B ack in June, a billboard near Unspun's office was altered overnight from an ad touting Lucky supermarkets ("Freshness First") to one denouncing worker exploitation ("Freshness First, Farmworkers Last, Lucky You're Middle Class").
At the time, no group claimed credit for the prank. One of the best-known Bay Area billboard saboteurs, the Billboard Liberation Front, expressed admiration for the craft and craftiness of the execution, but denied complicity.
Over the several weeks since then, Unspun has noticed one other Lucky's ad in the immediate area that had been tinkered with in a similar manner. This one read "Pesticides First. Lucky You're Not Dead."
Last week, the perps came a step closer to unmasking themselves with two separate mailings that landed within days of each other in the Unspun mailbag.
Inside the first unmarked manila envelope was a single sheet of what looked like a page from the California Department of Corrections Operations Manual, complete with state seal and bureaucratically utilitarian typography and layout.
There was also a Polaroid of an altered Maxwell House billboard, one of a series that recently went up juxtaposing Max-well House's longtime traditional image with trendy coffee-drinking habits.
The new version of the Maxwell House ad features a message in gold letters against royal blue that's decidedly different from what the good-to-the-very-last-drop people intended.
"We're partial to blacks but we also beat homos, hobos & whores," it reads. Next to the new slogan stands a riot-helmeted, storm-trooper, pig policeman with a dialogue balloon that says, "Bikes too." Which makes it especially timely.
Then Unspun took another look at the Department of Corrections "Operations Manual" page, which is reproduced above, along with some snapshots of what look like other examples of the prankster(s)'s work. Each photo bears a credit for the California Department of Corrections.
More than satire is involved in this effort; a slogan such as "Torch the ass of the ruling class" suggests serious, if not especially cogent, class politics at work. Happily, though, whoever's sending these messages, earnest though he or she might be, is smart enough to know that for people to absorb a message, they first must be interested, or even amused, by it. Come to think of it, that's just the tack that any successful advertising takes.