Subvertising across Europe takes a swipe at airline advertising

23 Avr 2024

Artwork by Michelle Tylicki. Ad-hack in Bristol by Brandalism activists.

Brandalism crews have taken over ad-spaces across Europe this week with spoof ads demanding an end to airline advertising over the outsized climate impacts of aviation. Adverts in over 30 towns and cities, including Amsterdam, Berlin, Lisbon, Geneva, Paris and London have been replaced or modified to highlight the role of advertising in the growing emissions from airlines.

The ad-hack actions are part of wider movement to pressure local legislators to ban advertising and sponsorships by airlines and airports, highlighting the role of advertising in the deepening climate emergency. Advertising seeks to normalise regular flying, but this remains the preserve of  a tiny elite, with most people flying only occasionally. The disproportionate damage to the climate that this wealthy minority are responsible for is destroying the ecosystem for all of us.

A bus-stop ad at an airport in Berlin, reading ‘stop advertising bullshit flights.’

More than 500 commercial billboards and bus shelter ad sites were hacked in the week of protest actions, with many featuring an artwork by artist Michelle Tylicki. The design shows imagery of a billboard with a plane emitting green smoke, with the fumes spilling out into black plumes of smoke outside of the billboard and the text “Stop adverts fueling the climate crisis” or “Stop adverts for bullshit flights”. 

Tylicki said: “Airline adverts lure you to explore Earth’s treasures, while wreaking worldwide havoc with their emissions. Their deceptive tactics now pose as remedies. If we look past the pastel painted propaganda we find that greenwashing is as widespread as the climate crisis. It’s everywhere, and the reality is too big to ignore. Let’s ban high carbon advertising.”

Subvertisers in Bristol install a billboard in support of the campaign against local airport expansion.

Climate campaigners against airport expansions in Liège in Belgium, and Bristol, UK, have taken the opportunity to highlight local campaigns against the dangerous expansion of airport capacity. Marketing by Bristol, Liege and many other airports have claimed that they’ll achieve ‘net-zero’ emissions – while ignoring emissions from flights. 

In the UK, groups and individuals took part in a mass complaint against greenwash ads by Luton Airport, timed as the UK government considers the airport’s proposal to expand massively from 18 million to 32 million passengers per year. The complaint to  the UK ad watchdog, the Advertising Standards Agency, saying that the ads make green claims about the airport’s expansion plans that fail to take into account  emissions from flights, as though they’re not an inevitable part of the airport’s business.

The week of action also spotlighted the widespread cultural capture of sport by airlines through their sponsorship of teams, events and cultural institutions. Their logos are emblazoned everywhere, again seeking to normalise the polluting behaviour of a few. It’s easy to think that advertising itself isn’t going to cause emissions, but research published by the Badvertising campaign shows that for every £1 spent on sponsorship between 42-71kg more CO2 is emitted by the increased number of flights. And they spend millions.

A British Airways billboard with modified with a speech bubble.

UK subvertisers made use of British Airways’ latest  ‘brand awareness’ billboard ad campaign by agency Uncommon, adding additional commentary. 

Other subvertisers around Europe covered over offending ads and installed their own messages, such as “don’t be stupid, stop the plane! For tomorrow, get the train!”

Bus stop ads installed around Europe, reading ‘Stop adverts fueling the climate crisis’ and ‘Stop advertising promoting our own self destruction.’

After successive years of record heartwaves, widespread fires and extreme weather of all descriptions we can all see that change is more urgent than ever. Take action against airline advertising where you live, and for UK folks, write to your MP and your local councillors to ban high-carbon ads.