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Adbusters Media Foundation
Founder(s) Kalle Lasn; Bill Schmalz
Founded 1989
Location Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
(the foundation's magazine)
File:Adbusters 98 American Autumn cover.jpg
Cover of Issue # 98 (Nov/Dec 2011) of Adbusters
Founder Kalle Lasn and Bill Schmalz
Frequency Bi-monthly
First issue 1989
Country Canada
Language English
ISSN 0847-9097

The Adbusters Media Foundation is a Canadian-based not-for-profit, anti-consumerist, pro-environment[1] organization founded in 1989 by Kalle Lasn and Bill Schmalz in Vancouver, British Columbia. Adbusters describes itself as "a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age."[2]

Characterized by some as anti-capitalist or opposed to capitalism,[3] it publishes the reader-supported, advertising-free Adbusters, an activist magazine with an international circulation of 120,000[4] devoted to challenging consumerism. Past and present contributors to the magazine include Christopher Hedges, Matt Taibbi, Bill McKibben, Jim Munroe, Douglas Rushkoff, Jonathan Barnbrook, David Graeber, Simon Critchley, Slavoj Zizek, Michael Hardt, David Orrell and others.

Adbusters has launched numerous international campaigns, including Buy Nothing Day, TV Turnoff Week and Occupy Wall Street, and is known for their "subvertisements" that spoof popular advertisements. In English, Adbusters has bi-monthly American, Canadian, Australian, UK and International editions of each issue. Adbusters's sister organizations include Résistance à l'Aggression Publicitaire[5] and Casseurs de Pub[6] in France, Adbusters Norge in Norway, Adbusters Sverige in Sweden and Culture Jammers in Japan.[7][8]


Adbusters was founded in 1989 by Kalle Lasn and Bill Schmalz, a duo of award-winning documentary filmmakers living in Vancouver. Since the early 1980s, Lasn had been making films that explored the spiritual and cultural lessons the West could learn from the Japanese experience with capitalism.

In 1988, the British Columbia Council of Forest Industries, the "voice" of the logging industry, was facing tremendous public pressure from a growing environmentalist movement. The logging industry fought back with a television ad campaign called "Forests Forever." It was an early example of greenwashing: shots of happy children, workers and animals with a kindly, trustworthy sounding narrator who assured the public that the logging industry was protecting the forest.

File:Adbusters talkingrainforest.jpg
Adbusters' first uncommercial

Lasn and Shmalz were outraged by the use of the public airwaves to deliver what they felt was deceptive anti-environmentalist propaganda. And they responded by producing the "Talking Rainforest" anti-ad in which an old-growth tree explains to a sapling that "a tree farm is not a forest." But the duo wasn't able to buy airtime on the same stations that had aired the forest-industry ad. [citation needed] According to a former Adbusters employee, "The CBC's reaction to the proposed television commercial created the real flash point for the Media Foundation. It seemed that Lasn and Schmaltz's commercial was too controversial to air on the CBC. An environmental message that challenged the large forestry companies was considered 'advocacy advertising' and was disallowed, even though the 'informational' messages that glorified clearcutting were OK."[9]

The foundation was born out of their realization 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."

For the foundation, concern over the flow of information goes beyond the desire to protect democratic transparency, freedom of speech or the public’s access to the airwaves. Although it supports these causes, the foundation instead situates the battle of the mind at the center of its political agenda. Fighting to counter pro-consumerist advertising is done not as a means to an end, but as the end in itself. This shift in emphasis is a crucial element of mental environmentalism.

Mental environmentalism

The subtitle of Adbusters magazine is "The Journal of the Mental Environment."

