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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Vespa Ads Not Cool

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We are constantly bombarded by ads. On buses, garbage bins, TTC shelters and in the sky line they are hard to escape. But after a while of living in the city, one becomes immune to their carefully constructed lure. For better or worse, ads are a part of the urban fabric that you can learn to ignore. However, once in a while an ad comes along that captures our attention. It’s intriguing and beguiling. It’s edgy and cool…but, it’s an ad.

This is true of the life-sized hipsters with scooter heads that have been pasted at street-level on the sides of buildings across town. Canadian photographer and graffiti artist Fauxreel is responsible for the scooter-men, dubbed Antlerheads. Fauxreel‘s work, especially his pasting, is known for being off-beat and innovative. He plays with perspective, pop culture and politics. The Antlerheads are so appealing that both the Globe and Mail and blogTO have praised their effective marketing.

The added mystique of the Antlerheads is that they are not labelled. There is no immediate brand recognition, or website to quell the inquisitive of their curiosity. But a stroll down a certain scooter shop on Queen St. East or College St. will reveal who is responsible for the ads.

The Antlerheads are part of an aggressive Vespa ad campaign to promote their newest scooter. These pasted hipsters are or will also be appearing in Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal. They will soon be accompanied by a television commercial and roving Vespas that will project images onto walls in the club district.

Despite the creativity of the campaign, this form of guerrilla marketing is illegal. Even if the advertising company responsible for these ads got permission from property owners to paste the Antlerheads on the exterior walls of their buildings, as third party advertising, they require a permit from city hall. And, according to Rami Tabello of, chances are, they didn’t. “It’s easy to tell that they are illegal. They are located in places not permitted in the signs by-law and didn’t receive city council permission,” says Tabello.

The typical penalty for a violation of Toronto‘s sign code regulations is a $1000 fine. However, some believe that the penalties are just not harsh enough to dissuade businesses and advertising companies from this type of behaviour. Jonathan Goldsbie of the Toronto Public Space Committee suggests, “The City should increase fines for corporate graffiti to take into account the economic value of breaking the law. That is, the penalties for engaging in this activity should vastly outweigh the value of the advertising to the company.” Tabello has a much drastic solution, “Ban it entirely.”

Legality aside, guerrilla marketing of this kind is socially irresponsible and an abuse of public space. “It is corporations claiming public space as their own, engaging in vandalism for profit, and leaving it up to the City and perhaps citizens and business owners to clean up their mess,” says Goldsbie.

It is also interesting to see Fauxreel, an established graffiti artist who not only uses public and private spaces to showcase his artwork, but whose art is known to destabilize and play with traditional forms of advertising, working with a corporation and utilizing the same medium as he uses for his independent work. After all, isn’t guerrilla marketing like this the bane of community posterers and graffiti artists? It’s almost like he’s consorting with the enemy.

And, in response to intimations that the Antlerheads campaign is original, Goldsbie says, “It’s pathetic. It’s anti-democratic. They [Vespa] believe that public space is just a blank canvas for a sales pitch.” While Tabello adds, “There is nothing edgy about two-stroke engines that go as fast as a bike.”

photo by Patricia Simoes



  1. Just to clarify…

    At blogTO, we don’t impose an editorial “we” but instead give our writers free reign to create content that speaks to their own individual opinions. That said, blogTO doesn’t collectively praise or condone this ad campaign, even though the author of the article appearing on blogTO might take a particular stance.

    Also, I contacted street artist Dan Bergeron (aka Fauxreel) myself but he declined the opportunity to participate in the engaging discussion that resulted from Jon’s blogTO article. He said that he didn’t feel the need to explain himself.

  2. The time of getting fame for your name on its own is over. Artwork that is only about wanting to be famous will never make you famous. Any fame is a by-product of making something that means something. You don’t go to a restaurant and order a meal because you want to have a shite. Banksy.

  3. “”Also, I contacted street artist Dan Bergeron (aka Fauxreel) myself but he declined the opportunity to participate in the engaging discussion that resulted from Jon’s blogTO article. He said that he didn’t feel the need to explain himself.””

    Well, that’s great. The rest of us don’t have to explain ourselves when we alternately think this guy is a hipster-tool, and when the public defaces these ads as well as his other work.

