Sunday, June 29, 2008
I've wanted to make a comment on the Sao Paolo decision to ban all outdoor advertising all the way up to the goodyear blimp for some time. Searching the decision I found this interview with a Paolista reporter about that says some really compelling things about what happened after the billboards came down.
BOB GARFIELD: On January 1st, 2007, a funny thing happened in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The city of approximately eleven million people, South America's largest, awoke to find a ban on public advertising. Every billboard, every neon sign, every bus kiosk ad and even the Goodyear blimp were suddenly illegal.
The ban on what the mayor calls "visual pollution" was the culmination of a long battle between the city's politicians and the advertising industry, which had blanketed Brazil's economic capital with all manner of billboards, both legal and illegal. Within months, the city has gone from a Blade Runner-like vision of the future to a reclaimed past.
Vinicius Galvao is reporter for Folha de Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest newspaper, and he joins us now. Vinicius, welcome to the show.
VINICIUS GALVAO: Oh, thank you. I appreciate it. It's my pleasure.
BOB GARFIELD: I've seen photos of the city, and it's amazing to see this sprawling metropolis completely devoid of signage, completely devoid of logos and bright lights and so forth. What did Sao Paulo look like up until the ban took place.
VINICIUS GALVAO: Sao Paulo's a very vertical city. That makes it very frenetic. You couldn't even realize the architecture of the old buildings, because all the buildings, all the houses were just covered with billboards and logos and propaganda. And there was no criteria.
And now it's amazing. They uncovered a lot of problems the city had that we never realized. For example, there are some favelas, which are the shantytowns. I wrote a big story in my newspaper today that in a lot of parts of the city we never realized there was a big shantytown. People were shocked because they never saw that before, just because there were a lot of billboards covering the area.
BOB GARFIELD: No writer could have [LAUGHING] come up with a more vivid metaphor. What else has been discovered as the scales have fallen off of the city's eyes?
VINICIUS GALVAO: Sao Paulo's just like New York. It's a very international city. We have the Japanese neighborhood, we have the Korean neighborhood, we have the Italian neighborhood and in the Korean neighborhood, they have a lot of small manufacturers, these Korean businessmen. They hire illegal labor from Bolivian immigrants.
And there was a lot of billboards in front of these manufacturers' shops. And when they uncovered, we could see through the window a lot of Bolivian people like sleeping and working at the same place. They earn money, just enough for food. So it's a lot of social problem that was uncovered where the city was shocked at this news.
BOB GARFIELD: I want to ask you about the cultural life of the city, because, like them or not, billboards and logos and bright lights create some of the vibrancy that a city has to offer. Isn't it weird walking through the streets with all of those images just absent?
VINICIUS GALVAO: No. It's weird, because you get lost, so you don't have any references any more. That's what I realized as a citizen. My reference was a big Panasonic billboard. But now my reference is art deco building that was covered through this Panasonic. So you start getting new references in the city. The city's got now new language, a new identity.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, cleaning up the city's all well and good, but how do businesses announce to the public that they're open for business?
VINICIUS GALVAO: That was the first response the shop owners found for this law, because the law bans billboards and also even the windows should be clean. Big banks, like Citibank, and big stores, like Dolce and Gabbana, they started painting themselves with very strong colors, like yellow, red, deep blue, and creating like visual patterns to associate the brand to that pattern or to that color.
For example, Citibank's color is blue. They're painting the building in very strong blue so people can see that from far away and they can make an association with that deep blue and Citibank.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, the city has said, having undertaken this effort, it will eventually create zones where some outdoor advertising will be permitted. Do you expect Sao Paulo eventually to just revert to its previous clutter?
VINICIUS GALVAO: Not to revert to previous clutter, but I think like very specific zones, I think they're going to isolate the electronic billboards in those areas, in the financial center. I don't think they should put those in residential areas as we had before.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, the advertising industry is obviously not happy about this. They're complaining that they're deprived of free speech and that it's costing them jobs and revenue. But is there anyone else in Sao Paulo who's unhappy about this? Tell me about the public at large. What's their view?