In a 1996 interview, Kalle Lasn explained the foundation's goal:
"What we're trying to do is pioneer a new form of social activism using all the power of the mass media to sell ideas, rather than products. We're motivated by a kind of `greenthink' that comes from the environmental movement and isn't mired in the old ideology of the left and right. Instead, we take the environmental ethic into the mental ethic, trying to clean up the toxic areas of our minds. You can't recycle and be a good environmental citizen, then watch four hours of television and get consumption messages pumped at you."[10]



Adbusters is anti-advertising: it blames advertising for playing a central role in creating, and maintaining, consumer culture. This argument is based on the fact that the advertising industry goes to great effort and expense to associate desire and identity with commodities. Adbusters believes that advertising has unjustly "colonized" public, discursive and psychic spaces, by appearing in movies, sports and even schools, so as to permeate modern cultures.[11] Adbusters' goals include combating the negative effects of advertising and empowering its readers to regain control of culture, encouraging them to ask "Are we consumers and citizens?."[12]

To counter the belief that advertising focuses on looking toward external rewards for a sense of self, Adbusters recognizes a “natural and authentic self apart from the consumer society”.[13] The magazine aims to provoke anti-consumerist epiphanies. By juxtaposing text and images, the magazine creates a means of raising awareness and getting its message out to people that is both aesthetically pleasing and entertaining.[14]

Activism also takes many other forms such as corporate boycotts and ‘art as protest’, often incorporating humor. This includes clever billboard modifications, google bombing, flash mobs and fake parking tickets for SUVs. A popular example of cultural jamming is the distortion of Tiger Woods’ smile in to the form of the Nike swoosh, calling viewers to question how they view Woods’ persona as a product. Adbusters calls it "trickle up" activism, and encourages its readers to do these activities by honoring culture jamming work in the magazine. In the September/October 2001 "Graphic Anarchy" issue, Adbusters were culture jammed themselves in a manner of speaking: they hailed the work of Swiss graphic designer Ernst Bettler as "one of the greatest design interventions on record", unaware that Bettler's story was an elaborate hoax.

Media Carta

"Media Carta" is a charter challenging the corporate control of the public airwaves and means of communication. The goal is to "make the public airwaves truly public, and not just a corporate domain."[14] Over 30,000 people have signed the document [citation needed] voicing their desire to reclaim the public space. On September 13, 2004, Adbusters filed a lawsuit against six major Canadian television broadcasters (including CanWest Global, Bell Globemedia, CHUM Ltd., and the CBC) for refusing to air Adbusters videos in the television commercial spots that Adbusters attempted to purchase. Most broadcasters refused the commercials fearing the ads would upset other advertisers as well as violated business principles by “contaminating the purity of media environments designed exclusively for communicating commercial messages”.[14] The lawsuit claims that Adbusters' freedom of expression was unjustly limited by the refusals.[15] Adbusters believes the public deserves a right to be presented with viewpoints that differ from the standard. Under Section 3 of the Broadcasting Act, television is a public space allowing ordinary citizens to possess the same rights as advertising agencies and corporations to purchase 30 seconds of airtime from major broadcasters.[16] There has been talk that if Adbusters wins in Canadian court, they will file similar lawsuits against major U.S. broadcasters that also refused the advertisements.[17] CNN is the only network that has allowed several of the foundation's commercials to run.[citation needed]

Legal action

On April 3, 2009, the British Columbia Court of Appeal unanimously overturned a BC Supreme Court ruling that had dismissed the case in February 2008. The court granted Adbusters the ability to sue the Canadian Broadcasting Company and CanWest Global, the corporations that originally refused to air the anti-car ad “Autosaurus”. The ruling represents a victory for Adbusters, but it is the first step of their intended goal, essentially opening the door for future legal action against the media conglomerates.[citation needed] Kalle Lasn declared the ruling a success and said, "After twenty years of legal struggle, the courts have finally given us permission to take on the media corporations and hold them up to public scrutiny."[18]

Digital Detox Week

File:Adbusters DigitalDetox.jpg
Campaign logo for Digital Detox Week

In April 2009, the foundation transformed TV Turnoff Week into Digital Detox Week, encouraging citizens to spend seven days "unplugged" without any of electronic devices such as video-game systems and computers.

