Cats Underground

Most of us have dreamed of deep sixing the endless visual clutter of advertising, and more than one project has taken on the challenge. This idea is part political subversion, part esthetic enhancement, and often demonstration of professional chops by young guns.

My attention was drawn to a successful “campaign” last year in London (thanks for the inspiration Ester Jacobs).

The Citizens Advertising Takeover Service replaced 68 adverts in Clapham Common with pictures of cats.

(More pix here)

This is an improvement over the usual glop we have to look at on public transit (unless you really hate cats).

This was funded through Kickstarter (naturally), the Electron Volt for funding art projects these days. (I asked a creative youngster why she did a Kickstarter for a project that easily could garner funds many ways, and (a) she looked at me like I was from Mars and (b) indicated that it is crucial publicity and credibility for a project to have a successful Kickstarter.)

The gang behind this subversion is Glimpse, “A group of creative people who want to use our skills for good.” Specifically, they “aim to make positive social change feel attractive to millions” by showing ‘glimpses’ of a better world that’s possible. This is very much in the spirit of something like “Design Fiction”, except with real products rather than just mock ups.

The whole thing is marvelously light and jolly, and reasonably well explained. It’s one of the better Kickstarter’s I’ve seen (not that I look at very many KSs).

Are there any long term lessons to learn from this exercise?

It is great to see that it is technically possible to “buy back” our public space, though it is also instructive that a successful Kickstarter with hundreds of supporters was able to do one small platform for a couple of weeks. Scaling this up to the whole world is pretty far out of reach, at least by this methodology.

Second, I had to think about how this model could go off the tracks. For one thing, if a handful of enthusiasts can take over one station, what’s to stop any determined band from doing the same? There are a lot of crazy alt.* out there on the internet, who might be happy to decorate your station with Sad Puppies or other controversial and not the least bit soothing stuff.

Presumably, the authorities will filter such campaigns, just as they o now, with the inevitable political wrangles about just what sort of transgressions are to be allowed.

In other words, nothing really changes.

Except we  now know that you might be able to help crowdfund adverts of your own—at least as long as the pass the standards.

To be clear: I like this project, both the spirit and the implementation. Pretty talk and effective action are a good combination.

But it’s not quite the better world we think we glimpse here.

  1. Glimpse. Citizens Advertising Takeover Service. 2016,
  2. C.A.T.S. The Citizens Advertising Takeover Service (CATS) 2016,
  3. James Gould-Bourn, All Adverts In London’s Underground Station Have Been Replaced With Cat Pictures, in Bored Panda. 2016.
  4. James Turner, We Replaced 68 Tube Adverts with Cats, in On Advertisinng. 2016.


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