VINICIUS GALVAO: It's amazing, because people on the streets are strongly supporting that. The owner of the buildings, even if they have to renovate a building, they're strongly supporting that. It's a massive campaign to improve the city. The advertisers, they complain, but they’re agreeing with the ban. What they say is that we should have created criteria for that to organize the chaos.
BOB GARFIELD: Vinicius, thank you very much for joining us.
VINICIUS GALVAO: Thank you so much.BOB GARFIELD: Vinicius Galvao is a reporter for Folha de Sao Paulo.
Understanding Illegal Wall Signs
Just found this on the illegalsigns.ca website. This site is an amazing resource for understanding how we can fight the progress of the public advertising industry.
There are about 200 3rd party vinyl wall signs in downtown Toronto – and about 175 of them are illegal. Most of the recent illegal sign development has occurred with vinyl wall signs. Understanding how this is happening requires an appreciation of the difference between a fascia sign and a mural sign, as the Toronto Signs By-Law defines them. You see, most illegal vinyl signs actually have 3rd party sign permits – mural permits, permits for hand-painted signs. Why? Because murals are not subject to Separation of Signs - our most important sign control by-law.
The By-Law defines a mural like this: “A sign painted directly on the face of a wall.” A fascia, on the other hand, is defined as: “A sign mounted wholly against the wall of a building.”
A painted mural sign is difficult and very expensive to execute – it requires days of work by a highly skilled (and licensed) sign painter. An advertising-quality mural typically costs upwards of $25,000 to execute and can take weeks, depending on the weather - a major part of that cost is the vacancy cost of not having an ad on the wall during the painting process. Murals also require a sidewalk occupation permit if they face a street. Profitably operating a 3rd party mural sign is impossible except in very high traffic locations that vandals can’t reach, especially if the sign is non-illuminated. For these reasons, Non-Illuminated Mural signs are not heavily restricted in the Signs By-Law - they are restricted by their intrinsic nature.
Fascia signs, on the other hand, which include computer-printed vinyl signs affixed to the side of buildings, are very cheap to execute for advertising companies. For this reason, fascia signs are heavily restricted in the Signs By-Law.
What’s happening is straightforward: advertising companies are obtaining permits for non-illuminated mural signs, which they can obtain for pretty much any wall, and then illegally erecting vinyl fascia signs because they can’t profitably operate hand painted murals on those sites. What has helped the industry most is Municipal Licensing and Standards, which is supposed to enforce the Signs By-Law, but doesn’t know the difference between a fascia sign and a mural; and the Buildings Department, which is supposed to promptly inspect newly constructed signs, but has allowed mural permits to go un-inspected for years.
With the City now taking action against illegal fascias, pursuant to our complaints, the industry’s lobbyist is making a desperate push to post-facto legalize the industry’s fascia sign sites – this would have the effect of legalizing the majority of illegal wall signs in Toronto. The Planning Department will oppose this scheme if they can stop laughing at it.
Let’s take a closer look at how the Signs By-Law treats fascias vs. murals. A 3rd party Fascia is not permitted within 60M of other non-mural 3rd party signs – this restriction does not apply to non-illuminated murals. This is the exact wording of the Separation of Signs By-Law:
No person shall erect or display or cause to be erected or displayed a fascia, ground, roof, pedestal or illuminated mural sign used for the purposes of third party advertising unless it is separated by a minimum radius of sixty (60) metres from any other such sign used for the purposes of third party advertising.
The following table illustrates the stark difference in the way the Signs By-Law treats non-illuminated murals and fascias:
Attribute Restriction on Non-Illuminated Murals Restriction on Fascias
Within 60M of another 3rd party sign No restriction Totally Restricted per 297-10F(1)
Within 300M of another sign over 70 M2 No restriction Totally Restricted per 297-10F(2)
Size Max: 100 M2 per 297-10D(11)(a) Max: 25 M2 per 297-10D(5)(g)
Out of the 175 illegal fascia signs in Toronto, about 100 of them are operating under non-illuminated mural permits. The rest have no permits or 1st party permits, mainly because they are erected in a location where even a 3rd party non-illuminated mural is restricted – like on a historical building or a on a wall facing a street.
