Flyposting is evil

When I was about sixteen, I went flyposting with a bucket of wallpaper paste, a stack of photocopied A4 posters and a bass player. We put posters on bus stops in our home town, in the surrounding towns and in the town where our band was due to play, and it was nerve-wracking stuff: we were under no illusions that if the police had caught us, we’d be in big trouble. We’d have been forced to remove our posters, and we’d have been cautioned. Fifteen years on and I’m deeply ashamed that I ever did it, and I reckon that had the police caught us and forced us to lick every last drop of paste from the bus stops we’d defaced, the punishment still wouldn’t have fit the crime.


[Photo: BBC News]

Flyposting is vandalism, pure and simple. It turns entire streets into something that’s a cross between a pound shop and a teenager’s bedroom, it makes some of the most beautiful parts of the city into an eyesore, and it’s completely and utterly unnecessary. And in typical old curmudgeon style, I think Something Should Be Done.

Before I suggest a solution, I’d like to demolish a few myths.

Flyposting is essential for underground promoters.

None of the flyposters I’ve seen recently have been for underground events. They’ve been for some of the biggest club promoters and biggest record labels on the planet, organisations who engage in flyposting because the fines are a drop in the ocean compared to their marketing budgets.

Let’s take a real-world example. There’s a BT exchange box a few yards from my flat, and it’s constantly being flypostered. Without fail, the posters are expensive, full-colour jobs for struggling artists such as Muse (Warner Brothers) and Dogs Die In Hot Cars (V2, a subsidiary of Virgin). These are not local bands trying to pull in a few extra punters for a gig at Nice N Sleazy; these are bands whose record companies are multi-million pound enterprises. It’s worth noting that the British Phonographic Industry – the industry organisation that represents the UK’s biggest labels – has urged all its members to stop using flyposting.

Another example? Have a look at www.flypost.it, whose posters are all over the city. The logos on its site – which I assume suggest the firms it wants to work with, rather than the firms it currently works with, because I don’t want to get sued – include Miller, Budweiser, HMV, Kickers, MTV, Schwarzkopf and Smirnoff. The last time I checked, these firms’ bosses weren’t busking for coins on Ashton Lane.

Flyposting is essential because advertising is too expensive.

See above. Sony can afford it. Warners can afford it. BMG can afford it. And it’s the music business – the big labels, not poor, broke indie types – who do the most flyposting. As the Tidy Britain Campaign notes:

Following a survey of some of England’s cities, Keep Britain Tidy revealed that while night-clubs, political parties, theatres, cinemas and religious groups (such as Gouranga) were advertising their messages illegally – the music business is still doing the most posting.

Even for small enterprises, you can advertise for buttons. Fanzines would appreciate the support; low circulation music magazines don’t cost the earth, and so on. You could argue that flyposting is attracting money that would otherwise go to these publications.

Flyposting isn’t vandalism. People who flypost are responsible.

That’s why every lampost is covered in stickers promoting bands who broke up five years ago, posters for events that happened six months back, and wrapped in plastic cable ties left behind from posters that blew away last winter. That’s why flyposters – again, for big clubs and record labels – have been placed not just on shopfronts, but over the plaques on monuments, bridges and other things that are a damn sight more valuable than a club night’s lineup.

Flyposting doesn’t harm anyone.

The Tidy Britain Campaign says:

a good proportion of the £342 million of public money that is spent every year clearing litter is used to combat flyposting.

It’s estimated that illegal music flyposting saves firms around £8 million per year in advertising, and the cost of removing the posters comes from people’s council tax. Doesn’t it give you a warm glow to think that your Gran’s council tax is helping big corporations save so much cash?

But of course, most flyposters don’t get taken down by councils. They’re replaced with others, or left to fade, tear and rot, a semi-permanent blight on the landscape.

So, Something Must Be Done. But what?

Learn from the continent.

In places such as Paris, you’ll see giant postbox-style drums where people can advertise for free. Edinburgh council is apparently considering introducing similar things, via a firm called City Centre Posters; other councils have introduced public noticeboards. Let’s have more of them (so that small venues, bands, political rallies etc can still promote themselves) – and let’s have limits on what can go on them. You want something the size of a billboard? Pay for a billboard. Can’t afford a billboard? Tough. I can’t afford an Aston Martin, so I drive a Renault.

