<body> Public Ad Campaign: September 2009
This blog is a resource for ad takeover artists and information about contemporary advertising issues in public space. If you have content you would like to share, please send us an email.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Public Art Versus Public Advertising

Felix-Gonzalez Torres', Untitled, public art billboard has been floating around since 1991 and has been a darling of outdoor advertising companies looking to fulfill their percent for the arts programs and "obligations" to the communities in which they operate. Currently there is one at the corner of 6th avenue and Canal street.

I think this image serves as a perfect example of how art imagery and advertising imagery affect us differently in our shared public spaces. If you would, imagine walking down the street and seeing Felix Gonzalez Torres' Untitled image towering above you. Then imagine the advertising image below, and your reactions to both. One asks you to concentrate your attentions on very specific commercial concerns, whereas the other asks you to contemplate ideas about your life and your relationship to the city around you. Clearly the more healthy thought process is the one that opens your perceptions as opposed to controlling them. And why wouldn't we demand a public visual space that is as healthy for our population as possible?

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Illegal Art Gives The City A Place To Talk Back

I just stumbled upon this image created by Illegal Art in 2007. This location is now a single illegal billboard run by NPA City Outdoor.

The big yellow-and-pink words "To Do" that turned up Sunday night on the corner of 6th Street and First Avenue are, interestingly enough, just that: to-do lists. The public-art collective Illegal Art installed some 3,744 three-inch-by-three-inch Post-its on two street-level billboards, and passersby are encouraged to write their own to-do lists on the stickies. (Illegal Art collects the lists and replenishes the Post-its each day.) So what do New Yorkers need to do? "E-mail Vinnie." "Eat gummy bears." "Nap." "Samba." And a lot, apparently, need to "Call my mom." —Matthew Fishbane

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

L.A. Considers Anti-Graffiti Coating for Every Building, Paint-Matching Program Begins in Santa Clarita

Photo by northwestgangs via Flickr

Today the Los Angeles City Council will consider a new city ordinance that would require all buildings--yes, residential homes, too--to be anti-graffiti coated from the ground to at least nine feet. However, owners may choose to skip the requirement as long as they sign an agreement that any graffiti on their building will be removed within seven days, according to the Daily News. That's a good exception because the coating can discolor a surface or are not always environmentally friendly. And not to mention the burden of time and money on families.

Meanwhile, the city of Santa Clarita is set to unveil a Paint Matching Trailer to be used by the Graffiti Task Force. "The City’s Graffiti Ordinance states that property owners must remove graffiti on businesses and residences within seven days from the date when properties are tagged," according to a city advisory. "The City’s new Paint Matching Trailer will enable the Graffiti Task Force to provide paint matching services to local property owners, which will expedite the required removal of graffiti on private property."

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Newest Streetscape For The Movie 2012 Adorns Catholic Boys' Highschool

A PublicAdCampaign reader and wonderful artist sent me these images today. This huge streetscape at 44 east 2nd street sits directly on the corner of 2nd Avenue. It looks like someone beat me to the punch on reporting this one and called in complaint # 1264413. The advertisement is directly adhered to the side of La Salle Academy, which is a Catholic Boys' high school. The street view from Google Maps shows the location beforehand and how large the area of coverage actually is.

It seems reporting these types of streetscapes is actually working as the last two I called in were removed less than a week after posting about them. This means either call them in yourself by phoning 311, or send PAC the images and we will report them for you as well as add them to our growing map of these illegal street level billboards. Happy hunting.

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The Greenwich Village Society For Historical Preservation

A good friend and reader of PublicAdCampaign recently made me aware of The Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation which has been taking action against illegal signage with much recent success. Their Mission states...
The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation was founded in 1980 to preserve the architectural heritage and cultural history of Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo. GVSHP is a leader in protecting the sense of place and human scale that define the Village’s unique community.

