Adbusters Media Foundation (called Adbusters or the Media Foundation) is a not-for-profit, anti-consumerist organization founded in 1989 by Kalle Lasn and Bill Schmalz in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. They describe themselves 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."[1]

The foundation publishes Adbusters (ISSN 0847-9097), a 120,000-circulation, reader-supported activist magazine, devoted to numerous political and social causes, many of which are anti-consumerist in nature. Adbusters has also launched numerous international social marketing campaigns, including Buy Nothing Day and TV Turnoff Week.

Adbusters has affiliation with sister organizations such as L'association Résistance à l'Aggression Publicitaire in France, Adbusters Norge in Norway, Adbusters Sverige in Sweden and Culture Jammers in Japan.[2][3]

Blackspot campaign

In 2004, the organization began selling shoes with a number of "anti-logos" on the side, toe and box that are hand-drawn, black, white and red spots and dots. The name and logo are "open-source"[4], in other words, unencumbered by trademarks[5].

The shoes are made primarily 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[6]. The successful sale of more than twenty-five thousand pairs [7] through an indie distribution network--despite the much higher than average production costs--is intended to demonstrate the hollowness of claims that business necessity sometimes requires the use of sweatshops[8].

The campaign is an ongoing experiment in alternative branding.


Media Carta

Enlarge picture
New York City billboard
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 for reasons based on business principles. The lawsuit claims that Adbusters' freedom of expression was unjustly limited by the refusals. 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.

True cost economics

Adbusters traces many of the problems which exist in developed nations to the neo-classical economic system, which Adbusters believes leaves no room for morality. Adbusters supports the idea of true cost economics, which incorporates the environmental and human consequences of a product into its economic model. True cost economics involves taxing products that are perceived as being especially harmful to the environment or human welfare. In a culture which practices typical consumerism, consumers may be shielded from the costs of externalities such as trans-oceanic shipping, long-term environmental impact, or the lack of a living wage for the employees involved in creating the products. True Cost Economics taxes products in an attempt to accurately reflect all the hidden costs involved.

Mental space

Adbusters opposes the unrestrained expansion of commerce into private life. Ad-creep is the concept that advertising is pushing ethical boundaries, and that many commercial activities are an opponent to mental well-being. Adbusters argues that the heavy advertising present in many cultures plays a large psychological role. Adbusters criticizes what they perceive as false values present in the commercial market, and a false sense of personal empowerment offered by it. The false demand created for commercial products is believed to get in the way of having a healthy mental state, and living a meaningful life.

Adbusters groups their opposition to the hype, spin and misinformation which the magazine feels is common in mass media with the fight for mental space, believing that the mental environment is subject to the tragedy of the commons.


On numerous occasions, Adbusters has made reference to an imminent apocalypse created by scientific technology.[9][10][11] Adbusters feels human society is in decline, and without change, there is "inevitable anarchy of the kind fueled by war, death, brute force, and destruction" A common theme in Adbusters magazines is defining a relationship between the advance of technology and unhappiness. There is also concern about the potential health and environmental dangers of emerging technologies. The main criticisms which Adbusters has of modern science and technology are that it is:
  • Developing at an unsafe rate[12]
  • Proceeding in a direction that is harmful,
  • Proceeding in a direction that is for capitalist ends.[14][15]
Adbusters is opposed to genetically modified food and related projects of agribusiness, holding the practice as being damaging to physical and mental health. Adbusters opposes genetic engineering and the copyright of living organisms. A common ideal for food production is often illustrated as one that would mirror historic agriculture.

Another of Adbuster's concerns is the widespread use of psychoactive medication. The Adbusters foundation takes a hard stand on psychoactive drugs, arguing that the pharmaceutical industry is not concerned with patient health, the government approves unsafe drugs, doctors are too eager to prescribe drugs, and patients are over-willing to medicate out of conformity.[16]


Adbusters' position on war ties in to their position on commercialism and overconsumption. A great deal of attention is paid to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, and an entire issue was focused on the question of the necessity of war,[17] and another issue was focused on the history of American combat.[18] The magazine repeatedly asserts that there is a connection between terrorism and American foreign policy, which they feel is flawed. Further, Adbusters asserts that there is a connection between the foreign policy of a nation, and the lifestyle of its citizens. While Adbusters rails against these perceived economic conditions that lead to war, the magazine also accuses many leading right-wing officials of immorality. In issue #63,[19] Adbusters describes Vladimir Putin, Ariel Sharon, and George W. Bush as terrorists, and describes American ideology as fascist.