One Flag

The "One Flag" competition encouraged readers to create a flag that symbolized "global citizenship", without using language or commonly known symbols.[19]


Culture jamming

File:American Corporate Flag.svg
American Corporate Flag

Culture jamming is the primary means through which Adbusters challenges consumerism.[20] The magazine was described by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter in their book The Rebel Sell as "the flagship publication of the culture jamming movement."[21] Culture jamming is heavily influenced by the Situationist International and the tactic of détournement. The goal is to interrupt the normal consumerist experience in order to reveal the underlying ideology of an advertisement, media message, or consumer artifact. Culture jamming aims to challenge the large, influential corporations that control mainstream media and the flow of information. It is a form of protest. The term "jam" contains more than one meaning, including improvising, by re-situating an image or idea already in existence, and interrupting, by attempting to stop the workings of a machine.[22]

As already noted, the foundation's approach to culture jamming has its roots in the activities of the situationists and in particular their concept of détournement. This involves the "turning around" of received messages so that they communicate meanings at variance with their original intention. Situationists argue that consumerism creates “a limitless artificiality”, blurring the lines of reality and detracting from the essence of human experience.[11] In the "culture jamming" context, détournement means taking symbols, logos and slogans that are considered to be the vehicles upon which the "dominant discourse" of "late capitalism" is communicated and changing them – frequently in significant but minor ways – to subvert the "monologue of the ruling order" [Debord].

The foundation's activism links grassroots efforts with environmental and social concerns, hoping followers will "reconstruct [their] self through nonconsumption strategies."[11] The foundation is particularly well known for its culture jamming campaigns,[23] and the magazine often features photographs of politically-motivated billboard or advertisement vandalism sent in by readers. The campaigns attempt to remove people from the “isolated reality of consumer comforts”.[14]

Blackspot Shoes campaign

In 2004, the foundation began selling vegan, indy shoes. The name and logo are "open-source";[24] in other words, unencumbered by private trademarks.[25] Attached to each pair was a leaflet - "Rethink the Cool" inviting wearers to join a movement, and two spots - one for drawing their own logos and another on the toe for "kicking corporate ass."[26]

There are three versions of the Blackspot Sneaker. The V1 is designed to resemble the Nike-owned Chuck Taylor All-Stars.[27] There is also a V1 in "fiery red."

The V2 is designed by Canadian shoe designer John Fluevog. It is made from organic hemp and recycled car tires.

After an extensive search for anti-sweatshop manufacturers around the world, Adbusters found a small union shop in Portugal.[28] The sale of more than twenty-five thousand pairs[29] through an alternative distribution network is an example of Western consumer activism marketing.[29]


Heath and Potter's The Rebel Sell, which is critical of Adbusters, claimed that the blackspot shoe's existence proves that "no rational person could possibly believe that there is any tension between 'mainstream' and 'alternative' culture."[21]

In the June 2008 cover story of BusinessWeek Small Business Magazine, the Blackspot campaign was among three profiled in a piece focusing on "antipreneurs." Two advertising executives were asked to review the campaign for the article's "Ask the Experts" sidebar. Brian Martin of Brand Connections and Dave Weaver of TM Advertising both gave the campaign favorable reviews.

Martin noted that Blackspot was effectively telling consumers, "We know we are marketing to you, and you are as good as we are at this, and your opinion matters," while Weaver stated that "This is not a call to sales of the shoe so much as it is a call to participate in the community of Adbusters by buying the shoe."[30]

Occupy Wall Street

Poster depicting a female ballerina pirouetting on the back of the Charging Bull statue on Wall Street; on the street behind her, a line of gas-masked rioters struggle through smoke. Text on the poster reads: "What is our one demand? #OCCUPYWALLSTREET September 17th. Bring Tent."
The poster Adbusters used to promote Occupy Wall Street

In mid-2011, Adbusters Foundation 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.[31] They sought to combine the symbolic location of the 2011 protests in Tahrir Square with the consensus decision making of the 2011 Spanish protests.[32] Adbusters' senior editor Micah White said they had suggested the protest via their email list and it "was spontaneously taken up by all the people of the world.”[31] Adbusters' website said that from their "one simple demand—a presidential commission to separate money from politics" they would "start setting the agenda for a new America."[33] They promoted the protest with a poster featuring a dancer atop Wall Street's iconic Charging Bull.[34][35]

While the movement was started by Adbusters, the group does not control the movement, and it has since grown worldwide.