    No explanation needed. Thank you “Dan Bergeron”.

  4. I prefer bikes – the real ones with no fossil fuels.
    As a start to deface and knock it back here’s a wordplay about it – an act of vesparation? Or maybe –

  5. I’m torn, too. I like Fauxreel’s work—he’s a former contributor to Torontoist, and his old stuff ( is quite great. He’s continuing to do exactly the same kind of stuff that he did before, except now he’s getting paid. And technically, what he was doing before—hacking billboards, wheatpastes elsewhere—was illegal, too. I don’t think that art isn’t art just because there’s commercial value or a corporation attached to it. But it leaves a bad taste in my mouth that I can’t quite figure out why—I think it’s not the fact of these ads themselves, but the precedent they set.

  6. Can we put our thoughts for this debate on the Vespa showroom window one night? A thick Sharpie could work well on this type of medium.

    Fair is fair right?

  7. You know, there’s artistry in these. They are subtle and beautiful and original.

    As illegal ads go, these are a degree above a dumb billboard proclaiming “Drink Bud Light and human females will have sex with you”.

    The Pope commissioned Michelangelo to paint advertisements for God in the Pope’s Sistine Chapel. Vespa commissioned Fauxreel to paint advertisements for scooters around Toronto.

    It’s a pity they are on someone else’s property without permission. I wish they were permanent.

  8. I agree with Leo that they are very attractive. I just don’t like how a company that can afford to pay for advertising feel it needs to stoop to illegality to get their ad campaign across.

    Another irony is that Vespa stores like Motorella on College are part of a vocal BIA that hates graffiti and posters, but is perfectly fine to use the medium (and “break the law”) to push their product.

  9. “The typical penalty for a violation of Toronto’s sign code regulations is a $1000 fine.”

    I guess that would be the “standard” penalty. If one goes by Rami’s site the “typical” penalty is a strongly worded letter.

  10. Each of the Antlerheads I’ve seen across the city have been carefully placed: alleyways, construction hoarding, and lanes. They’ve been quite careful to keep them in the context of ‘postered’ areas. I don’t like the proliferation of illegal signs either, but these are hardly the worst I’ve seen…. and don’t go busting Fauxreel’s chops for taking a corporate client. He’s a professional artist with bills to pay, I’m sure.

  11. They have NOT been carfeully placed. I saw they on a closed Rogers store in Little Italy, on a closed car dealership on King West, on a building’s wall on Spadina.

    I have no probs with Fauxreel trying to make money, but he shouldn’t be subverting his art form by whoring himself to a corporate client who are the first to complain about vandalism.

    I hope someone goes to Vespa’s store in Liberty Village and posters their storefront. Monkey see, monkey do.

  12. I was, for some reason, greatly angered by these ads (I still am). I stupidly decided I was going to take down the one on the Sam’s store on Yonge street, but then after I told my friend about it he just told Ryerson about it (who now owns that building) and they already had plans to have it removed. Thanks Ryerson care staff (they removed it entirely pretty quickly). Needless to say, Vespa didn’t get back to us after we phoned them, asking why they thought that vandalism would be cool. Where are the other ads? I’d like to remove them. I hear all you need is hot water to remove these wheatpasted posters? I imagine you need a brush, and patience too.

  13. Leo, the difference is that the church owned the sistine chapel (the Pope being the head of the church I didn’t want to say the Pope owned the sistine chapel). Vespa does not own Toronto.

  14. I wonder what Fauxreel thinks. Be cool to hear his side of the story. Not that he needs to explain anything he does to anyone as far as I am concerned.

    Me likes the Vespaheads but I think Matt had some very valid points.

    Art is anything you can get away with, as the cliche goes. Right?

  15. way to rain on the fun parade. sheesh. can’t see why ‘us folks’ are seen as humorless bores.

    it’s not like they’re painting Hummers.

  16. So if he had put up exactly the same thing, but without being paid by Vespa it’d be okay?

  17. BB: I would say yes. Not that I think its right to do things like that to private property, but if companies are supposed to be upstanding members of the community than I find this much more offensive than if an individual did it. What is worse is that there is no clear distinction between it being the work of a rouge graffiti artist or that of a multi-national, very wealthy company with a massive marketing budget.

