In the autumn of 1978, the Conservatives Party in the UK conducted a full-blown ad campaign in association with their agency Saatchi & Saatchi.

Their billboard showed the image of a long queue of unemployed people in the country, with the tagline “Labour Isn’t Working,” landing a strong punch on their opponents.

This drew attention to the crumbling of Labour’s traditional commitment to full employment. The unemployment rate, 2.7% when Labour won its second election in October 1974, was 5.9% in October 1978.

While Margaret Thatcher did fight back the allegations, and you can read the whole story here, the point to draw from it is that the queue poster has since become a go-to reference for marketers when the topic of political advertising is on the table.

Many decades after this happened, the non-profit “People Like Us” decided to use this iconic image and copy as part of a new campaign designed to raise the alarm on pay inequality faced by ethnic minority workers in the UK.

Their ad reads, “People like us are working. But getting paid less.”

The reimagined artwork depicts a line of people from Black, Asian, Mixed Race and minority ethnic backgrounds “queuing for a pay rise”, with text highlighting the research results.

As is explained in the byline, the non-profit’s 2022 research initiative revealed that minority ethnic backgrounds are paid on average 16% less than their white counterparts.

This type of move in marketing is called “subversive advertising,” which is defined as leveraging, modifying, referencing, or spoofing an existing piece of advertising, famous marketing campaign, logo or brand identity elements to deliver a message that is often at odds with the intent of the original publishers, aiming to reveal the truth or flaw in the original communication.

Other terms used by industry professionals are “culture jamming” & “ad jacking.”

As the strategy is to bait & switch, this tactic is often employed by activists trying to raise their voices against MNCs who use deceptive content in their campaigns.

As another example, the Dutch organization Cordiad worked with Saatchi & Saatchi to raise awareness about hunger issues in Africa. They created posters that seem like fashion ads at first, but then draw your attention to the serious issue at hand.

Instead of using super-thin white models like it’s normally done in the fashion industry, they worked with naturally thin & malnourished women from developing & conflict-ridden countries, who held up designer handbags in awkward poses typical of fashion & beauty posters.

The copy drew attention to the fact that for the price of the designer handbag, the woman in the picture could feed herself for eight weeks. The CTA urged people to donate.

So this was, in a way, a creative take on the tendency of people to care more about buying luxury fashion products than helping other women in need elsewhere on the planet.

Again, it uses the trope of fashion modelling to make a point against blatant capitalism, or more specifically, the disparity it leads to.

I’ve shared more examples of culture jamming below.

Can you share more examples of subversive advertising? Let me know in the comments below!

Leave a Reply