Probably the No. 1 question we hear about wheatpasting is, “is wheatpasting legal?” We always answer this the same way — yes, it’s legal, if you follow the rules.

The problem is, a lot of agencies and vendors don’t follow the rules. They cut corners to save money and brag about their low prices to the unsuspecting client. But when you do things the wrong way, it always comes back on you. Those unscrupulous agencies and vendors are often left scrambling to explain why posters have been taken down or fines have been levied.

We do wheatpasting the right way, so our campaigns don’t cause trouble, and the posters remain exactly where they’re supposed to be. Here is a step-by-step outline of how to run a legal wheatpasting campaign, as well as some guidelines on when wheatpasting is illegal, what methods to avoid, and how you can tell if an agency or vendor is doing it the right way.

A Quick Primer on Wheatpasting Terms

Here are a few terms that come up when discussing wheatpasting’s legality:

  •       Wheatpaste: A mixture of flour and water used to put up wheatpaste posters.
  •       Vendor: Third party that secures the locations and space for the wheatposting campaign.
  •       Agency: Third party that handles everything from creation of the creative to negotiating with the vendor for space to putting up the posters.
  •       Post no bills: Signs posted by the city or other municipality designating an area off-limits from posting of signs, including wheatpasting posters.
  •       Permitted spaces: Area the city or municipality has designated for legally posting signs and posters. Most are available on construction sites, where companies rent the area, or private property, where landlords let people post for a fee.
  •       Fines: A city can fine you for posting in undesignated areas. Sometimes the fines can be extremely steep, like in 2001, when San Francisco fined Linux $120,000 for unauthorized street graffiti.

Is Wheatpasting Illegal?

Wheatpasting is not illegal if you follow the rules. Here are the rules of wheatpasting:

  1.   Research regulations and ordinances in your area. Find out if you need permits to post wheatpaste posters and if so, how you get them.
  2.  Always get permission before posting. Contact the landlord of the building or construction site where you want to post. Insist on getting the agreement in writing so you don’t face a situation where each party understands the deal differently. It is against the law to put up posters on private property when you don’t have permission—no matter how abandoned a property may look or how many posters are already there. Public spaces usually have strict rules as well, though you may be able to post at designated areas in parks and post offices (still, this isn’t what we consider “wheatpasting”—that’s more like running a stealth operation to promote your college garage band’s big gig, and you won’t get the splash you desire this way).
  3. Work with a reputable company. Fly-by-night vendors and agencies who do things cheaply and illegally aren’t worth the hassle. Ask for references or examples of successful campaigns from any agency or vendor you work with. If they balk and ask you to “just trust us,” walk away.

What Are the Consequences of Illegal Wheatpasting Campaigns?

If you participate in an illegal wheatpasting campaign, the city may fine you for violating public ordinances or restrictions. The landlord of the building or construction site you post on might remove your posters, meaning the campaign was a waste of money.

The worst long-term effect, however, could be the impact on your brand. People generally look down on brands that think they’re above the rules or break the law. It speaks poorly to your judgment. Sometimes media outlets write about wheatpasting gone wrong, or someone might post a picture to social media of your posters being removed. This isn’t a good look for anyone, and it could impact your sales.

Wheatpasting Basics: 5 Keys to a Successful Campaign

Creating a successful wheatpasting campaign means more than not breaking the law, though. Here are some other things to consider as you search for legal sites to put up your posters.

1. Find the Best Location

You want to connect with the right people. A wheatpasting campaign only works if you get the people likely to buy your product, use your services, or attend your event to see your advertising.

2. Use Engaging Creative

Legal or illegal — it doesn’t matter if your creative sucks because no one will pay attention. The attitude (funny, classy, bold, whatever) should match your brand.

3. Lean Into the Medium

Not every brand is cool or savvy enough to do a wheatpaste campaign. Embrace it. Let it set you apart.

4. Check on Visibility

Even the best wheatpasting campaign won’t succeed if passersby can’t see the posters. Do an obstruction check at every location, making sure everything posted is visible to both pedestrians and drivers.

5. Spend Your Money Wisely

Most vendors or agencies who quote a bargain-basement price for a campaign do so for a reason. They’re not giving you everything you need for success. That may mean cutting corners on production of creative or, you guessed it, failing to secure the proper permits. Don’t automatically eliminate higher-priced bids — you get peace of mind for that money.

Here is a step-by-step guide to running a legal wheatpasting campaign.