Our programs include: Educational outreach in the form of public lectures, tours, exhibitions, and publications; A school program that teaches children about Greenwich Village history and architecture; Preservation leadership on such issues as preservation of the South Village; Preservation projects that promote an understanding of the Village’s historic importance, such as the Greenwich Village Preservation Archive and Oral History Project; Consultation services on a wide variety of preservation issues, with GVSHP serving the community as historian, educator, archival resource, and technical consultant.
I have contacted them in hopes our extensive maps of illegal NPA signage might be of use to them in their fight to retain neighborhood identity and hold off the encroachment of illegal signage and unwanted commercial messages.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Newest PAC Work

I woke up half drunk cause last night was crazy! Had a feeling today needed to involve some art and a bit of takeover. Went to Da Vinci and bought some paper and voila. Art happens at all times of the day. PS: I met a couple that is going to do their wedding photos in front of this piece if it is still up tomorrow. NPA, leave it up till tomorrow you bastards. This will be a fantastic moment for the bride and groom to be. 18th and 10th avenue, NEW YORK, 09-25-09.

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PosterChild New Work

What I believe to be Posterchild's first, and not last, phone kiosk install.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Clear Channel Goes Digital In NYC Burbs

VIA Media Daily News

Slowly but surely, digital signs are closing in on Manhattan. With a stronghold in Times Square, the signs are now moving to surround the island from the north. The newest deployment brings a digital display network to the downtown area of White Plains, NY.

The array of eight digital signs, each with a display surface measuring about 20 square feet in area, were installed by Clear Channel Outdoor on municipal property belonging to the White Plains Department of Parking, under the terms of an existing contract between the city and MD Sales & Marketing.

In addition to displaying static advertising images on an eight-second loop, the signs feature scrolling digital text that will allow city officials to communicate important messages to the public. For example, signs directing parking and traffic during concerts and festivals or posting Amber Alerts and other emergency advisories.

From the advertising perspective, downtown White Plains offers an audience with attractive demographic attributes.

In addition to the city's 56,000 residents, the downtown sees heavy traffic by commuters coming and going from the White Plains transit hub, as well as en route to various government buildings, bringing the weekday total to over 200,000.

White Plains is surrounded by converging highways, including U.S. 287, U.S. 684, U.S. 95, and U.S. 87, as well as the Bronx River Parkway, the Merritt Parkway and the Sprain Brook Parkway. Many commuters travel to Westchester to catch Metro-North Railroad trains at the White Plains or North White Plains stations, which are located 30 to 45 minutes north of Grand Central Station, with combined through-traffic of about 3 million in 2006.

In June, Lamar Advertising Co. unveiled a new billboard in the Bronx using low-power digital signage technology developed by Magink. The new sign, located at 640 Soundview Ave., allows Lamar to display multiple ads with only a modest amount of electricity.

Magink displays are not as bright or distracting as other types of digital signage, meaning that local residents are less likely to object to their presence.

To create an image with Magink, an electrical charge is sent to a billboard covered with helix-shaped organic molecules. These rearrange themselves in different shapes following the distribution of the electrical charge. After the image is formed, no more energy is required to keep it in place, unlike LED billboards, which require a continuous source of power.

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Finally, an Easy Way to Dominate Times Square

VIA Ad Age
NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Securing prime outdoor advertising real estate just got easier. Clear Channel Spectacolor, the digital signage arm of the company's outdoor division, unveiled Times Square Domination, which will aggregate ad sales for five of the New York location's largest digital billboards. Clear Channel pulled together sign owners Spectacolor, Nasdaq, Reuters, News Corp. and ABC Sports and Entertainment to cooperate and sell the signs together.

"Buying all these signs at one time has been effectively impossible," said Tom Hennigan, president of P.R.omotion, the company that will lead the ad sales of the Times Square consortium, which also debuted a new website.

The growth and competition among digital billboards comes amid the decline of static signage in Times Square, which has seen ad rates plunge anywhere from 15% to 25% in recent months, with less turnover between campaigns.

Ryan Laul, managing director for Hyperspace, a media agency that buys digital out-of-home for Motorola, Schick, CVS and other brands, said more clients have moved toward digital billboards in Times Square because of the creative flexibility and shorter lead-time to secure inventory.

