Logo Cities – Resisting the Corporate Takeover of Mental Space

There has been a string of interesting posts lately on the visual takeover of the city by ever more cunning and intensive corporate advertising, including  Kosmograd’s recent post Learning from NikeTown, discussing  the implications of Nike’s 2002 King of the Cage campaign, along with a review of the book Who’s afraid of Niketown: Branding and the City of Tomorrow.

“In the future experience-oriented city, the brand is a crucial agent, if not the paramount one. In that city, the brand becomes a partner in all forms of planning, the determinant of development trends. Precisely to the degree that economic decisions replace political ones, the brand displaces the primacy of the political in the shaping of the city. Niketown is not called that simply because it is a department store for sporting goods, but instead because Nike claims to transform the city it inhabits into a Nike city.” (quote and above image from Kosmograd)

Nike’s world headquarters (a formalized “corporate landscape” critiqued by F.A.D. in an upcoming publication–more on that this spring) is located here in the Beaverton suburbs of Portland, and the ad agency that created many of Nike’s campaigns (including king of the cage), Wieden + Kennedy, is also based here.  It’s amazing to see how strong the Nike network is in places outside of Ptown.

Similarly, the everyday bombardment by the ubiquitous corporate landscape is beautifully and satirically rendered in the short film Logorama where nearly everything (characters included) are corporate logos:


Corporate advertising is everywhere.  According to Consumer Reports the average american is exposed to approximately 250 advertisements a day, directly influencing urban habits, patterns, and built form.  So, hypothetically, what would it be like to be free of corporate-conditioned urban space, even if it’s just the signage?  What if magically all that visual noise and constant psychological baiting-for-buyers just vanished from the city…..like this:

…So different.  The images above are from Gregor Graf’s Hidden Town series:

“Gregor Graf draws the viewer’s gaze to the city completely purged of signs. With purposely intentional retouching, he emphasizes the architectonic and structural features of the city in an extreme way. The streets seem unreal, culturally interchangeable and alien. They call for a new kind of perception beyond the realm of our familiar experiences and patterns. At the same time, though, these pictures open up a view of architecture that is otherwise blocked and “clarified” spatial systems.”

Graf’s images are great as a mental break from reality.  And in the real world:

Steinbrener and Dempf’s Delete! Project,  Vienna, 2005.

Like non-translucent Cristo-Claude highlighter applied to all signage–corporate and non-corporate alike.

And lastly, the NYSAT: New York Street Advertising Takeover, April 26th, 2009 in which “30 participants whitewashed nearly 120 (illegal) street level billboards in broad daylight between the hours of 10:30am and 2:00pm”.  One hour later artists and the general public brought these signs back into the public domain by appropriating them for public messages.

Image from Adbusters

The project is the work of the Public Ad Campaign, whose mission is to act on the assumption that public space and the public’s interaction with that space is a vital component of our city’s health…By visually altering and physically interacting with the public environment, residents become psychologically invested in their community. Check out the website’s Google mapping of NYC’s illegal or unpermitted 29,450 sq’ of advertising and  the essay  “How to look at billboards”:

“Outdoor advertising is most certainly an institution; but so was the open range. And just as the open range ceased to exist when private interest was no longer compatible with public rights, so it is with outdoor advertising. While it is unlikely that we shall have more than a smattering of midnight poster-burnings, it is inevitable that the billboard will eventually join such other relics of America’s past as battleships, running boards, the language of flowers, flypaper, and two-a-day vaudeville.”

One comment

  1. Thank you for this wonderful introduction to the problem of “branded” landscape.

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