Selling CCTV


CCTV camera operated by Manchester City Council and billboard advertising the mobile phone company, Three

There are almost as many CCTV cameras as advertising hoardings in the urban street scene. Both are so much part of the everyday experience of city living it was only a matter of time before cameras started appearing on the adverts in a kind of cultural cannibalism.


Advert for the charity The Prince’s Trust: The Prince’s Trust, the charity for young people set up by Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, used a picture of a CCTV camera to symbolise life as lived on the country’s streets. The advertisement read, “Surely this isn’t the only attention young people deserve”.


What are you looking at Graffiti attributed to Banksy: The camera in the Prince’s Trust advert was near Marble Arch tube station in London. The image as used on the poster had been cropped to exclude the words “What are you looking at”, which had been stenciled next to the camera by graffiti artist Banksy. Later, the camera was vandalised and has since been removed and the stencil erased.


One Nation Under CCTV mural by Banksy: Banksy used CCTV on a grander scale in 2008, with ‘One Nation Under CCTV’ – a 7 metre tall mural, painted on the side of a Royal Mail sorting office near Oxford Street in London. Despite becoming a tourist attraction, Westminster Council ordered its removal before the site was sold to developers. In the 1990s and Noughties, Britain did indeed become a nation under surveillance. But ironically as actual crime fell, fear of crime increased. While CCTV was assumed to make people feel safer, its presence made people think the city was an unsafe place to be. Although some people thought Big Brother was watching them, most CCTV was operated by shops to safeguard stock, rather than the authorities to protect people. And here on the high street was another contradiction – official bodies promoted surveillance cameras as benign guardians, whilst the fashion industry used them on their street wear as a shorthand for the edgy and urban. Brands such as Puma, Nike and Full Circle all produced clothing that featured CCTV cameras. One True Saxon sold T-shirts carrying the slogans “Smile, you are on CCTV” and “Stars of CCTV” (which was also the title for a 2005 album by the band Hard-Fi).


CCTV Generation Shop display for Bench clothing: In 2008, Manchester based street wear label Bench ran a whole advertising campaign called CCTV Generation.


Louis Vuitton window display: At the other end of the market, luxury label Louis Vuitton had window displays featuring dozens of silver plated CCTV cameras zooming in on one of their expensive, leather bags. It was unclear whether this was a take on the paparazzi photographing the catwalk, or the need to protect the luxury chattels of the rich from the ‘chavs’ in their street wear who coveted them.


Nike Airwalk CCTV t-shirt: James Treadwell of Leicester University wrote a paper ‘Call the (Fashion) Police: How fashion becomes criminalised’ for the British Criminology Conference. He did “…not see the fashion industry or sub‐cultural display as resistance”. In fact he was “…closer to the belief that in contemporary consumer society there is little authentic resistance; rather I take a view that every fashion fad and foible is the product of consumerism, even when it seems quite ardently anti‐consumerist”.


Diesel ‘Be Stupid’ advertisement: Diesel is one such company that has commoditised rebellion. But if the rebellion becomes more than a slogan on a t-shirt, it behaves just like any other billion pound brand. One of its “Be Stupid” advertisements featured a woman wearing their jeans exposing her breasts to a CCTV camera.


Screenshot of Diesel shop being looted during rioting in Manchester: But when rioters raided their Manchester store in August 2011, the brand handed its CCTV footage over to the police and called for arrests. Greater Manchester Police played it on their website, hoping to bring the rebellious to justice. The so-called “shopping riots” that took place in a number of British cities that summer, saw courts dish out sentences for theft and crimes against property that were harsher than many handed out for crimes against the person. An attack on consumerism was seen as a threat to the life and limb of the nation.


Greater Manchester Police ‘Shop a Looter’ advertisement: To catch the rebels, the Police used advertising posters with puns about shopping looters. Shops cashed in and held “riot sales”. It was all very different to the 1981 riots, which led to the setting up of The Prince’s Trust. In 2015 Diesel stockists Harvey Nichols and ad agency Adam & Eve/DDB used actual CCTV footage of shoplifters stealing from their Knightsbridge store to advertise a rewards app they were launching. In the 100 second long online advert, the identity of the thieves was obscured by superimposed cartoon facemasks. The shop and ad agency could not decide if the message was jokey or serious. The company’s marketing director said, “We wanted to create a campaign which plays on the universal truth that everybody loves a freebie”. Whilst the ad agency’s executive creative director reckoned the campaign, “…is designed to send a clear warning to the nation’s shoplifters. The only free thing they’ll get when they steal from Harvey Nichols is a day trip to the local police station”.


McDonald’s advertising poster: CCTV was by now so imbedded in the popular culture that it could be used playfully in a poster advertising a fast food chain, where a bag of McDonald’s French Fries is watched over by a surveillance camera.


British Transport Police poster: But playfulness could soon turn to paranoia. The terrorist attacks on 9/11 in New York and 7/7 in London were the spur for a massive increase in security measures all over the world. This time the enemy was within. Advertisements from official bodies such as British Transport Police fed public fears. Again there was a contradiction at work. Routine mass surveillance of the population had become accepted – people going about their daily lives expected to be watched, but a member of the public taking photographs was suspicious – especially if they were photographing the cameras that were photographing them.


Christmas is all about consumerism: and what could be more festive than Greater Manchester Police’s CCTV fairy lights?