Noe Valley Voice February 1999

(Poster has been doctored to read, "We reward lying and cheating. Are you a Yuppie Hog?" Also, the words "STOLEN LAND" are scrawled across the bottom.)
Is This the Work of the Billboard Liberation Front?

By Suzanne Herel

With some strokes of the brush, an unidentified vandal creatively transformed this AT&T ad into a social statement. The poster remained on the bus kiosk at 24th and Castro streets for about a week in mid-January, unnoticed by Outdoor Systems, which rents out the space.

The artist picked a posh place to filch a free ride.

"[Noe Valley is considered] a high-fashion area, very upscale," said Ingrid Peterson, office manager for Outdoor Systems. Whereas space on bus kiosks elsewhere in the city can be had for as low as $700, this particular stop demands a monthly rent of about $1,250, she said.

Such graffiti is not unusual, but more often it's drawn on the outside of the glass casing. In this case, the vandal managed to slip the poster behind the glass.

The fake ad -- created from a poster for AT&T's new Lucky Dog Phone Company -- obscured an advertisement for Glaxo Wellcome's HIV drug treatment. That drug poster was restored to its rightful position shortly after Outdoor Systems got wind of the defacement.

The Lucky Dog Phone Company -- an AT&T brand name disguised as a new company offering cheaper long-distance rates -- has been widely criticized in the media. So there's a good chance the person who doctored the sign was trying to ding AT&T. However, if the message -- changed from "Are you a Lucky Dog?" to "Are you a Yuppie Hog?"--was meant to irritate well-heeled passersby, it may have missed its mark. Many locals stopped and praised the art.

Store employees at nearby Cotton Basics and Gallery of Jewels did not know when the well-camouflaged poster had first appeared. But they didn't have any complaints, either. "More power to whoever did it," said Guin Borstel of the Gallery. "Most of the public art is really ugly anyway -- it's nice to at least have something that has an opinion."

No one has taken credit for the vandalism, but the incident smacks of the work of the San Francisco ­ based Billboard Liberation Front. Perhaps best known for its Apple Computer Advertising Enhancement Campaign, the group of self-proclaimed "eccentric advertising professionals" has been amending outdoor advertising since 1977.

In the Apple campaign, members altered the grammatically incorrect "Think Different" slogan to "Think Doomed" to accompany the visage of Amelia Earhart; "Think Dead" for Alfred Hitchcock; and "Think Dividends" for Ted Turner. The group often targets Fortune 500 companies and has altered ads for Exxon, R.J. Reynolds, Zenith, and Plymouth.