Here’s an example of a public noticeboard in Dundee:

It’s still relatively small scale (and there’s some controversy over who can and can’t use the boards) but it’s a step in the right direction.

Fight fire with fire.

Some English councils have a novel approach: instead of taking down the posters, they post “Cancelled” notices on them. In some towns that approach has made flyposting virtually disappear. Here’s an example, from somewhere in England:

The image (from a council web site) is a pretty good illustration of what I’m talking about: the poster is an advert for a commercial operation, and you know damn well they can afford to buy advertising.

Get the organ grinder, not the monkey

Going after the individuals who put up the posters isn’t really a deterrent – remember, we’re talking about giant firms saving eight million quid a year here. So go after the organ grinder and ramp up the fines dramatically so they’re as expensive as advertising, and use the money to pay for better clean-up squads to get rid of the posters that will continue to appear. And if it’s unclear who’s responsible – a common ploy is to talk about independent third parties who just happen to put posters up, it’s nothing to do with us, we’ve no idea why they’d want to promote our products or artists – then fine whoever benefits from the poster campaign. So if the posters are for Dogs Die In Hot Cars’ new album, fine the record label. And make the fines count, so that proper, paid advertising looks much more attractive than flyposting.

I’m not naive enough to believe that these things will abolish flyposting altogether: as long as sixteen-year-olds can get easy access to wallpaper paste and a photocopier, posters will still appear. But it’s become a multi-million pound industry, an industry that holds councils and the public in utter contempt, costs you and me a fortune and looks bloody awful. Of course companies should be able to promote their products, but not by flouting the law, turning streets into giant billboards and defacing the environment.

29 thoughts on “Flyposting is evil

  1. Squander Two says:

    I don’t knwo whether this is the case UK-wide, but in Glasgow the idea that flyposting can be done really cheaply is out of date: it’s cheap by the standards of large companies, yes, but your 16-year-olds with their cheap photocopies simply can’t afford it, because the flyposting is now run by organised crime. The only way to flypost in Glasgow is to pay the crime syndicate who do the flyposting. If you stick a poster up on any of “their” sites without their permission, they will, if you’re lucky, cover your poster with one of theirs within an hour or two. That’s if they don’t catch you at it: if they do, they’ll beat you up.

    I have to take issue with your mention of cable-ties on lampposts: that’s not flyposting. The law states that you are allowed to advertise on street furniture (that’s legalese for lampposts and benches and telephone exchange boxes and such) as long as your advert is easily removable and does no damage to the street furniture. So a sticker on a lamppost is illegal, but putting a poster on a piece of board and tying the board to a lamppost is OK, which is why politicians advertise that way during elections.

  2. Gary says:

    I deliberately didn’t mention the crime element, because I fear lawsuits. And death threats :-)

    But you learn something new every day – I didn’t know about the street furniture thing. You’re a mine of information.

  3. Squander Two says:

    Just had another thought. Gosh.

    While your idea of suing whoever makes a profit from the advertising is good on its face, it would lead to abuse. Got a grudge against a company? Print up a load of flyers for their latest event, stick ’em all over town, and sit back and watch the authorities come down on them. It would just make it incredibly cheap and easy to frame people and have genuinely innocent people fined. In fact, it would be so easy to incriminate people that I wouldn’t be surprised if it were to cause an increase in flyposting, with the bizarre twist that everyone would be paying to advertise their competitors’ products instead of their own.

  4. Gary says:

    Yeah, I’d considered that but decided it was pretty unlikely – although I’m sure anti-McDonalds or whatever activists would probably try it. Then again, it’s certainly possible that it might lead to more, not less, flyposting.

