Activists hijack over 500 billboards to highlight aviation’s impact on the environment

On September 22, over 500 corporate billboards across Europe were “hijacked” by members of the Brandalism activist group. The group, made up of anonymous artists, covered the ads with satirical artwork denouncing advertising for the airline industry.

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Brandalism’s works have appeared in cities in the UK, Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Belgium and France to raise awareness of how aviation advertising contributes to global warming.

Destination airlines include KLM, Lufthansa, British Airways, Ryanair, Easyjet, SAS Airlines and Etihad, as well as the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The group says airlines are hiding their true environmental impact behind greenwashing programs.

The allure and glamor of high-carbon lifestyles like frequent flying have been deliberately staged by the advertising industry and show no sign of abating – despite one of the hottest summers on record.

Tona Merriman, Brandalism

“I don’t think we can underestimate the power of advertising to affect us in explicit or subliminal ways, and this project aims to underscore that and disrupt the normalization of advertising for products and services that we know that they are highly polluting and destructive,” he told artist Lidsay Grime, who crowned the Lufthansa billboard.

The group wants to push through a tobacco-style ban on airline advertising. As well as direct impacts, the group cites a Greenpeace report that global airline advertising was responsible for 34 megatons of CO2 emissions in 2019, equivalent to Denmark’s annual emissions in 2017, or burning 17 million tons of coal.

“Advertising agencies like Ogilvy, VCCP, Dentsu, DDB Munich need to consider their role in increasing emissions for airlines they work for like British Airways, Easyjet, KLM and Lufthansa. We urge employees at these firms to refuse to work for high-carbon customers,” said Brandalism’s Tona Merriam.

“This project feels very timely because there’s still a total cognitive dissonance that comes from living in a capitalist world – yes, heat waves and wildfires are our reality now, but still, why not get on a plane and drive on vacation? Advertising encourages this entirely, selling an image of flying as desirable, easy, something you can do without thinking. Social acceptance is bought with a nice dash of greenwashing with reassuring images and mentions of “carbon offsetting,” which is just an absurd PR exercise,” added Grime.