"Digital display technology allows you to sync up campaigns so that all the signs work really well together," he said. "In some cases you may want to buy every screen for one full, dedicated hour, or 200 minutes a day and spread it evenly, or two minutes an hour. It allows us to really dominate an area for a product launch or a timely event."

Not for everyone
Ray Rotolo, senior VP-managing director of Havas' Chrysalis, cautioned that Times Square as a market isn't always the best place for some clients. "The clutter factor is becoming a major issue for some," he said. "But we've tried roadblocking before, and for some clients it's worked. [The Times Square Domination] changes the game because there's audio involved, and it's become almost a live opportunity to interact with the people that are there. The question now is, how can we really creatively look at this and make it work the best for us?"

A buy across Times Square Domination's five screens, based on current rates, would likely run well into the $500,000 to $750,000 range, according to buyer estimates, although terms of deals under the new unit have yet to be discussed, Mr. Rotolo added. Pricing in the area has also gotten more competitive with the recent addition of major digital billboards at Walgreen's on 43rd Street and Broadway and the American Eagle sign on Broadway and 46th Street.

The Times Square audience (565,000 daily visitors, 47 million annually) also tends to spend more time in the area with the recent renovation of the last-minute Broadway ticket seller TKTS booth on 47th Street and Broadway, and the closing of the area to car traffic.

Another addition soon to come is the Times Square Network, a new cable-esque programming network Spectacolor will debut in 2010 on its digital video screen above the W Hotel.

Michael Steinberg, Spectacolor's VP-sales and marketing, said the network will feature news updates from current editorial partner CNN and fully sponsored original programming, including entertainment news, cooking segments and a tentative series profiling one of the the neighborhood's notorious personalities, the Naked Cowboy.

"We want to have out-of-home advertising become a destination in New York," Mr. Steinberg said.

Spectacolor President Harry Coghlan was also open to testing the digital billboard ad-network approach to other markets such as Las Vegas and Los Angeles, should the initial results in Times Square pay off. "It's a portable concept that could work with technology as a backdrop," he said.

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Newest Streetscape Ad Is An Insult To The Deceased

For a long time the corner of 22nd and 8th avenue in Manhattan has been abandoned and in a state of neglect. A recent article in Chelsea Now explained the neighborhood's feelings towards the landlord and his lack of respect for the surrounding community. It seems one of the wonderful streetscape companies has brought a new level of shame and disrespect to this location with their most recent illegal streetscape for the movie 2012.

The above image is for a cancer research foundation. This "advertisement" covered the entire storefront until recently. The front door explains that the public service ad is dedicated to a deceased woman who succumbed to cancer in 2001. It is a heartfelt tribute and a sobering reminder of the people we loose to this deadly health issue.

Not too long ago a new vinyl billboard was adhered to the facade of this location. Mocking the color and content of the public service ad, this new version advertises for The Institute of Human Continuity. Along the bottom in red is fake spray paint which announces "The Mayans warned us!" and alters the Institute for Human Continuity's website to direct you to the movie promotion website.

There are so many things wrong with this I don't know where to begin. First it is an illegal advertisement. Second it makes light of the very serious health issue as well as dishonors the deceased for whom the original billboard was in memory of. On top of all this, the level of integration into the surrounding environment that this advertisement assumes is so sophisticated that it is hard to believe it doesn't represent a very serious shift in outdoor advertising tactics and technique. Surely the person responsible for this ad concept actually visited this location. If this is true that would mean these things aren't being dreamed up in some office on 5th avenue, but that they are being created by armies of people trolling the street for moments in which advertising can hide and integrate. Not only is this scary, but this must cost a fortune and exemplifies yet another level of creative energy that advertising is robbing our culture of. I have placed this ad on the streetscape map and am calling the DOB about it immediately.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

National Bestseller 09-22-09

The newest National Bestseller project posting went up on 09-22-09. This time around the books seemed to have a theme going for them. The Rich and the Righteous, Rulers of the City, Voice of the Heart, Love's Lost Melody, were all tragedies waiting to unfold. Indeed.

