Culture Jamming

What is Culture Jamming?

Culture jamming is manipulating existing mass media and changing its original message to convey a contradictory meaning yet keeping the original image. It is a form of public activism which emerged as a response to commercialism and corporate propaganda. Culture jamming communicates public awareness, such as environmental and human rights, to consumers by playing around with branded images and icons of consumer culture. This allows the audience to re-evaluate the original message that companies are trying to persuade consumers into believing about their products.

Culture Jamming Advertisements

These are some examples of culture jamming courtesy of Adbusters.

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Adbusters changed Joe Camel to Joe Chemo to show how tobacco can lead to chemotherapy, or rather in this ad, the end of your life. The objective of this ad is to help reduce the number of smokers by making them aware of what smoking can lead to. The mascot and font type of the brand does not change, just the message.

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This ad conveys the meaning of what drinking and driving can do to you. Adbusters used Absolut Vodka to portray its message that drinking and driving can kill someone. They used the shape of the bottle as the ‘victim’ at an accident scene along with the original font type.

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This ad is trying to tell Mc Donald customers that eating Big Mac’s results in high cholesterol and heart attacks. They changed the pulse signals into the Mc Donald’s signature “M”.

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Adbusters is attempting to make consumers, specifically women, aware that we are overly obsessed with our appearances. This ad shows an anorexic woman hovering over a toilet bowl to convey what obsession to today’s fashion and beauty culture can make one do.

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This ad, again courtesy of adbuster, really hits home. It reminds us that from the moment of birth, when a child is supposed to be in its purest form, can get corrupted when it enters the world. Now a days, children are raised with the awarness about 'brand names' from a very young age. Exactly as this picture shows, we brand our loved ones and possibly hurt them in ways we are only seeing the consequences in research now.

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Ron English Billboards

pcd36.jpg Forever Kool, Jersey City 1995

pcd33.jpg Camel Junior, NYC 1991



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Greese in Macdonalds

The Decline of Culture Jamming's Effectiveness

Culture jamming is a rather recent phenomenon that includes the practices of urban graffiti and appropriating billboard messages, and the creation of independent media. It can be seen as promising resistance with specialization in the manipulation of mainstream media and its deconstruction of hegemonic discourse for those who are intested in being rebellious (Wettergren, 28). Culture jamming is a symbolic form of protest in the sense that it "targets central symbols of dominant discourse, deconstructs the discourse and reintroduces the symbol in alternative contexts" (ibid. 28). The Media Foundation (MFA) is an organization that was founded in 1989 who's sole purpose is to distribute a culture jamming magazine called Adbusters to the globe. Although culture jamming is something that has become quite popular, it is for this reason that its effectiveness is beginning to fade. It is being conclusively found that culture jamming is not as successful as it was in the past due to the fact that now, corporations are beginning to jam their own advertisements therefore appropriating the original intent. They are using the phenomenon to further sell their product and at the same time, managed to entice viewers with their clever ads by virtually jamming their own media. Culture jamming is being appropriated and turned against the activists therefore its effectivess is being lost.

Culture jamming is a more intriguing way to raise public awareness in comparison to other attempts, however, enough action is not being taken once these ads are jammed in that the viewers don't nedessarily participate anymore in the resistance after viewing. Much of the work has artistic merit and that a great deal of thought is put into the appropriation of these images but it seems that corporations have caught wind of this and have too appropriated it further by jamming their own ads so that they are now in control of the situation. Now that this “re-appropriation” has occurred, media activists have to pave another path with stronger methods to try and incorporate the viewer and encourage more active participation by them.

Related Links:


Works Cited

"Culture Jamming." Center for Communication & Civic Engagement. 25 Sept. 2006 <>.
Wettergren, Asa. "Like Moths to a Flame-Culture Jamming & the Global Spectacle". In Representing Restance: Media, Civil Disobedience, and the Global Justice Movement. Andy Opel and Donnalyn Pompper, eds. Westport: Praeger Press, 2003, pp.27-43. from, citing myself, user gibsond.


Joe Chemo
Absolute End
Big Mac
Tattoo baby
The True Colors [[/]]
Follow The Flock [[/]]
Corporate America
Ronald Macdonald,