Some debate that tactical media resembles a strategy more than a tactic. It is therefore important to note that while a strategy uses space to unfold, tactics use time . Tactical media is not fought on a space since it occupies the space it opposes. It is rather fought on time, by taking the opportunity when loopholes or weaknesses are found within its occupied space.
It has often been compared to culture jamming, as both use many of the same techniques in an attempt to occupy the public space controlled by mass media. Where the two practices differ is in their way to obtain this public space; while culture jamming consists of a response to the dominant practices within it, tactical media uses the dominant practices in order to penetrate it and become part of it. 'Don't hate the media, become the media' is a slogan often adopted by tactical activists and reflects this important distinction. Tactical media has also been compared to alternative media. It differs from the latter by its manner in dealing with mass media. Alternative media does not seek to infiltrate the dominant by a quick tactic, it attempts to oppose it by proposing what its name suggests: an alternative to the dominant.
However successful a particular campaign or a particular group may be, its ultimate goal is not to replace a certain media outlet for tactical media discourages branding because of the probable outcome that a similar cycle as the one attacked would be created once again. It must therefore be understood that tactical media never reaches a state of perfection; it is constantly changing because it constantly needs to question the system under which it operates .
Although it is possible for tactical media to be representative of the local views of a specific area, it is usually present on a global level. There are plenty of tactical media projects which operate on a physical space but it most often uses networked space and the internet, making its span stretch over the entire planet. The virtual nature of the space it occupies also allows it to create new channels towards the hierarchies of power it fights against. A certain tactic does not need to attack in person or on a physical level, but it can attack virtual and free space where the dominant have little control. This important element makes a tactical media project not the work of certain identifiable individuals but an entity in itself, which most likely helps convey the message it attempts to communicate.
Tactical media projects are often a mix between art and activism, which explains why many of its roots can be traced to various art movements. It has been suggested by tactical media theorist Geert Lovink that "discourse plus art equals spectacle" , reflecting its striking and memorable nature. Although there are no strict mediums through which it operates, tactical media can often have very high aesthetic value, adding to its ‘spectacle’ and reinforcing some of its artistic roots.
The dada movement has also been credited as an influence on tactical media, the two often used within activist campaigns. Much like it, tactical media often aims to do the opposite of the media it penetrates: it shocks and reveals an antithesis.
Tactical media also draws from surrealism, borrowing the idea that a 'truer' experience that the present one is present. Much like surrealism, tactical media also criticizes social, political and cultural elements of a given society through its domain’s techniques.
As for media-related roots, tactical media can be considered to be one of the branches of alternative media. As much as the art movements influenced the way tactical media is produced, one can find the goals and targets of tactical media to be rooted in its relation to alternative media. Both are produced in order to reveal an alternate truth, and both strictly attack those in a position of power.
Most who have written about tactical media would agree that its current form and meaning come from French philosopher Michel de Certeau, more specifically in his 1974 essay titled 'The Practice of Everyday Life'. As part of this essay, De Certeau debated that consumers actually act as producers within our society, moving in a technocratically constructed space and using an already established vocabulary. The importance to De Certeau is that these practices "determines the elements used, but not the ‘phrasing’ produced by the bricolage (the artisan-like inventiveness) and the discursiveness that combine these elements, which are all in general circulation. This distinction between the elements used within a society and the system under which they are used is critical to the study of tactical media. In his essay, De Certeau appeared to suggest that one could easily use these social elements in a creative manner which would fall outside of the system under which they are to be used.
Once this distinction was made, De Certeau also pushed forward the idea of how the elements found within a society could be used. One of these was to use them as a ‘tactic’, which he believed to "[insinuate] itself into the other's place, fragmentarily, without taking it over in its entirety, without being able to keep it at a distance. It has at its disposal no base where it can capitalize on its advantages, prepare its expansions, and secure independence with respect to circumstances. Due to its lack of space, he also characterized a tactic to be dependent on time, needing to be constantly on the watch for opportunities which must be quickly seized or needing to manipulate events in order to turn them into opportunities.
By mixing the nature of tactics with the use of media, a new type of activism was created. It used elements of a particular system in a creative manner that fell outside its practices, creating resistance through difference. De Certeau’s concept of a tactic also explain why most tactical media campaigns are quick, effective and current.
The group successfully infiltrated a Fabrics of the future conference at the Tampere Technical University in Finland. Two men posed as World Trade Organization (WTO) representatives and gave a presentation about a management leisure suit. The suit in question was an outfit built solely for employee surveillance, via a wireless communication unit. Towards the end of the presentation, the two men demonstrated their invention which revealed a golden lycra bodysuit with a very large phallic shape on which a monitor was mounted.
This infiltration was made possible by one of the websites owned by The Yes Men, http://www.gatt.org, which looks nearly identical to the WTO’s actual website, http://www.wto.org. Due to the resemblance between the two sides, it was only a matter of time before The Yes Men received an invitation to speak or get engaged with a certain organization.
Later, Exley changed the website to be a more mainstream satire (drawing [criticism http://www.slate.com/id/74303] from RTMark), posting a fake press release from the Bush campaign announcing a promise to "pardon all drug prisoners as long as they've learned from their past mistakes" -- a reference to Bush’s alleged past use of cocaine. In the midst of Bush’s campaign for office, the website not only received millions of hits, but also received coverage from such organisms as ABC News, USA Today and Newsweek.
Since much of the tactical media projects are fueled by information warfare, it has also been accused to be closely linked to propaganda. The high value of aesthetics placed within a project is said to be the element which enables the transfer of this information, much like propaganda operates.