Commercial style

The foundation has been criticized for having a style and form that are similar to the media and commercial product that it attacks, that its high gloss design makes the magazine too expensive, and that a style over substance approach is used to mask sub-par content.[36]

Heath and Potter posit that the more alternative or subversive the foundation feels, the more appealing the Blackspot sneaker will become to the mainstream market. They believe consumers seek exclusivity and social distinction and have argued that the mainstream market seeks the very same brand of individuality that the foundation promotes; thus they see the foundation as promoting capitalist values.[21]

The Blackspot Shoes campaign has stirred heated debate, as Adbusters admits to using the same marketing techniques which it denounces other companies for using.[27]

Accusations of antisemitism

In March 2004, the foundation was accused of antisemitism after running an article[37] that alleged many neoconservative supporters of the Iraq War within the Bush Administration were Jewish. The article questioned why the political implications of this neoconservative influence on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, given the role of Israel, were not a subject of debate.[38]

In October 2010, Shopper's Drug Mart pulled Adbusters off of its shelves after a photo montage[39] comparing the Gaza Strip to the Warsaw ghetto was featured in an article critiquing Israel's embargo of Gaza.[40] Two frequently pro-Israel Canadian organizations, the Canadian Jewish Congress and Honest Reporting Canada, rallied to have the magazine blacklisted from bookstores, accusing Adbusters of trivializing the Holocaust and of antisemitism.[41][42][43] "The argument is obscene, and continues the disgusting tradition of some supporters of the Palestinian cause to turn Jews into Nazis and Palestinians into Jews. In so doing, these propagandists not only demonize Israelis (i.e., Jews), but minimize the murderous extent and intent of [Nazism's] genocidal project."[44] Adbusters responded to the charges in an op-ed printed in the National Post, arguing that the charge of antisemitism was being used to silence legitimate criticism of Israeli policies, namely "Israel's occupation of Palestine."[45] Adbusters also pointed out that the Canadian Jewish Congress has itself been the target of complaints by Jewish Canadians, including the left-leaning activist and author Naomi Klein, who signed an open letter declaring, "We are appalled by recent attempts of prominent Jewish organizations and leading Canadian politicians to silence protest against the State of Israel. We are alarmed by the escalation of fear tactics."[46] Some American academics, including Norman Finkelstein, an anti-Zionist political scientist, also Jewish, have also compared Gaza to the Warsaw ghetto.

The pictures of the Warsaw ghetto were obtained from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum a year and a half before their use and were provided for a one-time use only.[42] When advised of the use, the museum sent Adbusters a cease and desist letter demanding that the photos be immediately removed from Adbusters’ website.[47] It was later discovered that the images used by Adbusters were in the public domain and/or not owned by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The confusion resulted from the fact that the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has pictures on file that they do not own the copyright to, but merely provide access to.

Ineffective activism

Some critics claim that culture jamming does little to incite real difference.[22] Others declare the movement an easy way for upper- and middle-class citizens to feel empowered by engaging in activism that bears no personal cost, such as the campaign “Buy Nothing Day”. These critics feel a need for “resistance against the causes of capitalist exploitation, not its symptoms”.[11]


In 1999 Adbusters won the award for National Magazine of the Year in Canada.[48]