    I could argue that its the gentrification of the graffiti art scene. I have no problems if people get hired to do their style of artwork for companies, I just hope those companies use the infrastructure and rules laid out for them.

    What is worse in this case is that one of the leaders in TO’s poster/graffiti art scene is willing to confuse his often brilliant work with that of Vespa. I love Fuaxreel’s style — he’s our own Banksy — but he has lost some of his own integrity. Banksy sold out too, but he’s made clear distinctions between what is his graffiti work and what is his commercial work.

  18. *If* the pastings are illegal, then those responsible should be charged. According to Section 387 of the Criminal Code, wilfully destroying or damaging private property is considered mischief, and subject to up to 5 years in prison, and compensation for damage to property. I say ‘if’ because I am not an expert, and don’t know whether there is some loophole or technicality that makes them not illegal. Maybe the property owner has to press charges (which could be why the culprits stuck the pastings on disused shops – and not public property, against which mischief is subject to up to 14 years in prison)? If the acts are illegal, then one could contact the Graffiti Eradication Program of the Toronto Police, or similar programs in other cities. Even if the perpetrators have the talent of Michelangelo, the law is the law, and corporations should not be above the law.

  19. “Are all those posters we see everywhere, like in the middle of the picture, also illegal?”

    Certainly. But I think we’ve become blind to them and tolerate them because they are so persavive. But yes, its exactly the same.

  20. it’s stimulating. art should be a kind of discussion between people. art should belong to the people, as a collection of ideas to draw on and discover or cover and forget. if people like it, it should stay. If people don’t like it, at least it’s not paint, it can be easily removed with a little water, rolled up, kept moist and eventually pasted on an appreciators wall at home. don’t call cops for shit like that, take your destiny in your hands.
    if vespa gets mentioned a gillion times because of it, then you are the culprit, there are much bigger issues here than that.

  21. > the law is the law

    If the law would see a person put in jail for five years over something like this, the law should clearly be amended.

  22. the inconsistency raised by bb is important. authorial intentionality is irrelevant! the art should be evaluated on its own. it doesn’t matter who is behind the art, whether corporation, starving artist, or artist shilling for the corporation; the only thing that counts is whether the art is any good or not.

  23. It’s not the illegality that bothers me. It’s the insidious nature of this kind of product hawking that gets under my skin. I think I’d rather see a crass commercial billboard than the antlerheads. At least with a billboard you’re not seduced into thinking it’s street art.

    You can call it art if you want but don’t forget that the antlerhead’s only purpose is to sell Vespas.

  24. At least it isn’t a big poster sized square piece of paper that says “Grand Theft Auto IV” pasted 4 across and 6 high like everything else. It utilizes, not a big ad agency but a local artist.

  25. I am angry these ads seem to be permitted by the city.

    Choosing to ignore them while tearing down posters of ‘lost cat’ or community events is to me equal to condoning them = one law for corporations breaking the law, another tougher one for individuals with higher motives than making a free buck.

    I see these ads posted on mostly derelict/abandoned locations or empty storefronts – like the long gone 7-11 at College and Lansdowne or the bank at College/Carlton.

    I think I’ll deface them in the public interest….

    Anyone starting a ‘Don’t Buy A Vespa’ campaign ?

  26. I saw some on Roncesvalles, and, as I bike past the Vespa store daily (it’s on my commute), immediately recognized the things. They make me angry. Local postering to support local businesses that support the Toronto economy – lost cat, yard sale, punk rawk/dubdancehall show THIS SATURDAY!, classes for kids around the corner – those are posters we can use for urban dialog with our neighbours. These are not. These are ads for a big corporation that should be held to the law.

    Let’s also notice that these suckers are made of vinyl and glued on like nobody’s business, which makes them hideously hard to get off the surface in question and a lot worse for the environment than some photocopied paper and tape. Feh. Only tools who can’t get up the stones to bicycle this city or the style to buy a proper organ-donor motorcycle would use a vespa.

  27. “Let’s also notice that these suckers are made of vinyl and glued on like nobody’s business, which makes them hideously hard to get off the surface in question and a lot worse for the environment than some photocopied paper and tape.”

    The ones I’ve seen are regular paper and wheat glue. Which would biodegrade much quicker than tape or staples.