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Are You Scared Yet?

VIA Ban Billboard Blight

Big Brother Watching? How Digital Billboards Can Help Turn Public Space Into a Giant Spycam

The video above illustrates how a digital billboard in the UK reads license numbers of passing cars and uses that information to interact with the driver in an oil company marketing campaign. Digital billboards are already capable of determining what radio stations are on in passing cars, and billboards with embedded cameras and software to determine the gender and age of passersby are being tested in several places.

Objections to digital billboards are usually based one or more of the following: their extreme brightness, which constitutes visual blight and causes light trespass into homes and apartments; their excessive energy consumption; and their potential to distract drivers and present a hazard to motorists and pedestrians. But what of their potential, currently limited only by technology, to observe, record, and otherwise invade the privacy of anyone who happens into their territory? There aren’t any legal limits on this invasive activity, and the advertising industry is busily devising ever-more sophisticated means of gathering information and targeting consumers.

Which raises the question: Do people give up any right to privacy once they get into a car and drive down the street?

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Billboard watchdogs clean up skylines

VIA The Christian Science Monitor

Standing amid the assortment of new and old buildings in downtown Toronto, Rami Tabello clearly relishes his role as crusader: “Take a look at my handiwork,” he boasts, pointing to a rectangle of discolored brick several stories high on...[MORE HERE]

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How Do We Think About Graffiti In A Modern City?

I've always had a tenuous relationship with tagging, with those who use/abuse the public by writing their names on the walls of our shared public spaces. Depending on who you ask, the scrawl is a rich texture of social networks and base level social communication, or simply the wanton destruction of public and private property by citizens hellbent on reaping havoc on our city and culture. I must say my views lie somewhere in the middle and at least in theory favor those striving to create a signifier which represents themselves in a vast network of individual, and corporate iconography. After all the city can be an incredibly complex environment in which to define ones identity and ideas, especially for those whose identity is perhaps forming for the first, but probably not the last, time.

It would seem that as a public we are fighting this scrawl to the best of our ability. Two examples of this counter initiative are the Anti-Vandal squad wing of the NYPD as well as the private maintenance crews employed by local BID's to paint over graffiti as fast as it can crop up. While doing our best to control this aggressive form of mark making, I think it is important to take notice of some of the interesting scrawl that exemplifies a more concerned individual armed with a spray can. Not all graffiti is intent on destruction and when it is, sometimes it is indicative of a social fabric rich with differing opinions and interests. Some graffiti goes beyond the name and enters into the realm of conversation. Is this form of urban writing worth preserving and even fighting for? And how, or should, we distinguish between the mundane and the exciting?

This photo was removed. It was a picture of one of the public art works at the LMCC's newest Lentspace project after having been vandalized with the words "This is not art". It seems there has been a mistake and the kind people at LMCC think I might have been responsible for this act of vandalism. I most assuredly was not and do not condone the destruction of public art. I apologize to anyone who might have gotten the wrong idea.

Take for example the recent vandalism of the LMCC's newest public art project. It appears someone took it upon themselves to make a commentary about the use of the term "art" to describe several works presented by the LMCC in their newest sculpture park, a public/private collaboration between the LMCC and the Trinity Real Estate Development Corporation. If you know this location, you know the high risk involved for the individual who made this commentary. I do not necessarily agree with the statement, but one cannot deny the fact that this was not your typical tagging so much as it was social commentary, whether you agree with the vandal or not. Again, graffiti is being used here as a form of communication, and not in an arbitrary way, something I think we should take notice of before we simply denounce all graffiti as vandalism. The question then becomes, do we want this sort of visual commentary/vandalism to be a part of our public experience?

photo by Jake Dobkin

Another instance of graffiti I think we would be quick to call vandalism is the work of Booker. Often you can see his work around town in the form of simple scrawl and stickers, albeit more interesting than most in my opinion. His graffiti employs the word "read" and "book" over and over again in many different iterations, "read more", "reader", "read more books", etc. As far as I'm concerned these statements defy the typical egocentric nature of street level name tagging by incorporating a beneficent slogan into the tag. True to form, one of the more recent works by Booker that I have seen takes this to another level, getting rid of the reader name all together, simply asking viewer to "Open Your Eyes".

