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Are you a target for, or a victim of 'Culture Jamming'?

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The revolution is here and culture jamming or media hacking is part of a movement - and its here to stay. With hundreds - if not thousands - of websites going up daily and even more articles being written as we speak - this movement is set to grow.

There are an increasing number of people who are becoming involved in culture jamming, a process through which everyday people can make their contempt of advertisers known through simple acts of vandalism, sabotage, creativity and imaginative spoof ads that counter the popular culture. They target the huge multinational corporations, and smaller companies, in an attempt to "bring their image factories to a sudden, shuddering halt." (Adbusters)

The primary belief that binds them together is that 'the shining hope for a revolution in human consciousness lies in the actions of everyday people.'

Their methods are simple. Everyday, more and more culture jamming is happening on the Internet, but many jammers still stick to their spray paint and creativity in sabotaging billboards, buses and anything else with an ad on it. They make creative weapons, including homemade 'billboard busters' in order to spray-paint tall billboards.

They aim to create anxiety, nervousness and frustration among the powerful corporations, feeling that 'the more they sweat, the more we smile.' They are active social critics, testing the limits of the law by printing and airing their own spoof ads anywhere they can.

They are everyday people like you and me, but they are actively trying to dismantle the consumer culture in which we live.

When the culture jam hits the fan
Don't let your legal team run your reputation campaign. When culture jammers target your organisation, get into crisis mode and don't knee jerk. Use sound thinking to respond to the situation say Janice Spark and Mandy de Waal of brand and reputation company, Idea Engineers.

Culture jamming has its roots in activism and uses viral marketing to make a point. As such, it gains widespread momentum and mobilises popular opinion to gain support for an alternative or resistance idea. From a branding perspective, culture jamming uses the same mediums and tools that brands use to reach consumers, only with a very different aim - to subvert these brands.

That's why you need a considered response when the culture jam hits the fan. When culture jammers target your brand and lawyers start getting involved, you are entering a perceptual battle field. You may win the court case against the culture jammers, but not the perceptual war. Idea Engineers offers pointers when you're the focus point of an activist jam:

Prepare and brainstorm ahead of time:

  • It's good policy to plan for a crisis before it happens. You may not know what the reputation crisis may be, but have a process for handling reputation fallouts. Create a crisis team, typically the people who protect your company's image and who have the skills you need to manage a calamity well. This could be your CEO, marketing manager and the person who heads up your PR. If you have external marketing and/or PR agencies get them involved.

  • Establish a "neighbourhood watch" and employ good online tracking and monitoring tools. A culture jamming whirlwind can break out during anyone's beat and typically will break online. Make sure you employ web spiders and engines to track what activists are saying about your brand. Watch for a tipping point when a whisper becomes a mass cry.

  • Brainstorm, strategise, leave emotion alone. Craft a smart strategy for responding based on scenario planning, rather than reacting emotionally. Scenario plan for best and worst case scenarios and create appropriate messaging and response strategies for each of your invented scenarios. The message is what you'll say and the tone you'll use for communicating. If nothing else, make sure that this messaging reflects the human face of your company.

  • List appropriate action steps for each potential scenario play out. Then get your reputation crisis team together and think through the implications and outcomes of each action and debate what would be the best likely actions.

  • Get professional help. There are a number of reputation, image and communications strategists who are the best in the field when it comes to handling a crisis. They already have the resources, experience and most of all credibility to handle emergencies that can shake your company and market standing. Don't go it alone. If you haven't already got an agency that can offer you the counsel you need, invest in the best.

Then when the culture jam hits the fan

  • Prioritise. Take action and focus. A reputation crisis is normally a time for urgent and decisive decision taking. Set everything aside to ensure the right people are taking the best decisions and taking action to contain the crisis and get it under control.

  • Turn up and face the music. If your culture jamming crisis is driven by a bad business horror story, your first instinct may be to dive for cover or head for the hills. That's the worst thing you can do. Face the crisis and take it on the chin, and see what meaningful action you can take to reposition and become a company that really cares for its constituents and the environment it operates in.

  • When speaking to the media keep open lines of communication. Be truthful, frank and factual.

  • Tone is everything. Ensure that when you do communicate, even if it is while you are issuing a holding statement, that you do so in a tone that is appropriate for your company and for the issue you are facing. Be human, kind, sympathetic and caring. Avoid being emotional and defensive. Never, ever be arrogant, condescending or rude.

  • Get good legal advice, but don't ever let the lawyers run your reputation campaign. They may know about suing, but will know very little about media management or crisis handling and could lead you into reputation and ruin through aggressive behaviour or by not considering the consequences to your brand.

Is this serious?
Yes, I personally think so. Culture jamming has been around from the early 80's in one form or another across various topics and for one reason or another. And according to important culture jammers such as Mark Dery, it is an attempt to 'jam' the transmissions of corporate- controlled media. Today more than ever, culture jamming is the key weapon in the 21st century's information 'war,' the outcome of which it is believed, could well determine our collective fate in business. 

Winnifred Knight

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