Consider Adbusters’ mordant “Joe Chemo” ads. They show Joe Camel, the tobacco mascot, receiving treatment for cancer.
Today, the Internet provides an outlet for the organization’s video “uncommercials.” They are discomfiting, especially if you are a target. In a spoof of McDonald’s, a juicy Big Mac is lifted toward a consumer’s face as an announcer officiously describes its fat content. The consumer drops the burger in disgust.
In another video, a young man on a couch watches television.
“Your living room is the factory,” a deep voice intones. “The product being manufactured is you.”
The camera swivels to the back of the man’s neck, revealing a tattooed bar code.
TV Turnoff Week, held in April, was perhaps the most successful Adbusters campaign before Occupy Wall Street.
It urged “addicted television watchers to just turn off the set and cleanse their minds,” Lasn said.
“Addictions have broadened,” he added, and that campaign has become Digital Detox Week, aimed at getting people to turn off all of their digital devices, meditate, enjoy the quiet and spend time with family and friends.
Then there’s the “Consumer Pig” video. It depicts North Americans as voracious despoilers who cannot bear to stop shopping.
“Give it a rest,” an announcer intones in a promotion for the Buy Nothing Day campaign.
That effort takes place on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, a time of intense bargain-hunting. Adbusters asks shoppers to cease and desist.
Buy Nothing Day is the older sibling of Buy Nothing Christmas — an effort to extend one day of abstention to the entire holiday season. Lasn said it was the idea of a former editor at Adbusters, Aiden Enns.
Enns now lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, from which he operates a separate Web site for the campaign, in tandem with the Adbusters’ effort based in Vancouver. He describes himself as a “progressive Mennonite” and says his approach is a “pretty mellow campaign not driven by high-energy organizers.”
Advocating a life of material simplicity and spiritual richness, Enns urges people to “make things for others themselves, not to just go out and buy.”
He said he and his wife make gifts like wooden figurines and animal dolls for children, and salsa and relish for adults.
“The point is that we make them ourselves,” he said. “They’re a gesture of love.”
Enns said he was in general agreement with Lasn and with Occupy Wall Street.
“I believe our economy isn’t sustainable,” he said. “I believe it needs to change.”
However, as a pacifist, he adds, he is at odds with elements of the global Occupy movement.
Lasn’s words and tactics are more combative. From his Vancouver base, Lasn says he is trying to “re-energize” the Christmas campaign.
Adbusters is asking demonstrators to storm Times Square — “the iconic center of global capitalism” — and march around with “#BuyNothingXmas” signs through New Year’s Day. There had not been much response as of Friday, but no matter: Sparks do not always catch fire.
Lasn freely acknowledges that he is inconsistent — enmeshed in the advertising-saturated material world he is battling. For example, he does not make gifts for friends and family, he buys them — usually, smoked salmon and vodka.