[En] Parallel Ads: Introduction

Update (26.8.2013). The following text was intended for the the usage of Media Facades festival 2010, Alkovi Gallery and M-cult. It was written as I was preparing for Parallel Ads #1 made for Galleria Keidas (Part one “Viral Funny”. Part two “Infomercial”). The project was followed with PA 2# for Blacksmith Jesse Sipola (“Infomercial”).


I’m working on a project I call “Parallel Ads”. During it I’ll make a series of video commercials for a small company in the Kallio district of Helsinki. I’ll make a ~30s long spot which shows the services this business offers and a longer infomercial which gives more details about the place and possibly a short spoken introduction of its services. I’m looking for a small and young company.. A place which is offering services/selling goods in a fashion which I believe to be worth promoting. I’m not a specialist in making commercials.. Actually this is the first time I’m trying to make a TV quality ad. Before this I have mostly focused in critique of the ideological positions most ads and other narrative mass-media products place us in. But now, instead of working to dismantle the stereotypical ways race, genre and social class are portrayed I’m using the methodologies and tools of the mass advertisement industry to the benefit of a private entrepreneur.

The ads will be scripted together with the company owner and I use my expertise as a media artists to convey her/s ambitions in the most “street-credible” way I can. The target group I am aiming to reach are urban men and women viewing all forms of mass-media entertainment in a critically. I think it would be silly to attempt to seduce any other target group.. When social change is the game one ought to start by convincing their peers. The company owner will work as a “director” of the ads and I hope her/s contribution will expand our target group. From a visual perspective I’m attempting to reach the quality of standard TV ads, decent lighting, smooth camera work and bright colours. I’m hoping that the company owner will have interesting ideas on what kind of details will be shown and how the story will be told. The owner will receive all rights to use these videos in the way s/he likes and I’ll present these videos in the context of art. I hope that this gesture will draw more clients for the business.

In collaboration with Media Facades

This project is presented as a part of the international Media Facades festival organized in seven European cities between the 27th of August and 2 of October. Media Facades will “explore the networked possibilities of urban screens and media facades via internet and new technologies on a European level. The format of the MEDIA FACADES FESTIVAL reflects on the increasing presence of massive-infrastructures with digital visual elements in public spaces while investigating their communicative function in the urban environment.” In Helsinki the events are organized by M-cult, new media association and our focus here is on the usage of existing media surfaces, (billboards, info-walls and other) as sites were to show ART.

A project which M-cult has put much effort in, is a three day long video-workshop organised by Alkovi Gallery curators Arttu Merimaa and Miina Hujala. The gallery is located in the infamous Kallio district as a window gallery and hosts site-specific projects along normal exhibitions. During this workshop a group of 10-15 video artist will shoot, edit and complete video-works which reflect the district of Kallio in some way. It is a collective effort and the aims and practical issues regarding the workshop has been drafted in discussion with the participating artist, Alkovi Gallery and M-cult. Parallel Ads has been developed during these meetings and will be presented in the same venues as other works made during the workshop.

This way the business owner will have the opportunity to present her/s business for large audiences in great places around Helsinki.. Using these venues to advertise is a controversial gesture.

Thanks to the festival, independent artist and culture workers, like my self have the possibility to show our work in the city centre. A site which screens and other media surfaces are mostly reserved for the usage of annoying multinational ad campaigns, screaming “buy, buy, buy” in video, text and image. Festivals like this are typically produced in the spirit of “anti-consumerism” and presented as opportunities to use city media-surfaces for the “good of the people”, giving alternative life-styles the opportunity to promote their views. And here I am using the same surfaces to show commercials once more.

…but with good intents

Early ’10 I had the opportunity to study a project entitled “I love my work” by Tellervo Kalleinen & Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen. First off they collected stories about conflicts people have had in their working places. These stories where told by the people them selfs and Kalleinen and Kochta-Kalleinen formulated a selection of these into movie scripts which where later made into movies. The people who submitted their often highly personal “work-horror-stories” where consulted during the progress, so that the movie would depict their story in every possible detail  (I contributed a story for a movie and was given the opportunity to witness the production close). Tellervo had done similar projects before, in which people provided stories and she provided the necessary knowhow and equipment to make movies of them.

