When the audience isn't the audience

Apparently, Columbia Road E2 has the cheapest heroin in Europe.

Which attracted a great number of users, which attracted a great number of dealers.

It became so busy it was sold in the open during the day, from dealers in parked cars to users looking for a fix.

But the worst thing for the locals was that it was all done in front of children.

If this behaviour were accepted as normal, how would they grow up?

Individual complaints to the police were logged, but nothing much happened.

The problem was, complaints are made by people at the bottom to people at the bottom, people who have no real power to do anything.

So the question is, how do you get people at the top, the people who have power, to care?

How do you get them interested in the problems of people at the bottom?

The answer is, you make it their problem.

So that’s what 70 residents of Columbia Road did, they banded together to form a community action group.

They hired a guerrilla art project called The Columbia Road Cartel.

The job was to get the problem into the news media so that it became an embarrassment to the people in power.

But how do you do that, the media already has enough sad stories about problems.

The answer is you make it fun, you take the piss, you give them a story you know their readers would love.

So the residents of Columbia Road turned to street art and began having fun.

They made street signs that were exact copies of real road signs, and they added them to all the places these were fixed to.

So, above the official NO LOADING AT ANY TIME signs, they added CRACK PICK-UP POINT.

Above the signs with a red and black arrow going in opposite directions (indicating a narrow street) they added GIVE WAY TO ONCOMING DRUG DEALERS.

Above no-entry signs with a red diagonal slash, they added NEEDLE-FREE ZONE.

In the road, next to the kerb, they painted dotted lines big enough for two parked cars, and in official type they painted DRUG DEALERS ONLY.

They began to take the piss out of the fact that the drug dealers now ran this area, not the police.

And they were right, the media loved it: The Sun, the Daily Mirror, the Mail, The Times, the Telegraph, the BBC and Sky all ran with it.

They all had photos of the road signs looking totally authentic, mocking the police.

So the people in charge couldn’t fail to see it and be embarrassed in front of everyone.

The police had to be seen to get back in control, they quickly managed to trace four mobile phone lines linked to the four main gangs.

They searched their homes and found hundreds of wraps of heroin.

They arrested and charged 38 men aged between 19 and 56.

These men have now been sentenced to a total of 51 years and 9 months in prison.

And none of that would have happened if the residents had carried on making individual complaints to the police.

It happened because they motivated the media that the entire country pays attention to.

In order to do that, you need to find out what motivates the media.

Of course, the police were the real audience, but they couldn’t motivate the police.

So they motivated the media that would motivate the police.

Which meant their audience switched from being the police to being the media.

At which point the brief changed.

Defining your real media is sometimes the most creative step of all.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three


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