    I’m interested in any bright ideas about how the flyposting thing could be solved – it’s a real pet hate of mine…

  5. Anonymous says:

    What exactly do you mean by ‘crime sydicate’? And Gary what’s all this ‘fear of lawsuits and death threats’. How many fly posterers have you met in your lifetime – where is your evidence/experience of these syndicates / death threats etc? If a local promoter such as myself or a new band asked for advice on how to promote their venture what would you tell them? Go to JC Decaux or Clear Channel and spend 2 thousand pounds a week on a billboard? Or go to your local authorised scheme provider such as city centre posters and spend £40 for 2 weeks poster display in central locations?
    Fly posting is not the way forward but neither is zero tolerance. Key UK cities are renowned for their street culture and vitality do we really want to end up with cities that look like Singapore and is it really fair to expect promoters and SMEs to stretch their tiny marketing budgets to more prolific outside advertising multinationals – I’d rather put my money into a locally run authorised scheme, or in a city where no such scheme exists i’d rather give my money to a local flyposterer than a multi national corporation such as Clear Channel any day!

  6. Gary says:

    Hi anonymous. I’ll let Squander Two comment on your questions to him…

    > And Gary what’s all this ‘fear of lawsuits and death threats’.

    That was a throwaway gag :-) But then again, I’ve a number of musician friends who’ve had hassles flyposting in other people’s “patch” – and as flyposting is illegal, by definition any organisation that does illegal flyposting is a criminal organisation, surely?

    > If a local promoter such as myself or a new band asked for advice on how to promote their venture what would you tell them?

    I’ve already covered a lot of that in the blog entry: fanzines, advertising. Use the internet. Flyering. Street teams. They all work and they’re all relatively inexpensive – particularly street teams.

    > Go to JC Decaux or Clear Channel and spend 2 thousand pounds a week on a billboard?

    Again, I’ve covered that in the blog post.

    > Or go to your local authorised scheme provider such as city centre posters and spend £40 for 2 weeks poster display in central locations?

    I’m not suggesting that legal poster zones are the answer, but I do think they’re a step in the right direction. Price, positioning etc is something for interested parties to discuss with councils.

    > Fly posting is not the way forward but neither is zero tolerance.

    I’m not suggesting no posters at all; however, what I am against is the flyposting that covers every available surface. For example, a shop in my street was being refurbished recently; within *hours* of the boards going up, every available surface was covered with posters from major record labels. I’m inclined to agree with the “broken windows” theory, that widespread postering makes an area look worse than it is.

    > is it really fair to expect promoters and SMEs to stretch their tiny marketing budgets to more prolific outside advertising multinationals

    But that’s my point: it’s not SMEs, it’s Sony, and BMG, and various other giant corporations. Drinks companies. Lifestyle brands. Etc etc etc. Why should these firms be allowed to break the law and run up huge costs for clean-up operations? It’s not as if they’re broke.

    The other problem I have with it is about advertising in general: why does a company’s “right” to advertise overrule any other consideration, such as people’s right to enjoy their cities, or their right to have the council tax they pay go on something more beneficial than stripping down posters? Remember, this is something that costs councils hundreds of thousands of pounds per year.

    > I’d rather put my money into a locally run authorised scheme

    So we agree, then :-) I do think something like that is the answer. How it would/should work, I’ll leave to the people who want to advertise, and the councils who can organise it.

  7. John D. says:

    I find this debate really intersting and as a small (“amateur”?) promoter I can see both sides of the debate. Advertising undoubtedly raises awareness of gigs ina direct way that browsing (or advertising) on the internet won’t. I have considered using fly posting but have always been deterred by the criminal connotations.

    I think the middle ground is for legal drums owned by companies such as City Centre Posters. That way advertising can still go ahead, but administered by a legitimate and transparent company.

    D.

  8. roland says:

    Does anyone have any idea who is behind legitimate company city centre posters?
    let me tell you…
    Its the same guy Tim Horroks who got served an ASBO for flyposting illegally all over London. trying to pull the wool over the eyes of both Glasgow and Edinburgh city councils.
    But Glasgow City Council are already onto him.

  9. roland says:

    ps/ does anyone know how much these CANCELLED STICKERS are costing Glasgow taxpayers???

  10. Gary says:

    Roland, it’s a four year old article and reflects the situation at the time. I’ve absolutely no idea how the posting scene works now. That said:

    > Does anyone have any idea who is behind legitimate company city centre posters?