Remember Murad? Murad Communications used to run painted advertising signs all over downtown, but they couldn’t cut it anymore. It simply became unprofitable to operate painted signs due to the vast increase in advertising square footage in Toronto – driven by our Planning Department which seriously botched the Signs By-Law from day 1. The Murads were all operating under non-illuminated permits, which means Murad couldn’t legally reach evening rush hour for half the year.
And then Murad, which had its share of enemies in the outdoor advertising industry, was hit by devastating paint bombings which destroyed scores of its ads, interrupted advertising campaigns, and made operating painted signs intolerable for mission critical campaigns.
Computer printed vinyl technology was developed in one of those industry-academic collaborations by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Financed by a consortium of billboard companies, MIT scientists worked with MetroMedia Technologies for the specific goal of creating robotically produced outdoor graphics. MetroMedia (whose TV stations created the FOX network) introduced the technology to the billboard industry in 1987. By August 1993, when the cost of printing vinyl was still no less than the cost of manually painting a sign, Murad’s Michael Chesney was quoted as saying: “Sooner or later it won’t make sense for a guy to manually paint a billboard and get the nose wrong when you can get it right through a computer, cheaper.” Except you can’t get it right through a computer, cheaper, legally. At least not in the good ‘ole City of Toronto. And that’s pretty much the only thing the Planning Department ever got right about our Signs By-Law.
Of course, operating outside the law never bothered Murad much; even before Murad used illegal vinyl it was illegally illuminating more than half its billboards.
As a technology-intensive good, the cost of computer printed vinyl decreased rapidly. So, as Mr. Chesney predicted, Murad started to use illegal vinyl in lieu of paint, fired its muralists, and, in 1997, perhaps because he saw the writing on the wall, Mr. Chesney sold his company for US$5.5 Million to Mediacom/CBS who, in turn, sold 14 Murad sites to Titan a few years ago - a smart move on CBS’s part, a move that allowed CBS to capture a portion of the economic value from running illegal fascia on those 14 sites without actually running illegal fascia themselves. But not that smart… because CBS is still left with 16 illegal vinyl fascia signs in Toronto, all of which are soon to be history.
Astral Media, Megaposter and Abcon are also operating illegal fascia signs on these old Murad sites because they, too, can’t turn a profit while complying with their non-illuminated mural permits.
When the Signs By-Law is enforced against illegal fascias operating under non-illuminated mural permits, advertising will disappear from most of these old Murad sites as well as the 50-odd illegal fascia sites recently developed under non-illuminated mural permits. There are a few mural sites which have attributes required for profitable mural operation: ambient illumination, great demographic targeting, high visibility, difficult to vandalize - but those sites are few and far between.
Nobody anywhere in the world is investing a dime in technology to make painting signs cheaper - globally, painted signs are being legally displaced by cheaper and cheaper computer printed vinyl. The technology for computer printed vinyl has now reached developing countries. The City of Toronto is the only place in the world that we know of that puts significantly fewer restrictions on painted signs, the only City we know of where displacing a painted sign with vinyl is illegal. A company that invests in technology to make painted signs cheaper would be investing in an autarky - you can’t propagate that technology anywhere in the world outside the boundaries of the Former City of Toronto. That’s why billboards on mural permits are headed to the dustbin of history: because you can’t legally operate vinyl and the relative globally-benchmarked productivity of the painter’s labour doesn’t make economic sense anymore. Globalization killed them. Murad’s signs, which do little more than promote transnational brand hegemonies, have been hoisted on their own petard.
By the time IllegalSigns.ca is done, large format vinyl fascia signs will be finished in Toronto, and so will the local sub-industry that has developed around them.
And then the people of Toronto will once again see walls they haven’t seen in years.
UPDATE: Titan Outdoor has sued the City of Toronto over enforcements of fascia signs on mural permits.
Folgers Coffee ad
This is yet another way in which public advertising inserts itself into our daily lives and will continue to do so, finding more clever ways to gain our attentions. This I might add is a guerilla campaign and is just as illegal as street art graffiti and all other forms of urban scrawl.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008