Why you should care
Foka Wolf is pranking Birmingham with hilarious fake advertising posters — and people are paying attention.
Having taken my fair share of peak-time journeys on the London Underground, I’ve been so close to other commuters that I almost felt we had a relationship. After all, we’d spent 30 minutes together in very close proximity in a heaving, sweaty carriage. So when I saw an ad at Camden Town station, it seemed entirely plausible:
Transpost for London: Tube Dating
Press Up Against New People
Taste Their Breath
Feel What’s in Each Other’s Pockets
But, of course, it wasn’t a real ad.
The piece is the creative work of Foka Wolf (@fokawolf), the assumed name of a street artist from Birmingham, England. The artist plants witty fake ads in public places and around Tube stations, pranking local authorities, corporations and members of the public. If Banksy created ads, this is probably what they’d look like.
The artist, who sees themself as a “collective of people and ideas,” has surfaced in British tabloids since the prank pieces started appearing, and most recently received national coverage after their tongue-in-cheek comment was left on a building site for the world’s largest Primark store.
The ads are intended to show how people will still believe anything when it’s presented in the archetypal advertising format, Wolf says. An example: An ad for “How to Become a Successful Car Jacker” was posted below a sign for multinational advertising agency JCDecaux. The seller promises to show you “how to find vulnerable people,” “how to fight pregnant women,” “how to restrain pensioners” and, ultimately, “how to live with yourself.”
Press play to listen to a caller who wanted to order the book:
Another fake ad, posted in London’s trendy Soho and Shoreditch neighborhoods, invites readers to learn how to become a “moped mugger.” In a sarcastic nod to gentrification, a larger installation took the form of a billboard placed on land apparently acquired for a residential development: “To view a soulless, overpriced orange box, call 0121 31 888 05.”
Foka Wolf takes inspiration from English graphic-novel author Alan Moore, who once said that “all art is magic and advertising is a form of black magic because it’s art that’s used to make people buy stuff.” A street artist for close to 10 years, Foka Wolf says no one noticed their work until it took the form of tongue-in-cheek fake advertisements plastered around a very visible public space.
It all began as small, handwritten joke ads left in random locations around Birmingham, explains Foka Wolf, adding, “Then I thought, wouldn’t it be funny if these were massive, with a phone number that actually worked?” The first poster, created this April, read:
Do you drive a 4x4, Jeep or Range Rover?
You could be entitled to FREE penis enlargement therapy on the NHS.
The phone number added at the bottom of the ads was real — and hundreds of people have called, according to Foka Wolf.
Not surprising, the controversial posters have hit a nerve with some community members. Case in point: A poster offering voodoo for kids prompted the head of Birmingham’s Pentecostal church to leave Foka Wolf a voicemail, asking to meet up and discuss the content — an offer the artist has not yet taken up. There have been a few death threats too, from people who believed the ads were serious and thus immoral, Foka Wolf explains.
This doesn’t seem to faze the artist though, who has plans for more elaborate pieces with greater longevity: “I am working toward more permanent, hand-painted signs. Like fake ghost signs with more illustrative elements.” There are also plans to eventually move beyond Birmingham and London.
In the meantime, Foka Wolf will continue using fake ads to get people to question advertising in general and to not just mindlessly LOL and like on Instagram.