The authors would like to thank Eben Kurtz for his valuable contribution to this post.
Heard of the climate activists defacing advertisements, billboards and bus shelters? Brandalism is a recent anti-advertising movement which uses a brand’s own assets and marketing channels against the brand itself, through replacing legitimate advertisements with spoofs and parodies (known as “subvertising”).
A brand needs to be prudent in response to these acts and attuned – from a public relations perspective – to the sensitivities involved. Nonetheless, these are often unsafe acts of criminal damage which aim to shock the public and defame the brand targeted. It is important for a brand to be aware of its legal rights in response – from criminal damage and defamation laws, to advertising, IP/asset/real estate protections.
By their nature, these subverted advertisements are deliberately intended to look similar to the original advert, which means there could be an infringement of copyright or trade mark law if a brand’s name, logo or image is used. From an advertising law perspective, the activists are often in breach of consumer and business protection regulations because the claims they make are often untrue and/or unsubstantiated. Activists will trespass on private land, unlawfully interfere with goods and cause criminal damage to property in the process, all of which can be actionable.