Changing Advertising Landscape

This weekend my family and I made a little road trip from Atlanta to the panhandle of Florida to enjoy, hopefully if the rain stays away long enough, a little bit of sun, sand, and social enjoyment. Simply stated – we made it to the beach and hope to enjoy our time down here before heading home.

Most Americans have been fortunate enough to go on some sort of road trip, lasting any number of hours and traveling along any number of highways or interstates. One thing most of us are all accustomed to is the number of and frequency of billboard advertising used throughout our roadways. These advertisements are not necessarily something I find myself paying much attention to, however after watching Morgan Spurlock’s TED speech “The greatest TED Talk ever sold,” I found myself looking at the billboards more as unsightly advertisements dotting a peaceful and beautiful landscape.

Near the sixteen minute mark, Spurlock highlighted how Sao Paulo Brazil’s Mayor successfully banned most forms of outside advertising in the fall of 2006. The changes were remarkable, as can be seen in the below before and after images below.


A series of images Spurlock featured reflect the cleaner lines of urban Sao Paulo without the clutter of corporate advertisements affixed to every possible portion of high-rise apartments or office buildings. The law, Cidade Limpa (portuguese for clean city law), stripped the city of nearly 15,000 billboards and outside advertisements.

What is most remarkable to me is that an urban environment was successful in passing such a law, in the face of mountains of advertiser lobbying and corporations desiring to keep the clutter.

What was left was a cleaner city with fewer distractions. Cidade Limpa makes me wonder what regulations exist within the United States to restrict the growth of, or control excessive growth of advertising. Simply, are there any and in what cities do they exist?

Unfortunately, through about 3 days worth of trying to track down details of any restrictions that may exist in the US, I was largely unable to find any specific restrictions for an urban, suburban, and rural environment. Every state, and subsequently local community, have zoning restrictions that are designed control outdoor signage and to keep the signs within a reasonable size and control the number of signs in a specific area. Throughout the US, alcohol and tobacco advertising are the most restricted, which is understandable considering the health risks associated with smoking and the cultural shift that has emphasized reducing drinking and driving – hence no need for alcohol advertisements on huge billboards along the highways.

The Federal Highway Administration, a division of the Department of Transportation, does offer up a comprehensive history and overview of outdoor advertising controls on their website. The Highway Beautification Act was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965 setting forth the basics of signage along the interstate system throughout the US. The Act has consistently received changes, as advertising has changed, to allow for the evolution of technology (static displays to electronic displays, for example). The states have maintained a majority of the regulatory control over outdoor signage. The states, in complying with federal regulations, receive funding for roadway and highway projects.

Fortunately, due to smart regulation at the onset, the landscape of our beautiful country can remain. Sao Paulo may be onto something though. Especially for other urban centers who have excessive signage that is detracting from the organic beauty of the cityscape.

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One Response to Changing Advertising Landscape

  1. Sommer Tate says:

    This entry in your blog was very interesting to me. I have worked in the advertising field and understand the values of billboards in some cases. I was shocked by the after pictures of the buildings after Sao Paulo Brazil’s Mayor successfully banned most forms of outside advertising. The look of the city was undeniably better than before with all the billboards. It makes me think of places like Times Square. Yes some of the appeal of Times Square is that there are so many bright lights and now with digital advertising more images can be rotated to stay fresh. But are they all being seen or is it just a big blur of lights? Then you have bill boards that are making headlines like the Sugar Daddy for a summer job one (that one I’m still laughing at by the way). It is crazy how much attention they get but are they getting overloaded in urban areas? This is definitely a great question to ask and to point out to advertisers today. Yes you want to have a great image and be seen by many people but you should really think about the surroundings and if your advertisement is really going to be seen in that location.

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