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Culture Jamming Essay


Culture jamming is one of the marketing tactics that has been used for many years among anti-consumerist groups as one of the most successful tactics in the sphere of marketing. In this respect, Carducci defines culture jamming as an organized effort by social movements to counteract messages portrayed in advertisements (161). These social movements disrupt corporate advertising using myriad of tactics such as exposing political utterances on commercial culture.

In addition, culture jammers may also change the original configuration of a fashion statement, logo or product images of an advertisement made by a given company in order to challenge what is written in relation to freedom of consumption. It is imperative to note that the main rationale behind this form of culture jamming is reshaping social conformity to certain types of advertisements (Lambert-Beatty 99).

This issue has been carefully examined in media that specifically focuses on the development and transformation of the counterculture which, in its turn, has provoked the expansion of capitalism, has introduced innovation to mainstream culture, and continues to influence the current mainstream culture.

Regarding the above, culture jamming can be recognized as one of the most progressive, though not rebellious movements, introduced by anti-consumerist marketing strategies because many corporations, marketers and advertisers have managed to employ the policy of subvertisement while branding their product.

Main discussion

Development of Culture Jamming Movement: Use of Subvertisement and Its Relation to Capitalism

Culture jamming has been practiced for several decades and it is difficult to exactly pinpoint the actual time when it was incepted. The term dates back to 1984 despite the fact that corporate organizations, advertisers and marketers had been using the tactic for some time (Carducci 161).

Over the years culture jamming has been led by various groups from different quotas such as women movements, media theorists and art movements. Culture jammers advocate to be involved when decisions on creating adverts are made. For instance, feminist movements fight against the use of skinny female models and in general, using women in advertising.

According to these feminist groups, increased use of women in advertising makes them feel emotionally inadequate especially in sexist advertising. Hence, such groups are capable of airing their opinions against sexist advertising. Similarly, feminist groups have equally been able to raise against a number of magazines and publications that have portrayed sexist adverts in the pretext of attracting more male customers or those that are targeting women who strive to maintain a perfect body as shown in order to attract men.

Other human rights groups have also used culture jamming to fight exploitation of workers in factories – sweatshops. To affirm this, it is vital to note that our corporate culture is mainly driven by profitability whereby workers are lowly paid and compelled to work extra hours without proper compensation.

Interestingly, culture jammers often argue that individuals should be given opportunity to choose the nature of advertisement they are likely to be exposed so that they can make prior choices. They should also be exposed to hundreds of advertisements each day from various companies without corporate advertisers considering their consent.

According to culture jammers, corporate advertisers ought to consider the view of the public before exposing them to adverts (“Pranking Rhetorics”16).They view marketing as socially unacceptable due to the fact that it interferes with public space without the consent of the very public. Jammers look for every opportunity to alter messages that are given in various types of adverts.

They have used black marker and computer programs to change the message given in various adverts. They then insert their message which more often than not, expose anti-consumer, anti-corporation, anti-materialism and in general anti-advertising. The main aim of these groups is to recreate and transform commercial culture (Sandlin & Milam 323).

Subvertisement is a special type of culture jamming that involves production and distribution of anti-adverts with the aim of turning the attention of consumers in a certain direction (“Subcultures and Countercultures” 287). In subvertising, existing icons or images are altered whereas new images which are satirical may also be put to replace the original one.

In this regard, culture jammers promote behaviors that are more humane and an environment that is not dominated by corporate culture. What is more important, culture jamming movement are also directed against capitalism since they believe that capitalist culture promotes unequal race, class, and gender (Klein 30). This culture ought to be discouraged and resisted at all cost according to culture jammers.

Corporate, marketers and advertisers promote inhuman behaviors and corporate culture that is driven by profit motif (Skinner 140). The desire to increase profit has made corporate to go to the wrong extent when they are making their advertisements to the public. As such, exploitation of workers in the industries is also another form of capitalism where corporate would like to reap the maximum benefits from their employees at a lower cost.