See also


  1. "About". Adbusters Media Foundation. Retrieved October 3, 2011.
  2. "About Adbusters." Adbusters Media Foundation. Retrieved December 19, 2010.
  3. Fighting guerrilla graffiti, Eric Pfanner, New York Times, March 15, 2004
  4. May, Kevin. "Adbusters: Tackling Globalisation with Ad Subversion", Campaign, September 11, 2003. Retrieved on April 29, 2010.  [dead link]
  5. Résistance à l'Aggression Publicitaire
  6. Casseurs de Pub
  9. "Adbusters Zine from 1993".
  10. Motavalli, Jim (April 30, 1996). "Cultural Jammin'". E - The Environmental Magazine 7 (3): 41. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Rumbo, Joseph D. (2002). "Consumer Resistance in a World of Advertising Clutter: The Case of Adbusters". Psychology and Marketing 19 (2): 127–48. . 
  12. [Marnie W. Curry-Tash, “The Politics of Teleliteracy and Adbusting in the Classroom”, English Journal 87(1), 1998]
  13. [ Joseph D. Rumbo, “Consumer Resistance in a World of Advertising Clutter: The Case of Adbusters”, Psychology and Marketing, Vol.19(2), February 2002]
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 "Culture Jams and Meme Warfare: Kalle Lasn, Adbusters, and media activism", Wendi Pickerel, Helena Jorgensen, and Lance Bennett, April 19, 2002
  15. "Adbusters Takes Canadian TV Networks to Court", CBC News, September 15, 2004.  [dead link]
  16. "Adbusters Wins Legal Victory in Ongoing Case Against the CBC and CanWest",, April 6, 2009
  17. Satya May 05: Interview with Kalle Lasn of Adbusters
  18. Morrow, Fiona (April 6, 2009). Fiona Morrow, "Adbusters Wins Right To Sue Broadcasters over TV Ads" The Globe and Mail.
  19. ["About Adbusters." Adbusters Culturejammer Headquarters | Journal of the mental environment . 4 Mar. 2009 <>.]
  20. Lasn, Kalle (2000). Culture Jam, New York: Quill.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 Heath, Joseph and Potter, Andrew. The Rebel Sell. Harper Perennial, 2004.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Kari Pritchard, “Questioning Culture”,, April 1, 2009.
  23. Willan, Claude. "We're All Borf in the End", The Washington Post, July 24, 2005. Retrieved on November 20, 2007. 
  24. Blackspot - Blackspot Shoes.
  25. Blackspot - Blackspot Shoes.
  26. ""Rethink The Cool" blackspot leaflet transcribed by a retailer"
  27. 27.0 27.1 Aitch, Iain. "Kicking against the system", The Independent, December 15, 2003. Retrieved on November 20, 2007. 
  28. "About the shoes", Blackspot website. Retrieved June 2007.
  29. 29.0 29.1 Blackspot - Blackspot Shoes
  30. Meet the Antipreneurs. BusinessWeek Small Business Magazine. URL accessed on July 31, 2008.
  31. 31.0 31.1 Fleming, Andrew Adbusters sparks Wall Street protest Vancouver-based activists behind street actions in the U.S. The Vancouver Courier. URL accessed on September 30, 2011.
  32. Sira Lazar “Occupy Wall Street: Interview With Micah White From Adbusters”, Huffington Post, October 7, 2011, at 3:40 in interview
  33. Adbusters, Adbusters, July 13, 2011; accessed September 30, 2011
  34. Beeston, Laura (October 11, 2011). "The Ballerina and the Bull: Adbusters' Micah White on 'The Last Great Social Movement'". The Link. Retrieved October 12, 2011. 
  35. Schneider, Nathan Occupy Wall Street: FAQ. The Nation. URL accessed on October 12, 2011.
  36. McLaren, Carrie. "Culture Jamming (tm): Brought To You By Adbusters." Stay Free!. Retrieved September 13, 2005.
  37. Lasn, Kalle. Why won't anyone say they are Jewish?. Adbusters.
  38. Template:Cite document
  39. Mohammad, Saeed David. Never Again: A Ghettoized Gaza Bears Striking Resemblance to the Warsaw Ghetto. Adbusters. URL accessed on February 18, 2011.
  40. Hoffer, Steven. "Adbusters Yanked From Store Shelves; Anti-Semitic Photo to Blame?", AOL News, November 4, 2010. Retrieved on 5 March 2011. “The anti-consumerist, culture-jamming Adbusters magazine – recently known as the hipster publication that ragged on hipsters -- is being taken off the shelves at Canadian drugstore chain Shoppers Drug Mart following a dispute over a "Truthbombs" photo spread juxtaposing images of Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto, according to The Globe and Mail.” 
  41. Bernie Farber and Len Rudner: Selling anti-Semitism in the book stores.
  42. 42.0 42.1 Lungen, Paul. Magazine's Photo Essay Called Anti-Semitic.
  43. Adbusters' Spurious Gaza – Warsaw Ghetto Comparison. HonestReporting. URL accessed on March 5, 2011.
  44. Antisemitism on Your Magazine Rack – Courtesy of Adbusters. Canadian Jewish Congress. URL accessed on March 5, 2011.
  45. Lasn, Kalle. A Tale of Two Ghettoes. National Post.
  46. Jewish Canadians Concerned About Suppression of Criticism of Israel
  47. Bernie Farber and Len Rudner: Selling anti-Semitism in the book stores.
  48. "Adbusters: journal of the mental environment." Counterpoise. Gainesville: April 30, 2000. Vol. 4, Iss. 1/2; pg. 71

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