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Outdoor Advertising: Societal Nemesis or Environmental Enhancer?

Maybe I’m just more aware given my current employment. Or maybe the debate has gotten louder. Either way, I’ve been hearing and reading a lot lately about the “advertising invasion” into our daily lives. Without a doubt, out-of-home advertising has been on a major upswing since 2001, making it the second-fastest growing media channel behind the Internet. (In fact, out-of-home advertising revenue has increased at least 20% each year since 2001…meanwhile traditional TV, print and radio outlets have all been struggling.) As marketers have increasingly looked to non-traditional avenues to reach their audiences, it seems there is a growing movement to fight this “ad creep.” Here’s my question: is advertising necessarily evil?Back in Dec. 2006, the city of Sao Paolo, Brazil banned all billboard advertising as part of its “clean city” law. This same legislation also outlaws bus-side advertising, severely restricts the dimensions of store signs and impacts everything from plane-towed signs to fliers handed out on the street. While city officials passed the law 45 to 1, its implementation has unleashed a firestorm, with impassioned arguments on both sides. Putting arguments aside, let’s take a look at the result, from a purely aesthetic point of view. Flickr member Tony de Marco has documented the after-effects of the ban in his set “Sao Paolo No Logo.” Here’s just one image from the set (which is really worth checking out…):sao-paolo-vacant-wallscape.jpg

So, is this an improvement? To me, not really. A great piece of creative advertising here would be much more interesting to look at. When you view the rest of the photos in the set, it almost looks like a ghost-town with empty billboard frames and storefronts.

As far as I’m concerned, advertising isn’t the evil destroyer of societal good. In fact, it often plays a contributory role, improving our lives and experiences. Take a look at the recent Westin campaign or the vastly improved portable restrooms once Micro Target Media get their hands on them.

Advertising and the companies behind it have historically fueled economic growth and have even made their way into pop culture, with some even reaching lofty artistic standards. Unilaterally banning outdoor advertising doesn’t combat visual pollution…it just creates a visual wasteland.

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