Parallel Ads has all of these community-video-art-project elements but in stead of working to turn a group of mass-media consumers into producers (by giving the [so called] commoners the possibility to share their stories) and collecting folklore archives of contemporary life.. Parallel Ads is working to turn cash flows from the corporations to the private entrepreneurs. For this I own credit for the methodologies Kalleinen & Kochta-Kalleinen have (as far as I know) developed.

I begun thinking about these issues back in ’05 when I was making a durational performance in Tampere. I worked in open city space and for a reason which was not so clear at the time I started to invite a lot of sponsors to support my event. I didn’t receive any money from them. Only goods needed for my show where exchanged. Later on I’ve come to understand that having corporate logos on brochures and webpages, made my extreme and queer performance more legitimate. In other words I used company logos to “certify” that my actions where legal, acceptable and fancy.

Company logos and brands have this quality to them. They link a singular happenings into a normative canon. Using this to the advantage of queer performances and art projects is difficult – the more you brand a work, the less street-credible it becomes. During the performance I could justify my actions by stating, that as I was working on the pedestrian street (filled with shops and boutiques) my actions would anyway be associated to ad-campaigns etc. And having a group of selected sponsors I could gain at least some benefits.

The next year a local company event organizer (one of my mains sponsors) asked me to produce a new performance to the same site. Instead of a performance I made a video project called “Adds/Tuttu TV:stä”. It is a selection of 12 of the most common TV commercials shown during the summer of ’06 in the Pirkanmaa district. I re-shot them without any props or logos, using my friends as actors. I used the same camera angles and dialogue as in the originals. They where shot in a empty room of a commune I was living and had tapestry from the 1940 as a background for the acts. They where shown projected onto a shop wall at the same pedestrian street. My history with the site legitimated them and even as they where anti-ads and broke copyright policies local company workers and executives excepted them. Such a series would have been near impossible to produce without trusting relations with the pedestrian street business owners.

I hoped that by showing the wireframe structures of the most common ads seen on TV, the visual tools and language they utilize could be viewed objectively and critically. Showing them so close to all the other advertisements and commercial elements found on city streets, made them more efficient. Audiences responded with laughs. They could identifiet with the home setting, amateur acting and could hack/understand what the seemingly nonsense sequences referred to. These ads mirrored the reality of TV commercials in a warped way. Unexpectedly a frequent comment was: “These are better commercials then the originals! You should contact the companies involved and sell these to them!”. And thinking about this I begun to plan Parallel Ads.

Evaluating the ad industry: Can images of products together with beautiful people, change consumer behaviour in a world where we generally have difficulties following traffic signs – even when our own life’s are at stake?

Do we really know if advertisement works? The way I see it, is that the most “successful ads” are selected in big ad festivals by ADVERTISEMENT AGENCIES and people in the business. And of course they will state that what they are working with will bring benefits to a client.. Other then this, we as consumers have very little clues on what is a successful ad-campaign and what is not. Very few of us would admit that our behaviour is controlled or even effected by advertisement. And most outdoor campaigns are not aimed directly to increase the sales of products anyway. They attempt to increase “consumer knowledge of the brand”. This is not only about recognising company logos. Consumer knowledge of a brand includes that the subject also understands the values behind it, so that they may establish feelings for the brand. This means that advertisement agencies work with immaterial, qualitative data. Much like poets and artist alike.

Looking at outdoor advertisement as public art or sculptures, brings in mind minimalism and propaganda of the WW-II and agitprop poster art. Admittedly propaganda has an effect, but it does not turn people in to evil killing machines nor good citizens. It’s business-to-business communications and the scale of the campaign is intended to send the message “WE ARE BIG” to INVESTORS and the industry. Effects of individual propaganda products on citizens is difficult to estimate. Is propaganda or advertisement in a massive scale even intended to increase the sales of products or is it something corporations “must” do to validate their existence?