How then do we qualify graffiti in our shared public spaces? is it vandalism? is it a simple nuisance? or is it something more that a city with such a widely varied set of opinions must embrace as a form of public communication? I still don't know but I think we must all think harder about what and who graffiti is for before we shut down our minds and cover the entire form in a blanket of illegality.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

What Would Jesus Do?

I just spent from 4am to noon handing out copies of the NY post special edition and I am pooped. Before I rest, I had to post this image Charlie Todd of Urban Prankster sent me that he took in Vienna. A good Italian friend of mine had told me about the practice of recreating the image of churches that are under construction on the scaffolding that surrounds them. In this way, the church remains, while the unsightly construction goes on behind the scenes. It seems the church has forsaken this ritual for a more profitable one.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

National Bestseller Making Headway

I'm always happy to see people noticing PublicAdCampaign work as it can often be overlooked by people trying to ignore the overwhelming amount of advertising they are forced to look at every day. It seems as if the National Bestseller Campaign has been catching peoples eye recently, randomly appearing on The Street Spot, Wooster Collective, and 12oz Prophet. Because of this I wanted to give everyone a quick heads up. I have recently been evicted along with the rest of my building and am in a state of limbo for the next month or two. As of now 30 books have made their way to the streets with many more to follow. The eviction doesn't mean I will be stop this project, it just means things might happen a bit slower. For this I apologize.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Breaking In To Public Space, Sermon, Videos, and Discussion with Reverend Billy & Savitri D of the Church of Life After Shopping

Reverand Billy is something to see and his thoughts on public space always strike a chord with me. He will be speaking tomorrow as part of the Conflux festival and I look forward to attending. This should be very exciting and outline some of the fundamental ways in which direct action can alter our shared public spaces. I hope to see you there.

Revernd Billy - Photo by Jacquie Soohen

© Photo by Jacquie Soohen

Date: Saturday 9.19
Start Time: 4:00pm
Location: Einstein Auditorium (Rm 105), Barney building

Talking and listening in public space is the oldest form of media, the oldest form of Democracy. How do we assemble in the shadow of the commodity wall?

We believe the struggle for public space is the struggle for democracy itself and we have dedicated ourselves to that cause for the last ten years, particularly in New York City, where draconian permitting regulations, commercial saturation and privatization have confined public assembly to performance pens and sidewalk memorials. What defines a public space ultimately is use. We must use public space and we must use it fearlessly. Any gains we have made defending public space come from being in public space, doing what has always been done there. The fastest way to reclaim public space is to go and get in it.

Push Back Picknic - Photo by Not An Alternative

© Photo by Not An Alternative

Of course we want some assurance that the parks department won’t hassle us, that the NYPD will not arrest us for loitering or mischief, and we can and should lobby for our rights but we won’t get that assurance from policy. Afterall the law that protects us in public space has already been written, its called the First Amendment and it won’t save you from being frisked, harassed or even arrested. The only real authority in public space is public action. Bodies in space, talking and listening. The freedom starts there, it doesn’t end there. Freedom is not a resting state, it is an active state. Join us for a lively discussion of strategies, some inspiring words from the Reverend and video clips of recent actions and media production.

The Church of Life After Shopping

© Photo by Brennan Cavanaugh

The Church of Life After Shopping is a radical performance community, with 50 performing members and a congregation in the thousands. They are wild anti-consumerist gospel shouters, earth loving urban activists who have worked with communities on 4 continents defending land, life and imagination from reckless development and the imperatives of global capital. They employ multiple tactics and creative devices, including cash register exorcisms, retail interventions, cell phone operas combined with grass roots organizing and media activism. They are entertainers and artists, performing regularly throughout The US and Europe, have produced two full length cd’s, a television series ( The Last Televangelist) and are the subject of multiple documentaries, including “What Would Jesus Buy?”, a Christmas movie by Morgan Spurlock. Reverend Billy has published 2 books and he and Ms D are at work on another. Reverend Billy is The 2009 Green Party candidate for Mayor of NYC.

