Ad Firm Sprays Illegal Graffiti on S.F. Sidewalks

The latest ‘guerrilla marketing’ campaign is called the Ms. Representation Project, but DPW classifies it as vandalism and Ms.-behavior.

Yet another corporate marketing campaign has been spray-painted onto San Francisco sidewalks, joining past street stencil scofflaws like Lyft, Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga. This time it’s a campaign called the Ms. Representation Project, a seemingly noble effort to “bring attention to our female legends who are so often overlooked.” The campaign is an effort of multinational advertising corporation DDB Worldwide, and purports to the commendable goal of recognizing women’s historical contributions. But are these street-art stencils legal or sanctioned by the city?

“They are not,” San Francisco Department of Public Works director of policy and communications Rachel Gordon tells SF Weekly. “The sidewalks are not billboards and the company behind the vandalism is subject to fees and possible legal action by the City.”


Update, Aug. 30, 1:30 p.m. : The ad campign has now also drawn the ire of The Representation Project, the equal rights advocacy nonprofit founded by Jennifer Siebel Newsom after the success of her 2011 documentary Miss Representation.  “This campaign is not associated, affiliated, or in any way involved with The Representation Project or the film ‘Miss Representation,” Siebel Newsom says in the statement. “DDB has appropriated the name of our first film without our permission. We have absolutely nothing to do with this illegal campign or its tactics, and we particularly condemn the use of vandalism in this ad campaign. We are asking DDB to discontinue using our name, and if the agency does not comply, we will take legal action.” 

Above we see one of these stencils in its lovely original form, as posted to Instagram last week, along with a fabulous shout-out to an underappreciated historical figure. But below we see the condition of this street graffiti just four days later — now fugly, illegible sidewalk dreck that it is not capable of directing anyone towards the women’s history resources it intends to promote.

Joe Kukura, SF Weekly


The name of the responsible advertising firm DDB Worldwide does not appear in the sidewalk stencils, nor on the name of the @MsRepresentationProject promoted in the graffiti back when it was still legible. But DDB’s name does appear front and center in the fawning media coverage of ad industry trade publications. DDB Worldwide did not return a request for comment as of press time.

While media reports attribute the stenciling to interns, trade publication AdWeek lists five DDB executives as “DDB Agency Leads” on the project.

A map on the Ms. Representation website lists 14 locations at which these homages are supposedly spray-painted, though SF Weekly did not find street graffiti at all of these spots. According to the project’s Instagram account, stencils have been spray-chalked on Davis Street, Haight Street, Harris Place, Howard Street, Fremont Street, Jackson Street, and Stanford Street.

We can’t argue against a Women’s Equality Day effort to recognize the hidden role of women in San Francisco history. But a global advertising firm like DDB Worldwide, with more than $100 million in annual revenue, could have afforded legal ads on a billboard or a bus stop. And considering how some of the ads have now degraded into illegible sidewalk splotches, there’s not much of a history lesson here.


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