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Billboard Liberation Front

 

The Billboard Liberation Front has been successfully improving outdoor advertising since 1977.

We hope you find the following primer useful and comprehensive. We have detailed methods for alterations ranging from the smaller, easily accessible boards, to the massive, more difficult ones on freeways.

In most instances, it should not be necessary to use the elaborate even obsessive precautions that the BLF has resorted to for an individual or group to get their message across. A can of spray paint, a blithe spirit, and a balmy night are all you really need.

There are many different reasons for wishing to alter or in other ways improve an existing advertisement. In this primer we avoid ideology and stick to practical information only.

1) Choosing a Board

Once you have identified a billboard message you wish to improve, you may want to see if there are multiple locations with the same advertisement. You should determine which ones give you more exposure than one on an obscure side street. You must then weigh the location/visibility factor with other critical variables such as physical accessibility, potential escape routes, volume of foot and vehicular traffic during optimum alteration hours, etc.

In choosing a board, keep in mind that the most effective alterations are often the simplest. If you can totally change the meaning of an advert by changing one or two letters, you'll save a lot of time and trouble. Some ads lend themselves to parody by the inclusion of a small image or symbol in the appropriate place (a skull, radiation symbol, happy face, swastika, vibrator, etc.) On the other boards, the addition of a cartoon “thought bubble” or a “speech balloon” for one of the characters might be all that is needed.

2) Preparation

a) Accessibility
How do you get up on the board? Will you need your own ladder to reach the bottom of the board's ladder? Can you climb the support structure? Is the board on a building rooftop, and if so, can it be reached from within the building, from a fire escape, or perhaps from an adjoining building? If you need ladders to work the board, occasionally they may be found on platforms on or behind the board, or on adjacent boards or rooftops.

b) Practicality
How big are the letters and/or images you would like to change? How close to the platform at the bottom of the board is your work area?

On larger boards you can rig from above and hang over the face to reach points that are too high to reach from below. We don't recommend this method unless you have some climbing and rigging experience. When hanging in one position your work area is very limited laterally. Your ability to leave the scene quickly diminishes proportionately to how convoluted your position has become. Placing huge words or images is much more difficult.

c) Security
After choosing your board, be sure to inspect it during day and night. Take note of all activities in the area. Who is about at 2:00 AM? How visible is your work area, both in front of and behind the board? How visible will you be while scaling the support structure? Keep in mind you will make noise; are there any apartment or office windows nearby? Is anyone home? Walk lightly if you're on a rooftop; who knows who you're walking over.

What is the visibility to passing cars on surface streets and freeways? What can you see from your work position on the board? Even though it is very difficult to see a figure on a dark board at night, it is not impossible. Any point you have line-of-sight vision with is a point you can be seen from.

How close is your board to the nearest police station or Highway Patrol headquarters? What is their patrol pattern in the area? Average response time to Joe Citizen's call? You can get an idea by staking out the area and observing. Is it quiet at night or is there a lot of foot traffic? When the bars let out, will this provide cover i.e. drunks keeping the cops busy, or will it increase the likelihood of detection by passersby? Do they care? If you are definitely spotted, it may pay to have your ground people check them out rather than just hoping they don't call the cops. Do not let them connect you with a vehicle. Have your ground person(s) pretend to be chance passer-by and find out what the observer thinks. We've been spotted at work a number of times and most people were amused. You'll find that most people, including officials, don't look up
unless given a reason to do so.

Go up on the board prior to your hit. Get a feel for being there and moving around on the structure at night. Bring a camera a good cover for doing anything you're not supposed to: “Gee, officer, I'm a night photographer, and there's a great shot of the Bay Bridge from up there ...”

Check out your escape routes. Can you cross over rooftops and leave by a fire escape across the block? etc., etc.

d) Illumination
Most boards are brightly lighted by floodlights of some type. Most large boards are shut off some time between 11:00 PM and 2:00 AM by a time clock control somewhere on or near the board. Smaller boards frequently are controlled by photo-electric cells or conventional time-clocks, also somewhere on the board. If you find the photo-electric cell, you can turn the lights on the board off by taping a small flashlight directly into the cell's “eye”. This fools the unit into thinking it is sunrise the time the lights are supposed to turn off.

As noted, most larger boards are controlled by time-clocks. These can be found in the control panels at the base of the support structure and/or behind the actual board itself. These panels are often locked (particularly those at the structure's base). Unless you are familiar with energized electrical circuitry and devices of this type we caution you to wait until the click shuts itself off at midnight or so. Many of these boards run 277 or 220 volts, and could cook you well-done.

3) Graphic Layout: Lettering and Image Design

a) Scale
If you are changing only a small area (one letter, a small symbol, etc.) you probably do not need to go to any elaborate lengths to match or design your “overlay” (we'll use this term to describe the finished image/lettering you'll be applying to the board). Just take actual measurements or tracings directly off the board.

If, however, you intend to create overlays of great size and/or number of letters and you want the finished image to look as much as possible like the advertisers themselves had made it, you should plan on more elaborate preparation.

Find a position roughly level with the board and in direct line with it looking square on (200 to 1000 or so feet away). Photograph the board from this position and make a tracing from a large print of this photo. Using measurements you have taken on the board (height, width, letter height, etc.) you can create a scale drawing of your intended alteration. From this, it is possible to determine how large your overlays will need to be and what spacing will be required between letters.

b) Colour Match
There are two basic ways to match the background and/or colours of the lettering or image area.

1) On painted or paper boards you can usually carve a small (1" by 1") sample directly off the board. This does not always work on older painted boards which have many thick layers of paint.

