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Subvertising Ads-hell

IMC Birmingham | 15.05.2006 05:28 | Free Spaces | Social Struggles

A group of activists in Birmingham have managed to open Adshel bus shelters, where they put commercial adverts, using Allen keys, and have been using the space to advertise grassroots actions, such as the No Borders demonstration at Harmondsworth detention centre on 8 April, 2006.

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Noborders poster installed behind glass screen
Noborders poster installed behind glass screen

One of the main characteristics of urban life in the capitalist West is the ever-increasing commercialisation of public space, creating an ever-expanding unethical consumerist culture. The same advertising techniques used to promote commercial goods and services, however, can be used as an effective tool of social and political emancipation. Subvertisement is only one such technique.


Adshel is a brand of Clear Channel Worldwide, a giant out-of-home advertising company, which also owns Clear Channel Billboards and Taxi Media. Originally founded in the UK over 30 years ago, Clear Channel Adshel has grown to become an "award-winning provider of street furniture solutions" worldwide. Active in 65 countries, they operate over 6,000 municipal contracts around the world. Their "services" range from automatic public toilets to public benches, and from i-plus information points, bus shelters to countless billboards all over the place. [see, for example, their Birmingham billboards].

Clear Channel Adshel works in partnership with municipalities to provide advertisers, aka big corporations, with all sort of advertising methods. Needless to say, they do that by hijacking public spaces, such as bus stops.

In the UK, Adshel has 9 "regional campaigns", which cover all the country, making sure advertisers "reach the right audience in the right place at the right time." In Birmingham alone, they have 106 such campaigns. Some of the most memorable ones in 2005 were Tesco, Cadbury Dairy Milk and Toyota Yaris.

Clear Channel also operates approximately 1,225 radio and 39 television stations in the United States and has equity interests in over 240 radio stations internationally [see their Source Watch's profile]. The network is well know for self-censorship. For example, just days after the 9/11 attacks, slates of blacklisted songs, including Cat Stevens' "Peace Train" and John Lennon's "Imagine," were leaked to the public. It is also known for being pro-war and pro-Bush. In March 2003, facing the massive public outcry and protests against the war on Iraq, the network began sponsoring pro-war rallies called "Rally for America." Using its 1,200 stations, it pummeled listeners with a mind-numbing stream of uncritical patriotism. [Read also: Clear Channel Sucks | Clear Channel Fogs the Airwaves | Clear Channel Gags an Antiwar Conservative | Primetime Payola for Clear Channel].

How to do it

According to their website, Adshel manufacture 7 different types of bus shelters: Agoris, City 2000, Enthoven, Eole, Garouste and Bonetti, Giugiaro and Metropolis. Virtually all of them can be opened using Allen keys, which are widely available at any tool shop. Yes, it's that simple! Just make sure you've got the right size, with a longer arm than usual, and off you go.

Funnily enough, one of the shelters' features listed on their website is "graffiti-resistant materials". Well, now you've got a way to overcome that.

IMC Birmingham