  •       Look for an upstanding agency. Using an agency is the most foolproof way to ensure you run a legal wheatpasting campaign. While you can take the more hands-on approach of working with a vendor directly, agencies have the advantage of knowing which vendors are trustworthy and which aren’t. Consider examples of their work to ensure they’ve worked on similar campaigns before and will know how to execute yours.
  •       Study local laws and ordinances. While you can always leave this up to the agency or vendor, we recommend doing it yourself to avoid surprises. This can even apply to cases where legality is in question the other way — you want something somewhere, and the vendor says it’s impossible. For instance, if your vendor claims “you can’t put up wheatpaste powers in WeHo,” you can answer that actually, you found the West Hollywood city ordinance, and it says you can as long as you have the permission of the landlord.
  •       Make location lists. First, dream big. Write down everywhere that you’d like to see wheatpaste posters for your product, service or event. Think about where you see your ideal customer, and zero in on those places. If you sell beauty products, you might, for example, envision the area near the Sephora store in Soho.
  •       Decide on a budget. A budget range will help guide how much you can put into this campaign. Then get estimates from the agencies or vendors you’re considering. Again, keep in mind that lower is not necessarily better for this estimate. Questionable organizations often lowball others to get business, but they burn the clients in the end by failing to deliver what they promise or getting the client in trouble with ethically compromised approaches.
  •       Meet with the agency. Communication ensures a campaign you’ll feel proud of. Open the channels with a meeting to start that outlines everything you envision for this campaign, from your goals to your ideas to your strategic questions.
  •       Create an amazing poster. Creative isn’t the sole determination of a successful campaign, but it plays a huge role. Good creative draws people’s eyes on the street. It sets the poster apart from the remainder of the landscape. It provides a bold way to convey information. The more innovative and eye-catching your poster, the more successful your campaign will be.
  •       Put up the posters. If you employ an agency, it will do this for you. But if you don’t, then you need to know:
    •   How to make the wheatpaste mixture: Mix together water and flour until gloppy (see below for a more detailed explanation).
    • How to apply the posters: Coat both sides with wheatpaste and stick them to the surface, adding more wheatpaste on top to help it stick.
    • Where to put the posters: Cluster them together to make them more visible.
    • How to deal with any legal snafus: Be honest in any dealings with the authorities and keep a copy of your posting agreement with the landlord or construction company on you at all times.
    • Use a crew if you have to: While you may be going about wheatpasting in a completely legal manner, and there’s no need to put up the posters under cover of night like people did in the past, an argument remains to use a bunch of people to pull the campaign together. Your posters will have more “oomph” if they suddenly appear, all together, overnight, and no one anticipated them.

How to Make Wheatpaste

Legal wheatpasting can be fun. Once you have produced the wheatpaste poster in the right size, make the wheatpaste the same day you plan to use it. Start with a 1:1 ratio of flour to water. Mix it together, then boil another cup of water on the stove and slowly add it to the cold mixture. You should get a thin wheatpaste — the same consistency as papier-mâché.

Store the mixture in an air-tight contain till you’re ready to use it. You can either apply to the poster using a paintbrush or your hands, depending on personal preference.  

Wheatpasting is legal when you do it the right way. But as everyone knows, things don’t always go as planned. To protect yourself and your brand, here are some things to keep in mind.

Get Everything in Writing

Or at least as much as you can. The best way to push back on problems is to show that you were in the right. That means having evidence on your side, such as an agreement between you and a landlord or vendor saying you could post somewhere.

Ask for Receipts

Not literal receipts (unless you want to ensure you’re not being overcharged for the flour in the wheatpaste) but evidence that the campaign has been executed as you envisioned it. If you know the agency was supposed to get a permit, ask to see it instead of believing it’s been done.

Educate Yourself

Keep reading up on campaigns and ordinances. Remember, things can change quickly in the advertising space. Just because you did a wheatpasting campaign five years ago in a certain neighborhood doesn’t mean the rules remain the same. What you did before could be illegal now. Luckily, most major municipalities post their ordinances online, making it easy to research.

Ask Questions

Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s also no excuse when it comes to legal responsibility. Just because you didn’t know something was happening, like putting up illegal posters, doesn’t mean you’re not responsible for it. Ask your agency or vendor questions about anything you feel uncertain about or if you want more information.

Know Where You Can Post Legally

A utility pole may look like the perfect place to slap up one of your posters. But it’s illegal to post on public spots like this. Also stay away from federal-, state or city-owned buildings, transformers, traffic light holders, public signage or anything else in the public domain.

Check Before Posting on Any Private Property

In this case, the old saying “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission” definitely doesn’t apply. While many landlords happily will grant permission to post on their walls, others prefer to keep their buildings clean or would rather not be associated with someone else’s advertisements.

Create the Best Legal Wheatpasting Campaign

Wheatpasting is inexpensive and effective. If you want a memorable and impactful campaign, we can produce one legally for you. We know all the ins and outs of wheatpasting, and we won’t get you or your brand in trouble. Reach out today to learn more about our wheatpasting services.