Introduction: How to Shop Drop

About: "Almost Toast"

"My most Deviant Art Yet!"

Merhaba Instructabrarians!

One of the things that I love about interning at Instructables is that not only do I get to work with the most creative people in the business on a daily basis, but I also get to work at one of the most creative areas in the world: San Francisco.  SF, like Vancouver, is amazing because everyday something artistically insane is going on.  Whether it's someone yarn bombing Castro Street, or tagging the streets of Market and 3rd San Francisco has seen it all.

Last month, I myself was partial to this unique culture jamming aspect.  Using the tools I had available at our Instructables Labs as well as the resources at Tech ShopI decided to subvert the cultural institutions, specifically corporate advertising. How so?  By infusing my own brand of counter-culture merchandise inside a popular SF store.  

After a month's worth of dropping and of not getting caught, I can successfully boast about my heretical actions. This is how to subvert culture by SHOPDROPPING/ DROPLIFTING.

Step 1: WTF Is Shopdropping/ Droplifting?

According "Shopdropping" was coined by Ryan-Watkins Huges in 2004 "to covertly place objects* on display in a store. A form of "culture jamming".  In 2007, The New York Times  several of these guerilla counter-consumerists who surreptitiously "dropped" their own product based political messages inside popular stores.   

In essence, Shopdropping is a specific type of culture jamming that involves the creation of homemade products and the act of leaving them inside a store. Think of it like the opposite of Shop Lifting where instead of stealing something from a market, you are instead hiding or leaving your own products.  And unlike Shop Lifting, because you are not physically taking anything from a store, this act of deviance is completely legal (but don't quote me on this). 

Notable Shopdroppers include: Packard Jennings, Jeff Eyrich, Ryan Watkins-Hughes, and of course most famously Banksy.

Step 2: #1: Define Your Objective

Culture Jamming and it's subsidiary Shopdropping are not simply an act of "fun placing things inside of stores", it's much more complex and ethnographic.  There needs to be a compelling motivation (whether it's political, cultural, etc) for your act.  For artists who shopdrop, it's to subvert the music industry by secretly leaving their music inside record stores.  For artists and super market droppers it might be to highlight the flaws of the consumerist movement and the desire for factory made goods.

In my case, my message was a bit more simplistic.  I wanted to choose a store that was popular enough to garner attention and creative enough that would provide inspiration for various "drops".  I initially thought of the Apple Store, but dismissed the idea immediately after realizing how...straight laced their company policies are, so I nixed the idea.  Then I thought of the Stockton Disney Store.  Disney (the company) is such a rare and interesting discrepancy of "giant corporate conglomerate" and "most adorable animated characters". Like Apple, Disney has such a rich history, which would perfectly lend itself to creative drops and public subjugation.    But, unlike Apple, I trust that the employees have a good sense of humor. 

Also I love making Disney / PIXAR Stuff :)

Step 3: #1: Know Your Location

Now that you have a clear image of what you want to create, it's time to go store locating!  

Since I was subverting Disney specifically, I knew thatwhen it came to choosing an appropriate location for my droplifting expedition a Disney Store was an absolute MUST. And fortunately for me, there was one just located a couple of blocks away from our own HQ.

Now, even though I had all intention of subverting the DisneyTM brand name, I knew the company well enough to obey their one golden rule:  Disney is always, always family friendly. So even when I'm going into the store, infusing my own subtle thought provoking imagery and incendiary free speech, kids and families were still going to be my main audience.  So keep it G- Rated.

Everything else, however, was free game. :)

Editor's Note: I would suggest picking a store that you are familiar with, for about a year or at least 6 months.  Know the kind of employees that work there, know what merchandise they carry, know where the store is located and store hours and most importantly know if they will press charges.  Shockingly, not all stores find shop dropping amusing so be on your gaurd!

Step 4: #2: Scope Out Your Area

After you've found your location, it is important to perform some observational research, ie scope out your store!  This involves a lot of walking around, snapping pictures of various things, pretending everything you see is completely brand new.  Play the "innocent tourist routine", employees and shop owners will fall for it quickly!

In this step, you will want to know several things

1) What kind of merchandise does the store carry?
2) Who works there?  Are the managers friendly or are they completely hostile?
3) What are their hours?
4) Where can you hide things without people noticing?

Take a lot of pictures!  It will be extremely helpful for referring back to when you are planning your "drop" plan.

Step 5: #3: Prepare Your Merchandise

Now that you've found your message, your location and performed the preliminary observational research, the fun can really begin!

