‘I believe that in design, thirty percent dignity, twenty percent beauty and fifty percent absurdity are necessary’ – Shiego Fukuda
In an age when materialistic tendencies are next to godliness, it’s unsurprising that we’ve become a greed-filled world who is hell-bent on having the latest iPhone more than we would be world peace. Cue ‘Adbusters’. This non-profit making group of activists, artists and educators tackle real-time worldwide problems that are affecting western cultures.
Fig 1. The Adbusters Mar/Apr 2012 cover
In March/April 2012, their magazine hit the stands with the iconic image of a stacker hamburger slapped on the front cover (Fig. 1). Why? Because ‘Adbusters’ believe we have become a culture of greed and what better way to say it than with the whole ‘eyes are bigger than your belly’ approach. This being one of the less shocking examples, Adbusters are a company that uses a shock-effect.
Fig 2. A pie chart showing America’s spending, 2012
Much like Fukuda said, absurdity is the main ingredient for a piece of graphic design to impact its intended audience. With influences such as war, discrimination and government spending for their imagery, Adbusters take the stories that are swept under the mat by large corporations and express them in a very public and effective manner. I believe that not only are the group putting an emphasis on our spending, but also the spending of people in higher positions (Fig 2.).
Fig 3. A McDonalds menu advertisement
The Adbusters image in question (Fig 1.) references back to the McDonalds saga that is ongoing in this group’s publications. They seemingly attack large corporations to try and uncover what they are hiding and it is obvious who is being targeted in this image campaign. The iconic burger beef and burger make-up has been copied – yet, not the absence of salad. Normally, in the generic pictures we are presented with are of well photographed burgers, that have been dolled up to the nines for hours on end just for one image (Fig 3.). This is not the case in the Adbusters cover. What would normally be a light, well-constructed food item has been stripped of its selling points and we are presented with a stacked burger, full of grease, melted cheese and again, minimal salad.
We could all agree that the foods we see in McDonald’s images are never really what we get in real life. The well positioned lettuce is only a mere dream when you open the box to see it hasn’t been lovingly pieces together, more thrown in. This is what is being said to us. We are a nation of materialistic consumers and we are being presented with the idea that we are being lied to, much to the benefit of large companies.
Fig 4. German propaganda from WW2
The main question is, is this just glorified propaganda? It would seem like a very ethical group of individuals are trying to offload unheard of stories onto us, with good intent but if we look back onto pieces of design with the same function (Fig 4.), we could argue that it isn’t actually as ethical as we once thought because – in honesty – we could be presented with a biased interpretation.
MCDONALDS, http://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en/food.html [Accessed 26th November 2013]
ADBUSTERS. (2012) Are We Happy Yet? Issue 100 (March/April)
DESIGN HISTORY, http://www.designishistory.com/1960/shigeo-fukuda/ [Accessed 26th November 2013]
ADBUSTERS, https://www.adbusters.org/magazine/100 [Accessed 26th November 2013]