The company that's doing well out of flyposting's pasting

Can't slap it on a wall? Put it in a goody bag. That's Don't Panic's approach to posters
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The Independent Online

Defenders of "guerrilla" advertising have greeted the demise of flyposting in the face of the threat of Antisocial Behaviour Orders (Asbos) with dismay, warning of a stifling of youth culture. But for the Brixton-based ambient media company Don't Panic, the clampdown heralded by Camden Council's landmark legal victory over the flyposting company Diabolical Liberties last September has come as a boon.

Defenders of "guerrilla" advertising have greeted the demise of flyposting in the face of the threat of Antisocial Behaviour Orders (Asbos) with dismay, warning of a stifling of youth culture. But for the Brixton-based ambient media company Don't Panic, the clampdown heralded by Camden Council's landmark legal victory over the flyposting company Diabolical Liberties last September has come as a boon.

Don't Panic saw a 100 per cent upturn in bookings in the last three months of 2004. The company's main selling point is a poster - not one hastily pasted up on a grimy wall, but a limited-edition piece of art given away as part of a goody bag filled with flyers and freebies such as sweets, condoms, aftershave and vitamins.

Clients include major music labels such as Virgin and Warner Music, the film companies Pathé, Fox and United International Pictures, the computer- games giant PlayStation, and fashion labels such as Ted Baker, as well as more alternative events.

Each of the posters, which change every fortnight, is designed to be collectable and cutting edge, covering issues ranging from anti-war protests to the destruction of the rainforests, explains Nick Agha, one of the directors of Don't Panic. The cream of street artists have created the posters, including the graffiti artist Banksy, who designed the cover for Blur's Think Tank album. "The idea is that we make this poster as valuable as possible. We want people to take it home with them. If you kept it for 10 or 20 years, it would give you an idea of what was happening at that time," says Agha.

Providing a 100 per cent recyclable product that people will keep rather than discard in the street is a central part of Don't Panic's mission - an ethos that contrasts with the perceived nuisance of flyposting.

Tim Burrowes, the editor of the advertising and marketing trade magazine Media Week, says: "Don't Panic started doing this long before the pressure was really on flyposters, which has really only been over the past six months to a year. But what they have done is quite cleverly present themselves as an edgy alternative."

Other alternatives to flyposting include taking a dirty wall, putting a template on it and, using a hose to clean that part of the wall, leaving behind a message. Diabolical Liberties is also campaigning for legal flyposting areas. "That's a desperate attempt by them to hang on to their business," says Burrowes. "The other thing that achingly trendy people do is to pay a bunch of actors to go into a bar and talk about their product."

Despite no longer getting the orders, flyposting gangs are putting up fake posters to keep their territory. But they appear to be fighting a losing battle. The advertising industry has joined in the opposition, banning companies from winning awards if their campaign includes flyposting. "The media industry already has enough of an image problem. What they need to do is to show that they are responsible. The vast majority of the industry is coming down quite hard on it. Particularly since the Asbos in Camden, it's much rarer to see mainstream brands flyposting," says Burrowes.

Virgin commissioned a Don't Panic poster to promote The Chemical Brothers' new album, Push the Button, and is using the company again to promote the new Daft Punk album. Ben Curwin, product manager at Virgin, says: "We produced posters that went into their publicity pack, and we had very good exposure. We as a label did a lot of flyposting, and the legislation that came in has curtailed that. For dance and urban acts, flyposting was an important part of the mix. This is an alternative way still to target those clubbers, and it's something that people will take home with them."

When Don't Panic formed five years ago, it distributed 10,000 poster packs a month. This figure has increased sevenfold, and there are now bases in Brighton and Norway as well as London. A New York operation about to launch. "Our aim is to have these poster packs in every independent, cutting-edge outlet, and at every edgy, left-field event in the world," says Agha.

Now that's globalisation.

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