, there are queries. For one thing, the way it conveys its beliefs is contentious. Take the video made to boycott Starbucks as an example. In the video, there are two maps of the U.S .The first one is a map showing the states where Starbucks’ product Trenta will be into, and then the second map seems to show the states with the  most obese people.The states of the two maps seem to be the same, which makes people believe that Starbucks will cause obesity (“Adbusters: In Busting Starbucks’ credibility”, 2012).Some people point out that, in realty, what the second one showing is the average Body Mass of Index of each state(“Adbusters: In Busting Starbucks’ credibility”, 2012).However, since the images appear only for seconds, few people would notice(“Adbusters: In Busting Starbucks’ credibility”, 2012).As a result, “the audience believes what Adbusters wants them to believe”(“Adbusters: In Busting Starbucks’ credibility”, 2012, para.2). In fact, Such “tricks” appear several times in this video, achieved by sophisticated editing(“Adbusters: In Busting Starbucks’ credibility”, 2012; Seedssa2013, 2013).For another thing, in order to draw people’s attention, the content that Adbusters presents is often ugly or scary. Sometimes it makes people feel intimidated, which may draw moral debate. Some people even regard Adbusters as propaganda for its tone is always very tough (Sandlin &Callahan, 2009). Adbusters pushes its own ideology so hard and sometimes in an aggressive even hegemonic way.

adbusters_StopTVAddiction adbusters_mc_eatfast2 adbusters_mc_cruelty adbusters_JoeChemo_bed adbusters_everything-is-fine-keep-shopping

What’s more, there are also controversial debates around Adbusters’ anti-consumerism.Blackspot, a campaign organized by Adbusters, is aimed to suppress the expansion of  Nikes, Adidas and Reeboks by creating alternative environment-friendly shoes. Adbusters admitted to using the same marketing techniques used by the big corporations criticized by Adbusters(Aitch, 2007). Adbusters explained this selling action as a “experiment in grassroots capitalism” which may inspire ordinal people to create their alternatives (, it is still ironic since it seems that Adbusters, as an anti-consumerist , encourages people to consume. In addition, one article posted on Adbusters claimed that Adbusters had plan to open a Blackspot Café (Smith, 2008).Further more, there is a big “CART “ button on the first page of Adbusters’ website, where people can see it every time they view the website. It seems that Adbusters is promoting consumption and capitalist values in another way. Even if it is not its intention, these actions may encourage consumption still. In their book, Heath and Potter claimed that “the more alternative or subversive, the more appealing the Blackspot sneaker will become to the mainstream market since consumers seek exclusivity and social distinction”(2004).In their point of view, Adbusters’ actions did not pose a threat to “the system”. Actually, Adbusters itself is the system(Heath & Potter, 2004).

There are continuing disputations around Adbusters. It might be hard for it to jump out of the capitalistic structure since it exists in it all the time .However, the subversive nature of Adbusters cannot be denied. To Adbusters, what it should consider next is to convey its beliefs in a more effective way.


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