  28. oh, this makes me grouchy. it bugs me when big corporations take advantage of rules that are supposed to support individuals.

  29. On my way to work this morning I saw the following posters:

    “Lost Cat”
    “Garage Sale”
    “DJ Night at small bar”
    “DJ Night at LARGE Richmond St Bar”
    “Indie Film Premiere”
    “Quick Divorce Now”
    “Major Label Band Playing a show”
    “Small band playing a show, not sure what label, could be big or small”

    Which ones shall we ban and what body makes the decision? Some people would band them all. Shall they speak for the rest of us. How about just banning the things I have no interest in. I go to shows, but don’t do DJ nights.

    I think I’ll be the decider.

  30. People who draw and design ads are prostitutes, of course, but one has to envy them for figuring out how to make money from their artistic talents–even if they have nothing to say with those talents for themselves.

    Folks might want to check out the big article in Star Business pages today, lauding Motoretta for its forward-thinking business plan and clever marketing strategy, emphasizing how they had no money at first and used guerilla tactics to create spectacle and a buzz.

    Here’s a question: if car advertising were outlawed, would only outlaws advertise cars?

  31. Street art is for many a place of resistance to, or refuge from, the commodification of art, space and culture. It’s a site for doing something because you love it, as a tribute to or critical response to space you inhabit. Campaigns like this one put a pall of suspicion over such acts, blunt the power street art can have by smearing it in to commercialism, and send a subtle message to anyone who considers expressing themselves artistically: there is nothing that won’t eventually be commodified, there is no expression you can think of that won’t eventually be used against you.

    This campaign represents blandness, it insults true artists (meaning anyone who seeks beauty through expression), and it insults people who care about their city by pretending to be a contribution to its texture. And worst of wall, it’s just tacky.

    Just look at the ads. If that isn’t an encouragement to completely identify with – identify *as* – the products I consume, I don’t know what it is. What can redeem that?

    But anyone calling for prison time is being absurd. How does that help? And who cares whether this is legal or not? There are plenty of wonderful illegal things and horrible legal things – like pollution, which these ads qualify as.

  32. I’ve posted twice and both times it was eaten… can anyone read this?

  33. No, I just rescued it from the spam filter. Dunno what you said that triggered it. Maybe it likes tacky wheat pasted ads.

  34. The Antlerheads / Vespa ads are also appearing in Ottawa. I was downtown today and have seen them posted throughout the Byward Market and The Glebe.

    Oh well… The idea is pretty legit…

  35. This is a nice idea, well executed. It’s hard for advertisers to reach certain target groups, and this is an innovative way to do just that. It looks cool. It is cool. And it’s not trying too hard, which makes it even cooler.

  36. Personally, I think this is an example of guerrilla marketing doing exactly what it is designed to do and doing it well. It’s stirring up “controversy” and making people talk. The saying “there’s no such thing as bad press” springs to mind. The campaign is getting tongues wagging and getting the brand noticed. The actual images being used and the way they are positioned and located, are well thought out and aesthetically pleasing. Of course it’s illegal, that’s the whole point. I salute Vespa for trying an alternative campaign method.

  37. Leave the artist alone, or you pay his bills. Also, i don’t understand how this upsets “true artists” as someone put. Shame on you, get that paint brush out of your backside. It’s a good piece of work, still “art” even with the vespa attached to it. Actually, kudos for vespa and the ad agency for bringing this particular artist, and his earlier work to a wider public eye. Hopefully, more people will be turned on to Fauxreel’s work.

  38. When did this happen? Since when does the majority of the internet community condones ANY destruction of private or public property, calling it “art,” EXCEPT when capitalism is behind it? To me, people seem to be trying too hard to sound like open minded intellectuals.

  39. So who do I call if I see someone postering like this? I’ve witnessed it fairly frequently lately, and don’t really know what to do about it. The guy totally has no shame, and is just going pole to pole putting them up.

  40. Who cares? Or more importantly why does anybody care?

    Do you think that it ruins his artistic integrity?
    That’s insane, we all have jobs, we all have to pay in order to live, who the hell are you or anybody else to belittle what someone does in order to live? Is it better to sell a painting to someone as opposed to a company?

