Roadside and urban billboards have been around in one fashion or another for a long time with their in your face messaging. They are a mixed blessing in size, placement and content that are viewed as an eyesore for some, a welcome form of getting the word out and receiving it for others to a source of irritation for those annoyed and feeling powerless by it being rooted in their backyard. There will always be those who find a way of dealing with it. Back in 1980 a group of people took charge in Santa Cruz. They discovered that …
Resistance is possible. Truth in Advertising, a clandestine network of midnight billboard editors, offered alternative viewpoints to the people of Santa Cruz California during the Reagan era. Truth in Advertising (TIA) got people’s attention with the precision of their alterations, made to look like real billboards, but with decidedly different messages. No Photoshopping here. These were real billboard alterations executed in the dead of night at significant person risk.
TIA briefly stood against a tide of corporate takeover of America that continues to grow stronger today. TIA hoped their billboards could wake people out of their consumer stupor long enough to remember that they were human beings first, and that the real problems in this world needed their attention. Like the members of the original Boston Tea Party, TIA took matters into its own hands, despite the personal risk.
Now the historic work of Truth in Advertising is available for the first time on the web. Truth in Advertising: Guerrilla Art in Santa Cruz 1980-1985 is a museum-quality exhibit of actual billboard alterations that appeared on the streets of Santa Cruz. The exhibit shows “before” and “after” photos of twelve billboard makeovers, while telling the story of TIA and documenting publicity and commentary. The exhibit originally ran in 2007 at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, where the museum directors deemed the work both art and history.
With the ascendancy of Donald Trump, some see such alternative messaging as even more necessary. The exhibit includes detailed illustrated instructions of how TIA did it back then, with suggestions for how more modern tools could be employed today. Not that anyone would encourage such illegal acts, of course.
Click to see the billboards
Robert Stayton was an integral player in TIA photographing the billboards at that time and digitally documenting them now. Resistance is Possible.
Truth in Advertising