Adbusters came under fire for anti-semitism when it ran an article[20] that identified many supporters of the Iraq War and the Bush Administration as Jewish and questioned why this fact and its potential implications for US Middle East policy was not open to discussion. A list of prominent pro-war figures was presented, with dots next to the names of those who are Jewish.[21]

Culture jamming

Adbusters has been described as "the flagship publication of the culture jamming movement".[22] Adbusters is particularly well-known for their culture jamming campaigns, and the magazine often features photographs of politically-motivated billboard or advertisement vandalism sent in by readers. Culture jamming is seen as public demonstration of the consequences of over-consumerism. It takes the form of clever billboard modifications, google bombing, flash mobs and fake parking tickets for SUVs. The aim of culture jamming is to create a large contrast between the corporate image and the real consequences of corporate behavior. It is a form of protest, so the culture jammer aims to be as public as possible. Adbusters calls it "trickle up" activism, and encourages its readers to do these activities, and honors culture jamming work in the magazine. The adbuster's 'brand' of culture jamming has its roots in the activities of the situationists and in particular their concept of detournement. This means the "turning around" of received messages so that they communicate meanings at variance with their original intention. In the 'culture jamming' purview this 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].


Adbusters has been criticized for having a style and form that are similar to the media and commercial product which it attacks, more specifically that its high gloss design makes the magazine too expensive and that a style over substance approach is used to mask sub-par content.[23] This is particularly true in the case of its Blackspot Shoe campaign, about which it has been said that their existence proves that "no rational person could possibly believe that there is any tension between 'mainstream' and 'alternative' culture."<ref name="rebel" />

Heath and Potter's The Rebel Sell claims that the more alternative or subversive Adbusters feels, the more appealing it will become to the mainstream market. Consumers seek exclusivity and social distinction, which is in contrast to Adbusters' description of the mainstream consumer as a mindless conformist. It is argued that the mainstream market seeks the very same brand of individuality that Adbusters promotes; repression is not a target of the market, thus the Adbusters doctrine is "the true spirit of capitalism."<ref name="rebel" />

See also


1. ^ "About Adbusters". Retrieved September 7 2005.
2. ^
3. ^
4. ^ [1]
5. ^ [2]
6. ^ "About the shoes", Blackspot website, retrieved June 2007.
7. ^ [3]
8. ^ [4]
9. ^ Issue 56
10. ^ "The Four Horsemen", Issue 58
11. ^ "I Robot", Issue 58
12. ^ Issue 58
14. ^ "Caging the Devil", Issue 57
15. ^ "Put Big Pharma on a Short Leash", Issue 57
16. ^ "Prozac Spotlight"
17. ^ Issue 59
18. ^ Issue 53
19. ^ Issue 63
20. ^ Why won't anyone say they are Jewish? by Kalle Lasn, AdBusters, March/April 2004
21. ^ Raynes-Goldie, Kate. "Race Baiting: AdBusters' Listing of Jewish Neo-cons The Latest Wacko Twist in Lefty Mag's Remake". Now Toronto. March 24 2004.
22. ^ Heath, Joseph and Potter, Andrew. The Rebel Sell. Harper Perennial, 2004.
23. ^ McLaren, Carrie. "Culture Jamming (tm): Brought To You By Adbusters". Stay Free!. Retrieved September 13 2005.

External links

Adbusters Official Culturejammer Headquarters Website International Links Miscellaneous Links
A non-profit organization (abbreviated "NPO", also "non-profit" or "not-for-profit") is a legally constituted organization whose primary objective is to support or to actively engage in activities of public or private interest without any commercial or monetary profit purposes.
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Kalle Lasn (born Tallinn, Estonia in 1942) is the founder of Adbusters magazine and author of the books Culture Jam and Design Anarchy. He is the CEO of the Blackspot Anticorporation.
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An ISSN, or International Standard Serial Number, is a unique eight-digit number used to identify a print or electronic periodical publication. The ISSN system was adopted as international standard ISO 3297 in 1975. The TC 46/SC 9 is responsible for the standard.
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Activism, in a general sense, can be described as intentional action to bring about social or political change. This action is in support of, or opposition to, one side of an often controversial argument.
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Buy Nothing Day is an informal day of protest against consumerism observed by social activists. It was founded by Vancouver artist Ted Dave and subsequently promoted by the Canadian Adbusters magazine.
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The TV turnoff network (formerly TV-Free America) is an organization that tries to encourage children and adults to watch less television and so have more time for a healthier life and more community participation. It is a grassroots alliance of many different organisations.
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CHUM can refer to a number of different Canadian entities:
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Neoclassical economics refers to a general approach in economics focusing on the determination of prices, outputs, and income distributions in markets through supply and demand.
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Morality (from the Latin moralitas "manner, character, proper behaviour") has three principal meanings. In its first descriptive usage, morality means a code of conduct held to be authoritative in matters of right and wrong,
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Consumerism is the equating of personal happiness with the purchasing of material possessions and consumption. It is often associated with criticisms of consumption starting with Karl Marx and Thorstein Veblen.
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Living wage is a term used by advocates to refer to the minimum hourly wage necessary for a person to achieve some specific standard of living. In the context of developed countries such as the United Kingdom or Switzerland, this standard generally means that a person working forty
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Ad-creep refers to the increase of advertising. The virtues of advertising are debated, but ad-creep especially refers to advertising which is invasive and coercive
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