Increased competition in the market has forced companies to look for survival tactics in order to withstand pressure from the rival companies. One of this survival strategies is the use of subvert where one company may look for ways to disrupt the adverts of a rival company. The latter is illegal practice where potential customers of a given product are mislead and misinformed on the truth of an advert.

As Harold expounds, pranking is one of the strategies used by anti-consumerist movements to reduce rhetoric of MNCs advertising (“Pranking Rhetorics”189). In this respect, subvertising aims to draw attention of the potential consumers to some information that may not be true about the products advertised by a certain company.

The practice aim is to reveal the weakness of the company in order to discourage consumers from buying a given product. At times one company may disrupt the adverts of the rival companies to make sure that consumers do not buy their products. This make the company that is orchestrating subverts to retain its customers who may be tempted to buy products from other companies that are offering similar products. This will increase the sales of the company and hence its profitability.


One of the brightest displays of culture jamming is introduced by The Adbusters magazine that introduced a signature brand of subversive Black Spot Sneaker. This brand was designed to satirize Nike use of sweatshop factories, but, in fact, the introduced campaign has gradually been involved in the mainstream consumerism instead of promoting the culture jamming movement (Heath and Potter 56).

According to Heath and Potter, the consumers are looking for social distinction, individuality, and exclusivity while buying the product and, therefore, they have claimed that they pursue the same tendency that the magazine advertises (57). In this respect, the Adbusters are usually seen as supporters of capitalist values. Additionally, the case with Black Spot Sneakers has stirred the debates concerning its nature because the magazine editors admit that consumerist adherents are attached to using the same marketing strategies.

Indeed, Adbusters fight for mental environmentalism rather just for citizens rights in general. They use the notion of the environmentalist but instead of fighting external environmental pollution, Adbusters fights for internal pollution. They believe that the minds of the public are polluted by the info toxin arising from the information given to the public by the marketers, corporations and advertisers.

According to Harold, this can be termed as an ‘unruly corruption’ (“Pranking Rhetorics” 5). Adbusters argue that increased cases of mental illness maybe attributed to the thousands of adverts that are pumped to the members of the public each day. Information about oil spill of BP Company, increased extinction of animals, crony democracy emergence among others have continued to affect mental health of the public in a bigger way (“Our Space” 17).

According to them, mass media ought to be used to promote ideas rather than to promote products as it is done today. Good mental ethics should be at the centre stage of each and every advert rather than profit motif as it is evident today in majority of the adverts (“Identity and Community”195).

The Diesel Clothing Company

The case with Diesel company provides an example where rhetorical advertising is used to promote fashion. Specifically, the company uses a conundrum to differ with the modern social issues as well as disputing consumerism and fashion trends.

As such, being disguised by consumerist logos, the Company has successfully promoted its subversion policy through delivering symbolic messages that can be extracted from standard ideas and advertisements. According to Airing, “…Diesel does not seek to transmit messages of product quality so much as sell ideologies both procultural and countercultural…” because no any other brand evoked fake ideology more fiercely for the marketing purposes than Diesel did (3).

In other words, the company’s campaign consists in presenting a double coded message to communicate between two terrains – the cultural jamming and consumerist culture. Bearing a concealed meaning, Diesel treats its customers as intelligent individuals who appreciate simple ideas concealing more thought provoking messages (Arning 3).

In addition, such a sophisticated ideology also emphasizes the tight connection between the company’s postmodern brand excellent and cultural policy of late capitalism due to the fact that Diesel is meant to be unique in promoting the main consumerist virtues through symbolic sign and constant repeating “…of social mores and contemporary predictions while reflecting the paradoxes and scruples of the twenty-first century” (Arning 3). In whole, there strategies can be still considered as culturally jammed due to the intentions the company pursues while advertising its products.

Although the aim of these movements was to make popular culture less popular, mainstream cultures have gained more ground in the corporate world.