    Do you think it’s a problem because the signage might be “Illegal”?
    I’m still trying to figure out who has the time to follow signs and check their legality. By making waves about things like this, it makes anti-commercialization organizations so irrelevant and feel so far to the left, almost crazy far.

    I mean read this post from Allderblob above, it is absolute insanity and idiocy.

    “People who draw and design ads are prostitutes, of course, but one has to envy them for figuring out how to make money from their artistic talents–even if they have nothing to say with those talents for themselves.

    Folks might want to check out the big article in Star Business pages today, lauding Motoretta for its forward-thinking business plan and clever marketing strategy, emphasizing how they had no money at first and used guerilla tactics to create spectacle and a buzz.

    Here’s a question: if car advertising were outlawed, would only outlaws advertise cars?”

    Prostitutes?? yea, that’s exactly what people with jobs are……sluts……ad designers will do anything for money, like prepare ads that encourage people to buy fuel efficient scooters. What a whore? what does he want to be successful or something? the nerve.

  41. “People who draw and design ads are prostitutes”

    Ah this just smacks of the holier than thou OCAD attitude. Oh to be young, naive, and have life paid for by one’s parents.

  42. “Blue Collar Workers” who can really get behind the campaigns of giant corporations to advertise gadgets and generate “buzz” (as the kids say) in the process really turn my crank.

    I also like the point about “absolute insanity and idiocy” made by David B. No one in his right mind would ever claim advertisers are anything but independent geniuses acting on their own artistic impulses. To call them prostitutes smacks of communism. ALLDERBLOB, get thee to a gulag!

    Finally, whoever it was that claimed “Advertisers are artists with nothing to say” shurely never knew the advertisers David B. and I know… Good one!

  43. As Hitler said to the folks who were suggesting his stormtroopers were overstepping the bounds of human decency, “who the hell are you or anybody else to belittle what someone does in order to live?”

    This is as true today as it ever was. A person has to do what they have to do to survive. To hell with your so-called “morals.” If advertising cars puts asthma on my kid’s plate [note to self: fix sentence before submission; that should be “bread”], who among us could cast the first atonement?

  44. using Hitler to back your point is a good way to win friends.

  45. One of these ended up on my (entirely residential) 3-story walk-up in Montreal. The landlord who owns the whole block is super hard to find and lives in another city – there is NO WAY this was legally done. Just to throw that out there for people who think that Vespa somehow secured permission for all these.

    I’m still processing this, because I really liked the thing when I thought it was graffiti, but now I fucking hate it. I’ve read most of what the internet has to offer on this, and this is by far the best article. The infringement on public space by corporations both sickens and scares me, and Fauxreel is, if nothing else, a little bit of a douchebag for buying into this. A douchebag with a fatter bank account, but a douche no less.

    This comment isn’t particularly well-written, but I’m super tired and now kind of grumpy. I feel like I’ve been tricked.



  47. Why is an artist who gets paid for creating an ad a prostitute, as many here seem to believe. By that argument a carpenter who consents to build you a house, or a leatherworker who makes some e shoes is a whore. A guy who is clever and can draw is not a religious figure, despite the fact that you may want him to be.

    As far as the ad placement goes. It’s illegal to vandalize property, whoever does it. Some graffiti is brilliant and in my opinion an improvement on the cityscape but…if the owner wants to prosecute, he has that right. Don’t get caught when breaking the law. Vespa is caught, so prosecute if you want.

  48. Please guys , take a break… what about the mess in our street cars , buses and metro… papers allover the place. We have to take the free newspapers out of the streets in order to to stop thi kind a garbage !!! please , ther’s so many important things to worry about.
    Vespa is one of the best scooters, just because someone draw something similar to a vespa you came with all that stories.
    Becarefull, vespas bite.

    Take a walk on the boardwalk if you don’t now how to ride a VESPA…

  49. The ads didnt do their job because I never even knew it was for Vespa until someone told me. I don’t find them creative at all. I would have thought that Vespa could do better than that. And the fact that they are anti-graffiti yet pulled this stunt reaks of hypocracy. Why buy a a Vespa anyway when you get as good as quality with other brands for a lot less.

    Duh…. the world is full of suckers.

  50. Excellent information I will probably use this in my classroom for future debates. We will periodically check in for future updates
    Michele Martel
    Thanks Again