It could be claimed that the best companies need NOT to advertise.. And some businesses even choose not to do so. I have a practical example of in this. Once we where making a live-art production with our xxx_group in the Kallio district and one site we wanted to work in was a cafeteria called “Taikalamppu”. As I was attempting to convince the business owner that to let us do performances inside her establishment, I started with C-class producer jargon saying:

– “The performance will be shot on video and show in a gallery space (Alkovi) which is working in association with Kiasma. Your company would be shown in the contact with the Contemporary Art Museum – and the URB09 festival.. This might lure new customers to this place.”

– “NEW CUSTOMERS?! Thats the last thing I want.. Where were would they fit and I´d loose all the old ones!” She replied.

Eventually we got to do performances in her Cafeteria. But only after explaining that honestly speaking the video will be seen by some 30 people anyway. Retrospectively I understand her very well. Working to get new customers is less satisfying then providing for the regulars. Even if one is available to lure in new customers, keeping them as regular might prove impossible, so why trouble? Building a business on the idea, that one would only get a pack of occasional random customers is unrewarding and thus unsustainable (This is the reason why I’m looking for a new company). Looking at corporations advertising on media surfaces (they pay heavily to rent) from this perspective makes me think that they are constantly in struggle for their existence. Deep down they know that people don’t REALLY respect their brand and products and if they were to vanish nobody (except for the investors) would woe after them.

All this said I feel that the practice of advertising is facing some of the same problems as artist and other culture workers are. Quantitative data of sales and data gathered trough customer queries is bias and a poor way to evaluate the “consumer knowledge of the brand”. It’s much like counting visitors of a exhibition and tells very little of the art or the artist and their affect. If the world of finance is anything like the world of art I’m sure that investors don’t bother with quantitative data. When it comes to gathering, analyzing and using immaterial, qualitative data… This knowledge is as much affected by poetics, as it is by ad agency consults. And on this level we are on mutual grounds: What I say has as much affect as what they say. And trust me: Giving the city media surfaces to the usage of small organizations and socially responsible enterprises for FREE, is good business!.

Some sort of Summary

Instead of de-constructing existing advertisement imagery and mass-media imagery in general, I’m establishing a parallel stream of advertisements. This is a very difficult project. My concern is that will I be able to satisfy the needs of the small business owner. If my work would freely develop into any direction the end-result might harm the her/s business. So to be safe what I’m to make has to remain somewhat safe. Suddenly I find myself facing exactly the same problems as all the other advertisement agencies. What I’m to make has to be clever enough to appeal to potential customers in the niche target group I personally represent and to accomplish this I have be INNOVATIVE.

If I am successful we’ll exchange “certificates” with the small business. I’ll show support their business and they’ll show support for socially engaged community-arts. If they receive new customers the “Parallel Ad -project” will benefit all of the small business in the Kallio district. Supporting small local businesses is something that validates my actions in general.. By directing funds to small business entities, socially responsible enterprises, small producers.. To self employed, un-authoritarian people in general we may derail the Orwellian future, multinational corporations (with their own media channels and production facilities) are working to build.

In detail I can use this experience in future efforts of dismantling the link between city officials and the big outdoor ad companies (like JCDECaux, Clear Channel etc.). As city officials are beginning to realize that working for a vibrant and open city culture is in everyones benefit.. And capitalists are becoming conscious about the benefits of having the diversity of dozens of small companies instead of two or three corporations in their stock portfolios.. Both will have to realize that the outdoor campaigns featuring ads of only the richest multinational corporations are not working in their behalf! For the benefit of a open city; My dream is that in the future 5% of all such outdoor media surfaces will be given to the usage of small organizations and socially responsible enterprises and as a result the content of such surfaces will be diverse.

To work for this change I’m moving in a parallel direction with consumeristic life-styles. Using narrative structures and normative camera work with unorthodox contents is the game. And as we gather enough momentum we´ll ram “them” of their rails. This is a socialistic venture using marked driven production tools to reach social change, much like The Carrot Mob.

I must be careful that I don’t fall into the trap of obfuscation: WAR IS PEACE = CONSUMERISM IS ANTI-CONSUMERISM.