According to Heath and Potter, it is not possible for jam culture and all counter-culture movements to have failed (5). Thus, anti-consumerists movements have not succeeded in their effort to transform and recreate commercial culture. This implies that in reality culture jamming is not possible since mainstream cultures have already dominated corporate world and the efforts of anti-consumerist movements cannot transform the society (“The Consuming Life” 135).

Regarding the above, the Diesel clothing company case proves the inevitability of the prevalence of consumerist focus because the main task of the market is to attract more customers to buy products, but not to encourage the subversive messages and promote new forms and messages of consumerist culture.

In addition to this, the world is driven by capitalism forces which consciously or unconsciously determine the culture to be followed (“Identity And Community” 287). All the efforts in the society are directed towards materialism and those who do not support this course always find themselves in problems.


In conclusion, the concept of culture jamming can be considered as one of the most successful ones because it a great number of marketing strategies were based on the ideas presented by the adherent of this anti-consumerist movement. Though the phenomenon is not presented as a rebellion act recently, this issue has been carefully examined in media and marketing with particular reference on the development and transformation of subverstisement leading to the expansion of capitalism.

In addition, culture jamming has made a significant contribution to mainstream culture through a myriads of innovative tactics introduced to mainstream culture. The brightest examples of such interventions refer to the case with the Adbusters magazine and the Diesel clothing company’s strategies. For instance, Adbuster is a critical example of these movements that mainly focus on changing the message that is presented in the advertising posters.

The Diesel clothing company represents an example of how companies can use advertisements oriented on intelligent humans who can extract the messages concealed in simple logos and ideas. However, as many cultural theorists will argue, jamming culture is not possible bearing in mind that the desire by social activists to transform and recreate commercial culture has not materialized.

On the contrary, mainstream culture has continued to dominate the society despite the efforts of anti-consumerist groups largely due to the fact that modern society is largely driven by capitalistic ideology. Apparently, this prevalence exists due to the blurred distinctions between the contemporary policies of culture jamming and the constantly changing purposes of consumerist movement.

Works Cited

Arning, Chris. “Kitsch, Irony, And Consumerism: A Semiotic Analysis Of Diesel Advertising 2000–2008.” Semiotica 2009, 174 (2009): 21-48. Print.

Carducci, Vince. Culture Jamming: A Sociological Perspective. Journal of Consumer Culture, 6.1, (2006):116-138. Print.

Harold, Christine. OurSpace: Resisting the Corporate Control of Culture. Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota, 2007. Print.

Harold, Christine. Pranking Rhetoric: Culture Jamming As Media Activism. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 21.3 (2004): 189-211. Print.

Heath, Joseph, and Andrew Potter. The Rebel Sell: Why The Culture Can’t Be Jammed. Toronto: Harper Perennial, 2005. Print.

Klein, Naomi. Culture jamming: Ads under attack. Brandweek41.28 (2000): 28-38. Print.

Lambert-Beatty, Carrie. Fill in the blank: Culture jamming and the advertising of agency. New Directions for Youth Development, 2010.125 (2010): 99-112. Print.

O’Brien, Susie and Imre, Szeman. Chapter 5: The Consuming Life.
Popular Culture: A User’s Guide
. Toronto: Nelson, (2010):135-168. Print.

O’Brien, Susie, and Imre Szeman. “Chapter 7 Identity And Community.” Popular Culture: A User’s Guide. Toronto: Nelson, 2010. Print.

O’Brien, Susie, and Imre Szeman. “Chapter 8 Subcultures And Countercultures.” Popular Culture: A User’s Guide. Toronto: Nelson, 2010. Print.

Sandlin, Jennifer, & Jennifer Milam. Mixing Pop (Culture) and Politics: Cultural Resistance, Culture Jamming, and Anti-Consumption Activism as Critical Public Pedagogy.” Curriculum Inquiry, 38.3 (2008):323-350. Print.

Skinner, David. Media Organization and Production/Representing Resistance: Media, Civil Disobedience and the Global Justice Movement. Canadian Journal of Communication,32.1 (2007): 139-142. Print.

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