2) Most large paint stores carry small book paint samplers. It is possible to get a pretty close match from these samplers. We suggest sticking to solid colors and relatively simple designs for the maximum visual impact.

c) Letter Style
If you wish to match a letter style exactly, pick up a book of different letter types from a graphic arts supply. Use this in conjunction with tracings of existing letters to create the complete range of lettering needed for your alteration. You can convincingly fake letters that aren't on the board by finding a closely matching letter style in the book and using tracings of existing letters as a guide for drawing the new letters.

d) Application
We recommend not using overlays much larger than 4' by 3'. If your message is larger, you should section it and butt the sections together for the finished image. It gets very windy on boards and large paste-overs are difficult to apply. Some nights there is condensation on the boards, and the areas to be covered need to be wiped down. Use heavy pattern paper for overlays and gloss lacquer paint. The lacquer paint suffuses the paper, making it super-tough, water-resistant and difficult to tear. For making overlays, roller coat the background and spray paint the lettering through cardboard cut-out templates of the letters. For extremely large images or panels, use large pieces of painted canvas. The canvas should be fairly heavy to avoid being ripped to shreds by the winds that buffet most billboards. Glue and staple spanner 1” by 4” boards the entire horizontal length and bottom line of the canvas. The canvas will then roll up like a carpet for transportation and can be unrolled over the top of the board and lowered into place by ropes.

You can either tie the four corners and middle (top and bottom) very securely, or, if you can access the face of the board either by ladder or rope, attach the panel by screwing the 1” by 4” spanners to the board behind. A good battery-powered drill is needed for this. We recommend hex-head “Tek” sheet-metal screws, #8 or #10 size. Use a hex-head driver bit for your drill. These screws work well on either wood backboards or sheet metal.

To level overlay panels on the board, measure up from the bottom (or down from the top) of the board to the bottom line of where it needs to be in order to cover the existing copy . Make small marks at the outermost left and right-hand points. Using a chalk snap line with two people, snap a horizontal line between these two points. This line is your marker for placing your overlay(s).

Although there are many types of adhesive which could be used, we recommend rubber cement. Rubber cement is easily removable (but if properly applied will stay up indefinitely) and does not damage or permanently mark the board's surface. This becomes crucial if, after your apprehension, the authorities and property owners start assessing money lost due to property damage.

Application of rubber cement on large overlays is tricky. You need to evenly coat both the back side of the paste-over and the surface of the board that is to be covered. Allow 1-2 minutes drying time before applying the paper to the board.

To apply the cement use full-sized (10") house paint rollers and a 5 gallon plastic bucket. Have one person coat the back of the paste-overs while another coats the board's surface.

Both people will be needed to affix the coated paste-over to the finished board surface.

4) The Hit

Once you've completed all the preparation and are ready for the actual hit, there are many things which can be done to minimize the risk of apprehension.

a) Personnel
Have the smallest number of people possible on the board. Three is about optimum: two for the actual work, and one lookout/communications person. You will probably require additional spotting teams on the ground (see below).

b) Communications
For work on larger boards where you will be exposed for great lengths of time, we recommend hand-held communication devices (CB units or FM band walkie-talkies) if you have access to them.

Have one or two cars positioned at crucial intersections within sight of the board. The ground unit(s) should monitor oncoming traffic and maintain radio contact with the lookout on the board. (Note: do not use the popular CB or FM channels: there are many others to choose from. A verbal code is a good idea since others do have access to the channels you will be using.)

It is crucial that your ground crew do not lounge around outside their vehicle(s) or in any other way make it obvious that they are hanging around a likely desolate area late at night for no apparent reason. A passing patrol car will notice them much sooner than they would ever notice you on the board. Keep a low profile.

c) Escape
If you've done your homework, you'll know the terrain surrounding the board quite well. In the event of detection, prepare a number of alternate routes out of the area, and a rendezvous point with the ground support crew. If a patrol is approaching and you are in a difficult spot for quickly ditching and hiding (hanging on a rope in the middle of the board, for instance), it may be better simply to stay still until they pass. Movement is more likely to catch the casual eye. Once on the ground, if pursuit is imminent, hiding may be the safest bet. If you've covered the terrain carefully, you'll be aware of any good hiding spots. Keep in mind that if the police do a thorough search (doubtful, but not impossible), they will use high-powered spotlights and flashlights on foot.

Stashed clothing in your hiding spot may prove useful. A business suit, perhaps, or rumpled and vomit-encrusted leisure wear. Be creative.

5) Daytime Hits

We don't recommend this method for most high boards on or near freeways and major roads. It works well for doing smaller boards lower to the ground where the alteration is relatively quick and simple. If you do choose to work in the light, wear coveralls (company name on the back?), painters' hats, and work quickly. Keep an eye out for parked or passing vehicles bearing the billboard company or advertiser's name. Each board has the company emblem bottom center on it. If you're on a Sleaze Co. board and a Sleaze Co. truck pulls up, you're probably in trouble. It is unlikely that the workers will try to physically detain you (try bribery , if necessary) but they will probably call the cops.

Postscript

If anyone reading this primer finds it of any use in their own advertising endeavors, we at the BLF will consider it successful.

We believe roadside advertising enhancement is a pastime more individuals should engage in. It's not that difficult to do smaller, low-to-the-ground boards. A quick hit-and-run on such a board will not require all of the elaborate preparations and precautions we have detailed.

The more 'real' messages we have on the freeways and streets, the better.

R.O.Thornhill
BLF Information Officer

Processed World

(CX5047)

 

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