    They’ve got the same address as Diabolical Liberties, certainly, which suggests that Horroks is behind it – but I can’t find any indications that CCP is doing anything that isn’t above board. What is GCC “onto him” about?

    > does anyone know how much these CANCELLED STICKERS are costing Glasgow taxpayers???

    Less than flyposting firms are spending, I’d wager. Me, I’d like to see the council paste over posters with something nice rather than just cancelled stickers.

  11. roland says:

    Everyone knows that diabolical liberties continues to illegaly flypost all over Glasgow whilst operating City Centre Posters under the legitimate guise.

    most recent illegal campaigns by Diabolical liberties-Charlene Spitteri,Primal Scream,Fratellis to name but a few.

    come on Gary surely you are smart enough to see whats going on here!

  12. Squander Two says:

    > come on Gary surely you are smart enough to see whats going on here!

    Yeah, come on, Gary! When are you going to do something about all this fly-posting, eh? Eh?

  13. taffy says:

    the last politician to lock up a flyposter guy was Adolf Hitler, i can see hes got a lot of fans hear

  14. Gary says:

    Heh. On a related note, last time I was in Great Western road there were council-provided poster sites all over the shop. They didn’t exist when I wrote this post.

  15. mupwangle says:

    You know who the last person was to put up poster sites on Great Western Road? Hitler.

    Probably.

  16. RedFaceG says:

    You truly are aWESOME!!!!! [edited so you’re no longer breaking the “don’t be a dick” comments policy. You’re welcome – G]

  17. sweendexter says:

    The whole point of fly-posting is that it is a cheap but more importantly powerful means of getting your point/brand noticed.
    having legal advertising drums means poster coverage
    is very limited.
    eg- 50 sites = 50 posters required.which is nothing in terms of coverage.even 200 sites could never compete with 5000 flyposting Glasgow sites.

  18. Gary says:

    Yes, of course, and that’s why companies do it. They believe that promoting their brand is more important than respecting people’s environment.

  19. sweendexter says:

    Respecting other peoples envionment eh? a few posters could never have the same effect of pollution from car exhausts or passive smoking from smokers who now stand hugging doorways which they think constitutes outside.
    and then theres Glasgow junkies who currently intimidate the good people of Glasgows westend?
    Junkie Glasgow or Flyposting Glasgow.what is your preference Gary?

  20. Gary says:

    You do know those things aren’t connected, don’t you? It’s not a Walking Dead scenario, with a motley crew of brave fly posters holding back the junkie hordes. And as the post says, cleaning up flyposting wastes money councils could use elsewhere.

  21. sweendexter says:

    Flyposting Glasgow is harmless Squander Two and Junkies not harmless.
    posters have been around since Roman times as a means of communication,a bit like road signs.yeah you are right Gary councils should not waste money on cleaning posters and clean up the Junkies instead.

  22. Squander Two says:

    Sorry, are you saying that there is currently no government money spent on getting rid of junkies? Because I was under the impression that the prohibition of drugs is one of the most expensive things the state does. You appear to be saying that if they just spent another million or two, the junky problem would be solved. If you seriously think the reason we have drug addicts is that not quite enough money has been spent on drug prohibition and associated campaigns, you’re deluded.

    But go on, tell us: if the money spent on clearing up fly-posters was instead made available to you to “clean up the Junkies”, how would you spend it? Most of the world’s governments have spent decades looking for the panacea that, apparently, is just easy and obvious to you. You should become a consultant and make a fortune flying the world telling them all about it.

    Incidentally, fly-posting is not harmless. If I own a commercial building that happens to be unoccupied for a couple of weeks, it’ll be covered. The massive amounts of money I then have to spend clearing it up is harmful to me. That increased cost makes it more difficult for me to turn that empty building into a business, meaning that I will employ fewer people, which is harmful to the unemployed people who, as a result, stay unemployed. There’s also the Broken Window Theory (which has been shown to be valid by New York over the last twenty years), which tells us that all that highly visible obviously vandalised property leads to higher crime rates in the surrounding areas.

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