The UK’s gutters and hedgerows will soon see new graphics on the McJunk strewn there. Below is a link to an article I wrote for Eye magazine blog about an uncritical design press showcasing the new designs, asking whether well respected blogs are just becoming advertising hoardings for big brands trying to ingratiating themselves with those working in the creative industries.

Gutter press on Eye blog

photoAgainst my better judgement I bought a Ginsters’ sandwich yesterday.

On eating it, I glanced at the packaging to see the declaration above—that Ginsters had donated the side of the pack to a charity. I turned the packaging over, and, as they claim, there was information about the Royal Voluntary Service.

This struck me as somewhat insidious because of how this supposed act of corporate social responsibility was being turned into a marketing opportunity. In my opinion, the fact that Ginsters have felt it necessary to so prominently proclaim their act of altruism defeats any good will the act itself might bring to the company. To think that Ginsters’ marketing department didn’t realised this potential reaction might happen—that no one who see through this forced ‘look at us, aren’t we wonderful’ approach—is incredulous. The contempt for the consumer is further compounded by the additional emotional blackmail of the question “what could you give?”. Coming after the statement about their ‘donation’, (as if it really cost Ginsters anything other than a couple hours of a graphic designer’s time), is insulting as it suggests that the company believe they have done their bit and now the responsibility lies with the consumer.

Corporate social responsibility is an important issue in contemporary business practice. But if companies like Ginsters want us to believe that they are genuine in their commitment to the voluntary sector, then they need to stop patronising consumers and use their involvement in social issues for more than a marketing opportunity.

It was nearly enough to put me off a sandwich I wasn’t particularly enjoying.

I love the idea of the Art Everywhere project. For the uninitiated, Art Everywhere proposes to fill billboards across the UK with prints of famous art. I like the concept of this because:

Firstly, while not a new idea, it is getting art out of galleries and onto the streets, making it more accessable. *

Secondly, it is democratic, (to a degree). The public can vote on what they want to see displayed on billboards across the nation. * *

Thirdly, it is putting billboards out of commission to advertisers for a period of time—the ultimate culture jam, you could argue. * * *

For more details about the project, head on over to the Art Everywhere website and donate £3 to help make this happen:


* It could be argued that the concept behind this has been borrowed from a recent campaign The Partners did for The National Gallery

* * I would like to know more about the long listing process, and how the decisions were made about what the public can vote on. For example, I was very disappointed to find no Gilbert & George on the list, but then maybe there is already enough shit and piss on our high streets!

* * * When there was an advert ban in São Paulo in 2007 it created an interesting visual and commercial void in the city scape with billboards stripped of their posters—but I always thought that was a waste of space, however intriguing it looked.

Every year there must be hundreds of dissertations being written by undergraduate design students about the portrayal of women in advertising, all referencing the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty and Adbusters along the way. And you could spend a long time trawling the Internet for articles about sex being used to sell commercial products. I’ve become a little used to such arguments. However, I never expected to see sex being used to sell integrated office systems. That is, until I turned a corner in Norwich the other day to be confronted by this image on the back of a van:

I was dumbfounded and genuinely taken aback for a few seconds. I could start a basic National Diploma level Media Studies deconstruction at this point, mentioning the see-through blouse and the provocative pointing of the metaphor, sorry, I mean pen. I haven’t worked in many offices over the years, but I suspect this attire would receive raised eyebrows in the average insurance office. It certainly would in the Art and Design department staff-room I frequent in my day job.

Just as I was getting over the shock of this image, thinking how utterly inappropriate and offensive it was, I was confronted with this sight on the side of the van:

I can only imagine the conversation going on here, as the guy stares at the woman’s breasts and she leans provocatively over his desk. I don’t think I have ever seen anything quite so ridiculous on the side of a van before—I almost expected a slow 1970s groove to start playing as the woman in the photograph dropped her pen and reached under the table to ‘pick it up’!

I find it incredible that neither the designers who proposed this, nor the people at Mayday thought this wouldn’t be objectionable. The objectification of women in advertising and throughout the media is endemic in our society. However, the image on this van, for a photocopying business of all things, could not only be seen as an example of how sexist imagery has become a typical state of affairs in our everyday, but also how accepting and unchallenging many have become to such things. Without wanting to sound like some 1980s anarcho-feminist tubthumping kill-joy, the jolt of seeing this atrocious piece of applied graphics in a high street has convinced me more than ever that design criticism needs to challenge such things a little more often. It can’t be left to the undergraduates who still feel passionate enough about such things to write a critical dissertation only they and their lecturers will read.

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