Max Factor 26 billboard improvement campaign launches the Billboard Liberation Front

Practitioner: 

Date: 

Dec 1 1977

Location: 

San Francisco, CA

For 35 years, the Billboard Liberation Front have been altering public advertisements in San Francisco under the cover of night, strategically changing words or phrases to invert the intended message of corporate sponsors. Considering their guerrilla reclamation of public space an "improvement of outdoor advertising," the BLF regards the advertisers whose billboards they improve as clients, for whom they are performing a vital service.

In late 1977, members of what would become the BLF were invited to a SF Suicide Club prank entitled "Enter the Unknown." "Participants met, were blindfolded, and led to an undisclosed destination. Once there, the dozens in attendance climbed a rope ladder to the roof of the building, upon which was mounted a doubled sided billboard. On both sides of the board, the same commercial message was visible to passers-by:

"WARNING: A pretty face isn't safe in the city: fight back with Self Defense, the NEW moisturizer by MAX FACTOR."

After discussing suggestions, activists agreed on altering the message to read: "...fight crap with Self Respect, the NEW moisturizer by MAX FACTOR" on one billboard, and "...fight back with Self Abuse, the NEW mutilator: AX FACTOR" on another.

The group was later apprehended by the authorities, and become known as the Max Factor 26. The prank inspired participant Jack Napier to embark on a sustained campaign of billboard reclamation, taking aim at the cigarette and oil companies, fast food chains and the fashion industry. The group continues to operate in semi-anonymity, altering billboards across a diverse range of campaigns.

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