Getting to better ideas – #2


Just this word used to make me run scared. I almost failed high school because of it.

But now I’m coming back to it with new eyes and maturity (hysterical laughing) and I’m now starting to realise what an important tool it can be in a planning and creative toolkit.

We are always looking for fresh point of views on what a brand can say. And it becomes harder and harder to find interesting things to say on very generic territories, when your products don’t really have anything that stands out.

I came accross Guy Debord’s work recently, most notably the ‘detournement’ (I’m ashamed to admit it, being French) and thought it was fascinating.

Here’s a good definition for it, taken from BeyondTV:

Detournement is the subversion, devaluation and re-use of present and past cultural production, destroying its message while hijacking its impact.

Comics, ads, movies, ‘fine art’ or even city spaces are manipulated and placed in new and radical contexts (one contemporary example is ‘adbusting’ or ‘subvertising’ and culture-jamming).

Paris. May, 1968: the SI (Situationalist International) successfully fed the revolutionary spirit by subverting popular comics in posters and flyers.

Detournement is most commonly associated with the Situationalists, whose ideas and spirit inspired the near spontaneous revolution in France in 1968. Situationists envisioned a society on the foundations of creativity, pleasure and free play where people actively participated in the reconstruction of every moment in life.

By encouraging people to detourne their own everyday-roles, ‘spectacular lifestyle’ and seize control over their own lived space through the creation of unique situations, the SI hoped to achieve a way towards Utopia by functioning as the trigger to a grand anti-spectacular revolution by the people.

The Situationists were not the kind of people who thought the only right thing to do was just to sit down peacefully and wait for a revolution to pop up in a distant future. Instead they recognised the idea of doing something immediately and reinvent everyday life here and now as necessary.

Art was considered central in the deconstruction as well as reconstruction of society. Paintings, sculptures and such were considered ‘spectacular phenomenons’. Instead of transforming everyday life to art, it remained an entity separated from everyday life or just another type of commodity.

Situationist ‘art’ emphasised more on human interaction and the ‘art’ of creating new spaces and forms of communication. Arguing that our perception of the world is closely related to the structure of the society, the prime task was to liberate people’s everyday-life from the narrow-minded discourse provided from the spectacle. If ordinary citizens were given a widened and more creative perception of what our world was capable of becoming the structure of society would change.

It surprised me how modern these thoughts still sound and how relevant to our digital society they are. The situationalists thought that people should regain control of the media by participating and creating their own content…

There is a lot to be stolen and re-adapted from them. This philosphy has strongly inspired Adbusters for example. I loved how Guy Debord had put sandpaper on the cover of his book, the society of spectacle, so ir would destroy other books in a library. I believe there insights can be used to create advertising that is more intelligent and subtle, that challenge people perceptions. That uses provocation but in a positive way.

Modern philosophy is very readable and still very thought provoking. For interesting point of views on what a ‘home’ means to people, ‘the architecture of happiness, by Alain De Botton is a must read. (Especially read it if you work for Ikea). Providing inspirational insights on why human beings desperatly try to make a house a home. Actually I would recommend most of his books, just for general culture.

Before embarking on a brainstorming for a new client, I would strongly recommend quickly going through what philosophers have been talking about on your subjects… The relationship with a home, technology, what makes us happy… It will be worth it.

  1. 99ppp
    February 12, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    I’ve read about Debord, but have yet to pick up some of his books, thanks for they synopsis. The reclamation of culture from the mainstream mass media is one of the reasons I and many others blog.

  2. Hilly.
    March 25, 2008 at 4:49 pm


    I am actually currently writing a dissertation on the very same subject for the final semester of my degree in advertising. I think that there is a huge connection between what the Situationist International were saying/doing/promoting then, and how we can use it with regards to what is possible now. It could be argued that it ultimately boils down to the appeal of rebellion, but I think there is plenty of depth in the arguments that they put forward, its just a shame they were so against the trade! Beyond the ‘mymedia’/’user generated content’ point I think one particularly good example of an SI technique (detournement) being used, in the form of DIESEL, with their DIESEL WALL campaign.

    The fact that they call out to “artists, designers, creatives” and most importantly “activists” only highlights its SI routes further. Its interesting to think that if one of the ‘activists’ winning entry said “No to Iraq” or “Love your environment not your possessions” etc (in SI style), then DIESEL can come out smelling of roses. They are giving the little guy a platform, meaning big people points, then attaching their logo to it, which then results in people thinking “hey what a good thing DIESEL is doing, I never realised they cared” or “wow DIESEL is so right I think Ill check them out”. £££.

    I also recommend having a look at

    Definitely a non profit mission, more core to the SI, but its good to see its still happening somewhere!

    I have been thinking up/around some more theories in regards to (digital) derive and subversion, and particularly to your point about the use of provocation or intrigue in creative work. It would be great if you were interested in having more of a discussion about it, I was really pleased to find someone else looking in the same area!

    Great blog,
    take it easy.

    • February 24, 2010 at 8:31 pm

      Hey Hilly, what ever happened to your dissertation? I’d be interested in reading it.

      I’d like to point out that the “situationist uses” of media are to subvert capital, not to help you sell more products. But it is definitely interesting no? Since the 70s marketers and business entrepreneurs have been using the SI techniques and insights in order to “recuperate” revolutionary moments, ideas, and possibilities. So indeed, it appears even the SI itself has been recuperated by the spectacle of production.

      Here is a powerpoint presentation I did about the SI for an anarchist bookfair if you’re interested.

  1. September 11, 2008 at 10:23 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: