Saturday, 16 November 2019

Notes from "Led by Donkeys" by Led by Donkeys

Led by Donkeys, four activists who used billboard posters to highlight political hypocrisy, have published a book describing how they formed and their early campaigns. It's a great little book (buy it at Hive), recommended without reservation. This post mentions just a few of the points made which particularly caught BFTF's attention.

Led By Donkeys : How four friends with a ladder took on Brexit

Led by Donkeys formed late in 2018 when they decided to use billboards to highlight the "most offensive lies, lunacy and hypocrisy of our Brexit overlords", quickly finding examples such as these :

"The day after we vote to leave we hold all the cards and can choose the path we want" - Michael Gove

"The Free Trade Agreement that we will do with the European Union should be one of the easiest in human history" -Liam Fox

"There will be no downside to Brexit, only a considerable upside" - David Davis

"Getting out of the EU can be quick and easy - the UK holds most of the cards in any negotiation" - John Redwood

Initially, Led by Donkeys ran a guerilla campaign, "borrowing" billboards and pasting the posters, nervously, and somewhat illegally, by night. As they had never done this before, they had a steep learning curve (protip, it turns out, is to make sure your paste isn't too runny). Incidentally, an actual physical poster (which comes in 12 sections) is quite cheap, around £40. It is the time on the hoarding that is expensive, unless you are stealing that, of course.

One of the first posters. Credit : LBD / Twitter

By February 2019, and with only a handful of posters having being put up, media attention was already resulting in politicians being asked to account for their quotes.

Also, people were asking, via social media, for Led by Donkeys to put posters up in their part of the UK, and suggesting that the group should crowdfund to finance the effort. Realising that their guerilla posters were being taken down quickly, and that their family and work commitments mean they could not give the project as much time as there was demand for posters, the group decide to take the crowdfunding route. They aim for £10k and after 48hrs find that they have received over £56k!

Led by Donkeys start calling up companies who own billboards. First up is market leader JCDecaux, who have previously had no problem plastering UKIP posters around the UK. Their response : "Absolutely no way. Sorry, this is all to political for us".

Fortunately, two smaller outfits, Airoutdoor and Build, are interested in putting up Led by Donkeys posters. Well, all apart from one poster. It's non negotiable from the Led by Donkeys point of view, so the team post it up themselves as one final guerilla posting before going legitimate.

Last poster before going legit. Credit : LBD / Twitter

But Led by Donkeys still need one of the big players to get the posters truly national. And after a "short but intense bollocking", Clear Channel (one of whose boards LBD has pasted over in the early days) agreed to take LBD's business.

Clear channel owned a number of double sized boards, which allowed two tweets to be displayed side by side, emphasising the hypocrisy :

Side by side Tweets highlight hypocrisy. Credit : LDB/ Twitter

By now, the group are on a roll and posters are appearing across the UK, many of which are pictured in the book, which also talks about how the group reacted to (justified) criticism of some of the posters; how the group trolled Nigel Farange on his march; and the last minute efforts to get a huge banner unfurled at the March 2019 People's Vote march.

Banner at the March 2019 People Vote March. Credit : Jiri Rezac/ Led By Donkeys

It is also fascinating to see what is, or is not, acceptable to the ad companies and to local councils. In one project, LBD, ask local activists to spray paint their comments onto blank template of a Jeremy Corbyn tweet. The activists duly oblige - but the next day the local council (Islington) give orders for the poster to be covered up, saying its graffiti. So LBD use a press picture of the spray painted board, mock it up on a computer with an ornate frame and order that as a poster. Now, apparently, it is allowed to stay up!

As mentioned earlier, this is a book that is recommended without reservation!