By Nichole Huck
“Phil Knight had a dream. He’d sell shoes. He’d sell dreams. He’d get rich. He’d use sweatshops if he had to. Then along came a new shoe. Plain. Simple. Fair. Designed for only one thing: kicking Phil’s Ass.”
This controversial text will soon be plastered on billboards and in newspapers across North America. The ads are for a new shoe and feature a picture of a black sneaker with a white, hand-drawn scribble on the side and a red dot on the front (for kicking Phil Knight’s ass). They urge the reader to “rethink the cool.”
The shoe, known as the “unswoosher” or the “black spot sneaker” is the brainchild of “culture jamming” Adbusters media foundation. Adbusters is committed to launching a revolution of the mental environment and combating consumer culture. Since its conception in 1989, Adbusters has established a magazine with a circulation of 125,000 worldwide and operates a popular website. The foundation is also responsible for international campaigns such as Buy Nothing Day and TV Turnoff Week.
It is also the driving force behind many ongoing social campaigns including Unbrand America, Reclaim Urban Space, Media Carta, and Commercial Free Schools. There is almost nothing Adbusters considers taboo or too risque “We have this feeling of bravado that we are one of the few magazines that is fearless,” says Lasn. In fact, the last issue of the magazine attacked the political left. “We felt betrayed. I’m trying to jump over the dead body of the political left and start forging a new kind of politics,” says Kalle Lasn, founder of Adbusters.
But Adbusters latest and perhaps most aggressive venture has been the creation of the black spot sneaker. “We got tired of complaining and whining about the fact that after 10 years of talking back to Nike it was still cool and still worn by every sixth teenager in high school. We decided that instead of complaining about the Nike logo we were going to launch our own anti-logo. We were going to steal some of that cool that Nike built up with the hundreds of billions of dollars it spent putting this nuclear glow around their swoosh, and we were going to put it around our own logo. We were gonna out-cool the bastard,” explains Lasn.
“If we can do some real damage in the sneaker industry by cutting into Nike’s share and build our own brand, then we can start doing some larger things like creating a more grassroots type of capitalism. Instead of complaining about the market place, let’s create a different kind of market place where the price of every product tells the ecological and social truth,” explains Lasn.
The Adbusters media foundation was founded 14 years ago by a group of environmentalists from BC who were disgusted with a $6 million TV campaign launched by the forest industry to tell the public what a great job they were doing managing the forests. The group of environmentalists came up with their own 30-second TV spot designed to tell the other side of the story, but they were not allowed to buy airtime on any TV stations. The magazine was created because “we just wanted to vent our anger, we were pissed off. Here was this industry that was devastating British Columbia and we weren’t able to speak back on television which is obviously the most powerful social communication medium of our time,” explained Lasn.
Lasn describes the magazine as a journal of the mental environment. “We are trying to get people to think about the mental environment in roughly the same terms as we think about the physical environment. We are trying to launch a mental environment movement which also reinvents every nook and cranny of the way we think about the media, broadcasting, media democracy, access to airwaves, and media concentration.”
“I think change begins one day in your own life when something happens to you that really hits you in the gut as being wrong. It could be a speech that President Bush gave last night or it could be an ad you saw on children’s television on Saturday morning.” Lasn is critical of those in the political left who “just mouth slogans and hold up placards at a protest” and he blames our consumer culture for creating a society full of “bogus types.”
“Anyone who grows up in this consumer culture of ours, from the moment they are a little baby crawling around the TV set to the time they become teenagers, their brains have already absorbed 350,000 television commercials. They have already been swimming around in this electronic environment of ours. I think those people have already been mindfucked.”
Lasn blames corporations like Nike and its CEO Phil Knight for creating what he calls a corporate pseudo kind of cool. “Teenagers are mindfucked into thinking they can get some kind of empowerment out of that and it makes them more mentally sick because it doesn’t work.”
“If you are wearing a black spot sneaker, you might be wearing real empowerment,” says Lasn. Adbusters is considering giving a symbolic share of the “unswoosher” stock to everyone who buys a pair of sneakers. There would be internet votes to determine where the profits would be spent and what the next shoe design would look like. Because Adbusters is a non-profit group, any money they make is poured into the foundation’s social marketing work. “If we suddenly made $10 million next year we would have no problem in putting it into Buy Nothing Day and buying more air time on CNN, and having one page in the Globe and Mail every week to complain about what CANWEST is doing.”
The blackspot sneaker will sell in the $40 range and will be made of hemp. Over 6000 people have preordered the shoe on the website, but the shoe will not be available through the website or in stores until September. (Editor’s note: As we go to press, Adbusters is now looking for a manufacturer in Poland, Spain or Portugal as the Asian factories visited did not meet the required working conditions. The good news is that they feel confident that they will be filling orders by September and will now be able to use hemp and other Earth-friendly materials.)
Nichole Huck is a journalism student at the University of Regina. To follow the progress of this un-corporate shoe making adventure, check the website at www.blackspotsneaker.org. For information about other Adbuster projects, go to www.adbusters.org.