Clamor: Your DIY Guide to Everyday Revolution.

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Issue 33

Billboard Liberation Front
By Tapil

Since 1977, the Billboard Liberation Front has been effectively satisfying its clients’ needs in the demanding world of consumer advertising. Their secret to success is simple: cost effectiveness, tenacity, and a drive to do whatever is necessary in providing excellence in billboard improvement and adornment.

Born out of the now infamous, and still mysterious, activities of the Suicide Club in the late 1970s, the BLF’s ragtag team of specialists came to the fore in 1977, with a random remodeling of cigarette billboards, reinvigorating slogans and redesigning dull images on advertising’s most unavoidable and public display, the billboard. Over the years, the organization has developed substantially.

“Our mission since the agency’s inception,” says founder Jack Napier, “has been to creatively improve the state of outdoor advertising and, by example, encourage other midnight advertisers to improve their efforts in this field both technically and artistically.” Eschewing traditional romanticized and somewhat anachronistic approaches of traditional artists, the group has adopted a more reliable, corporate model. Egoistic, individual control has been dismissed in favor of a collective, anonymous approach to the creative process, ensuring that the end product is the result of a team of experts, not the whimsies of a lone individual. And corporate organization and efficiency has come to replace lofty notions of personalized production.

In their manifesto, the group acknowledges that more often “The most successful artists are those who can most successfully sell their art. With increasing frequency they apprentice to the Advertisers; no longer needing to falsely maintain the distinction between ‘Fine’ & ‘Commercial’ art.” The advertiser is the true artist of the age, not only making money, but in stimulating its viewing public, in effectively changing the way we think.

Unlike other advertising agencies, the BLF has a unusual policy of client acquisition: “Our clients are carefully selected on the basis of a complex formula known only to cabal insiders, and our improvement actions are undertaken on a pro-bono basis, unfettered by the petty demands of clueless executives and weak-kneed middle managers.” This nontraditional approach has paid off handsomely in creative control and effective outreach. To date, the group has administered dozens of campaigns, over a period of 28 years, and shows no signs of letting up. Perhaps this is due in part to their cost-effective delivery. As Napier says, “Comparable campaigns by our well-heeled competitors can cost clients well into the millions. ... Just because the average anarchist, libertarian, artist or even broke republican cannot afford their own board is not, as you know if you have perused our publicly-offered marketing program, a huge problem for those wishing to advertise - as long as they are willing to just go out and borrow these huge canvasses that Infinity, Viacom, Clear Channel etc. have so benevolently placed in the public domain.”

Indeed, in recent years competition has grown stiff. The California Department of Corrections, a seemingly public sector organization with similar interests in mind, has grown beyond its base in Venice, California, expanding its operations into Northern California and across much of the United States. The CDC takes a harsher, punitive approach toward its relationship with competitors, noting that “every advertisement harbors latent criminal behavior. Unlike the BLF, our staff are trained to respond to such behavior with elevated levels of force which can damage property at advertisers’ expense. In addition to their latent criminal behavior, advertisements often discriminate on the basis of sex, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, disability and/or economic background. Such advertisements are prime targets for the CDC. The department has also rehabilitated large numbers of advertisements resulting in approximately 50 successful corrections.” On the Eastern front, Ron English’s Popaganda, once concerned primarily with paint and canvas, has developed its own program in billboard redesign.

Napier acknowledges there is competition, from both homegrown and overseas agencies, “Advertising (the language of our culture) has only become more important after 9/11. Competing agencies and focus groups from all over the world are jumping onto the advertising bandwagon, some of them with highly effective campaigns...” Competition isn’t limited to similar, artistically-minded groups or their corporate nemeses either. Since the ‘war on terror’, the output from governments, religious interests, and other groups has drastically increased. And although many are able to pour a seemingly endless supply of capital into their productions, others have discovered more frugal approaches: “The Al Qaeda Network’s masterful use of concrete symbolism in their ‘Twin Towers’ campaign has held the center of attention for the entire world since its launch on 9/11,” Napier says. “They have captured and held a huge share of international media bandwidth (greatly disproportional to their advertising budget) and there is no end in sight for their future expansion and residual benefits for associated agencies.” 

The Billboard Liberation Front

The California Department of Corrections


Tapil is a culture maven and charlatan who can be reached at

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