Article – Flyposting

Fly On The Wall

(originally published 1/9/03 in TVS Magazine)

Walk down any street in Liverpool and the chances are that you will come across a poster affixed to an otherwise empty or derelict wall that is advertising something or other.

These are known as ‘flyposts’ and they are, and always have been, illegal. But just as every driver has at some point gone through a red light or parked in a no parking zone, flyposting is in that grey area of illegality that is only acted upon if you do it too often. This year, the City Council have taken the decision that enough is enough and they’ve declared war on flyposting.

Our ersatz mayor Mike Storey led the way. “We will be removing the posters on a daily basis to make the entire idea of sticking posters up in the first place is pointless. Fly posting is becoming a real problem in the city with the situation getting worse all the time.” It’s hard to disagree with some of these sentiments, as the act of flyposting becomes ever more blatant. Most posters are the work of teams of professionals in vans, who are paid by often large companies to turn parts of this city into unwanted advertising hoardings.

The results of the crackdown are there to see. Until recently, Seel Street was the most heavily flyposted area of the city. Abandoned buildings and renovation work have provided plenty of locations in which to plaster every conceivable advertisement known to marketing executives. Nowadays the walls have been stripped bare by the council’s crack team of poster removal men, who use high-powered jets of water to shift these unwanted and unloved posters. This is a good thing, surely?

Well, yes and no. It all rests on councilor Storey’s use of the phrase, “the entire idea of sticking posters up in the first place is pointless.” For many, flyposters are far from pointless even if they only remain up for a day. As anyone who has dipped their toes into the murky waters of the local music scene knows, that unless you do cover versions of ‘classics’ the concept of money is something that will have most promoters falling over laughing. For these people there is simply no other way letting people know about gigs. And considering that flyposting can have a huge effect on the amount of people who go to gigs of this sort, those tatty A4 photocopies are a vital and important way of getting that all-important first step on the road to a half-decent career.

Admittedly most of these posters are hardly works of art designed to brighten up the most lugubrious of city centres. But nobody who puts up these posters is under any illusion that what they are doing is illegal and the likelihood of being caught is ever-present. There is also the problem that the bands who do the most flyposting are generally the worst of their genre; as they try to make up for lack of talent and/or originality by spreading the message as far as possible like a particularly rotten lay preacher. Never mind the ever self-righteous political posters, shouting at us to smash the state or whatever’s occupying Dave Spart’s mind that week. The people behind these posters tend to think they’re on a mission, so the niceties of flyposting are often ignored. In the general scheme of things, it takes a while before anyone flyposts a ‘new’ site (say an empty shop or building work hoarding). Inevitably it’s the political posters who go up first, because they trade in noncomformity.

But even the most persistent of bands and political animals are a relatively small part of the problem. If it was just them defacing the city it’s unlikely that Mike Storey would have taken any action. Most people’s awareness of flyposting is of things far larger than A4 and deliberately eye-catching, not to say gaudy. Most clubs have the resources to afford huge posters and to employ teams of professionals to put them up. Whereas most bands cannot afford to pay for advertising on legal sites, these sort of companies most assuredly can. The reason why they don’t is not just penny pinching; they still continue to advertise illegally long after they’ve established themselves because it’s ‘cool’ to do so. A club advertising in bus shelters can’t be much of a club in most people’s eyes. In clubland, having some kind of attitude is something you must have to appeal to the punters.

When Cream was at its height it was one of the biggest employers in the city and raking in more money than the likes of you and me can comfortably conceive. Yet they still continued to flypost with an impressive ferocity, often occupying certain sites with such tenaciousness that most people assumed (wrongly) that they must have paid for it. All around the country, the growth of the superclubs encouraged similar activities in just about every city. For a long time these clubs enjoyed the hip cachet of flyposting and spent relatively little on advertising.

Some councils tolerated this more than others, but the problems began when other people saw the benefits as well. Clubs may have been relatively well off compared to most bands, but even they looked like paupers compared to the next lot to join the bandwagon. Seeing the credibility acquired by flyposting, the biggest advertisers in the land decided they wanted a piece of the action. If kids responded more to flyposts than billboards, then where better to advertise the latest supposedly cool film or video game or magazine? “Fly-posting is frequently recognised by international, blue-chip companies as the most appealing medium to not only give their brand more street credibility, but to target a very specific audience,” says one of the leading advertising agencies.

This is akin to when the CIA saw all the communist uprisings in the world and thought, “we can do that as well!” Most of these large ‘corporate’ flyposters are made by companies with lots of money, who could (and often do) advertise in more legal ways. They only advertise in this way because of that association with being ‘cool’, and they wouldn’t have that if it weren’t for the smaller flyposters they usually paste right over. Recently, an advertising agency got taken to court for ‘flyposting’ adverts for condoms over posters for Jaguar. If they have no respect for litigious car companies what chance have small gigs got?

With everyone turning any empty space into an advert something had to give. Liverpool is not alone in frowning on the recent explosion in flyposting, but we’re well ahead of everyone in declaring open war on it. The justification is the City of Culture, seemingly oblivious to the fact that most of the small posters they’re referring to are the culture at its most honest and grassroots level. But even the more blatant commercial flyposters look perfectly innocent when compared to the huge adverts which the council have seen fit to allow on the side of St. George’s Hall, or other buildings currently enjoying regeneration.

So who exactly is being targetted? The war against flyposting has not distinguished between the many forms there are, which may be fair enough. But what gets people up in arms is the council introducing loopholes allowing ‘legal’ flyposting on designated sites for a fee. So the large clubs and companies can continue to retain their perceived attitude to what is legal whilst paradoxically sucking on the very teet of comformity, whilst small gigs suffer, unable to pay these sort of fees – the very reason flyposting existed in the first place.

The crackdown isn’t just limited to occasional removal. Some of the venues that the posters are advertising have been brought before the court and heavily fined for activities that some of them had nothing to do with. What venue is going to put on gigs when the likelihood is that the bands they put on will get them a hefty fine simply for wanting people to know about it? Recently, a band was stopped from performing at a venue by the promoters because of their overly exhuberent attitude to flyposting. Whilst the crackdown continues, things are only going to get worse.

However there may be a way round things. It seems that someone on the City Council does have a modicum of sense and have ostensibly targeted fines at posters that remain up long after the gigs they advertise have passed. This weights things in favour of the smaller bands and against clubs, which of course tend to be ongoing. It also favours films and video games, of course, which tend to be for a relatively short period when the product is first released. So if you want to advertise your gig and not get into serious trouble, make sure that the posters are removed before seven days have passed after the gig. This won’t be for everyone of course, and it’ll be interesting to see how many bands quickly grown tired of doing this when they could be smoking groupies or something, but it’s got to be better then being banned from every venue in town.

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About klausjoynson
I'm a writer, editor, musician, DJ and cartoonist. Contact me at: klausjoynson(at)gmail.com or follow me on Twitter: @KlausJoynson

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