Typically droplifting merchandise can be anything from independent CDs to fake sticker labels on soda bottles or homemade sweaters.  However, I have the luxury of working at Instructables, one of the most creative tech companies on the planet!  We have a wide disposal of different tools available for the using (laser cutters, paper cutters, 3d printers, embroidery machines), etc.  So I could rapidly create a wide variety of different goods for dropping.

Using a bunch of spare wood in our shop, I laser cut/etched some quick wooden Disney graffiti graphic signs which I then painted for display.  I also took the vacuum form head from my Carbonited Disney instructable and added some fake eyes for attention grabbing.  

Editor's Note: It was important to me when making my dropped merchandise that, despite being subtly subversive to the company, everything still fit within the "Disney" aesthetic.  Nothing too gruesome or sexually explicit, yet surprising enough to turn some heads.  It was crucial that I find this balance. 

Step 6: #4: Dropping Spree!

And now, for the moment I've been building up to, it's time to begin reverse shop lifting! 

For those of you who have never been involved in culture jamming or shop dropping before, I have compiled a list of different tips to how to carry out your covert operation.
  1. Pretend that you're just an average customer.  If you don't give them any reason to suspect you, chances are, they will not.
  2. Think outside the bag.  Don't just bring a heavy trenchcoat or a giant bag with you to carry your dropped merchandise- those can draw attention.  Be more creative!  Try bringing a large hollowed out encyclopedia, or a clipboard with various folders to hold your labels.
  3. Watch the employees.  Know their routines and try to evade their watchful gazes.
  4.  If Step 3  is not possible, however, (such as in the case of the Disney Store where all employees are mandatorily required to talk to people), try striking up a conversation with them.  This way, they can know you well before they start suspecting you.
  5. Don't be afraid to hide objects in plain sight.  These are sometimes the best hiding places.
  6. Bring duct tape with you.  This will always help with hanging various things on various walls.
  7. Based on your observational research, try to find areas that fit within the "Theme" of your merch.  For instance, if you have a Mickey Mouse screaming that he's a pop icon, stick him with the Mickey Mouse plushes.  If you have a giant Disney Head, stick it out by some Walt Disney original t-shirts.
  8. Mix up your areas!  If you hid something in a really obvious place, try to hide smaller objects in extremely covert areas.  A game I like to play is "see how long your object can stay hidden before it gets found."  Mines 30 days!
  9. Leave a calling card.  For instance, when I was doing shop dropping, I created fake barcodes and Disney Store labels that would fake out customers but raise employee eyebrows.  This way, people will know it's your work.  Essentially, it's also great to have an alias.
  10. Don't spend more than an hour or so in the store.  You don't want to stick too many different things inside the store before employees start to notice.
Editor's Note:  One of the things I've noticed that works well, especially if you get caught, is to just tell the employees what you're doing.  No, not that you're shop dropping but that you created this piece of art and you're trying to promote it on your website.  Then, after they leave and stop being suspicious, leave your art in an obvious area and just run.

Step 7: #5: Return to the Scene

This is a very important step.  You'll want to return to your store to see if any of your merchandise survived customers and employee's glances, but you don't want to draw too much attention to yourself.  You also want to leave enough of a time distance between your dropping and your return that they don't recognize your face.  Typically I found that two weeks is a good starting point to start returning or to begin any follow up dropping.

It's also hilarious to see what kind of "adjustments" they might have made to their store since your actions.  In my case, I dropped a picture of "Anonymouse" inside a Disney San Francisco frame.  After three weeks, I returned and was surprised to see all of the picture frames had been removed from the store, and instead only two remained on the top shelf.

Step 8: Step #6: Post About It Online

Now that you've performed your subversive reverse shop lifting and the employees have received your "culturally informative message" what else to do?  Brag about it online!  

The great thing about a successful shop dropping is that it doesn't matter if you get caught or not.  If you make it big enough and get caught, congratulations!  You'll make headline news!  If you don't and escape with your Deviant Art, congratulations!  You successfully performed an act of free speech!  

Some great places to post about your drop lifting are:

WARNING: Autodesk and it's subsidiary Instructables are not responsible for any acts of deviance as performed according to the instructions offered in this guide.  The drop lifting party assumes full creative responsibility for their actions and offers instructables exempt from any government actions.  Follow At Your Own Risk!

Step 9: Conclusion

And folks, that is how to successfully pull of a shop dropping act!   I hope that this guide was informative and offers you plenty of ideas on how to create your own acts of deviant subversiveness!  Just remember- material goods are covered by the first amendment!

Have Fun!


Step 10: Works Cited

While doing some research on Shop Dropping, I came across a multitude of different websites that offer their own variation and techniques on the elusive art.  If you've ever wanted to learn more about Shop Dropping I highly suggest visiting these pages!

The Drop Lift Project