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Why Are You Using Up My Minutes HBO?

A few days ago I was walking through Williamsburg past a cheap furniture store on Grand street when I caught this flyer out of the corner of my eye. The hand made quality of the flyer juxtaposed with the celebrity Jason Schwartzman didn't make sense and I immediately knew something was amiss. I tore off the number and phoned this so called private detective right there on the spot. I suggest you do the same cause it was kind of amazing. An answering service picks up and Mr. Schwartzman's voice explains that he is an un-licensed private detective.
"If you have a problem, like a cheating boyfriend or girlfriend, or you have some kind of amnesia and you think you yourself are missing, I'm your man."
After a few more remarks he explains you can see him in action on such and such a night at such and such a time on the new HBO TV show Bored To Death.

With advertising budgets extremely low and revenues for outdoor advertising plummeting since the recession began, it seems OAC's are finding new and "exciting" ways to bring ad content to the streets for what would appear little to no cost. I'm assuming the printing of this ad campaign was done on a cheap Xerox machine and the company didn't pay for the location, probably because they didn't tell the furniture store that the flyer was for a new HBO series. It would seem this type of advertising is becoming a trend as this is not the first fake flyer I have seen around. Kelli Anderson of the Anti-Advertising Agency reported on a similar fake ad campaign for Courtney Cox's new show The Cougar, in which advertisements masquerade as real estate signs, shown here.

It's funny how some outdoor advertising these days is becoming so localized and specific to its environment it is starting to take on similar qualities to street art. I must say I had a good internal chuckle when Mr. Schwartzman ended his taped recording "And if this is Suzanne, which I hope it is, I haven't had any white wine or pot since you moved out." It's just disappointing when you realize this moment of serendipity and joy was created by someone trying to pull change out of your project for some corporation that couldn't give a shit about you.

The similar, yet ambiguous, street project seen here is a perfect contrast to this HBO outdoor advertisement. Call both numbers and see which one makes you think, and which one leaves you feeling taken advantage of.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

McDonald's "Free Coffee Ambient"

I'd like to thank Shai for making us aware of this insanity.

VIA Direct Daily

As part of a national campaign promoting McDonald's restaurants, a downtown Vancouver lamppost became part of an out-of-home optical illusion, appearing to pour coffee into a giant cup on the sidewalk. At the time, McDonald's was giving away free small cups of its brew for a two-week period, in an effort to attract new breakfast customers. They developed the concept for a lamppost near 6th Avenue and Cambie Street. The post was wrapped in brown vinyl to resemble poured coffee, while an oversized carafe was attached to the end.

Agency: Cossette west, Canada.

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No Longer Empty-Via Urban Prankster

VIA Urban Prankster

Thanks to the real estate bubble bursting and the ensuing recession, there are tons of vacant retail spaces all around Manhattan. What to do with all this prime space? One solution is to cover it with illegal advertising.

No Longer Empty has a much more elegant solution. The group is working with landlords to turn vacant storefronts into temporary art galleries that are free and open to the public. They currently have a gallery in the ground level of the new Caledonia luxury hotel on 16th Street and 10th Avenue by the High Line. I checked it out last week and it was awesome. What a novel idea! Using empty space for the public good!

My thoughts:

I love Urban Prankster for the sheer magnitude of amazing, often outlandish, public projects Charlie presents almost daily. Yesterday's post isn't all that typical for the site because it's not really about a prank. In fact if there were a prank here, it is what usually happens to empty storefronts in NYC, they get converted to giant illegal street level billboards.

That said, No Longer Empty's usage of vacant storefronts provides a wonderful counterpoint to InWindow's claim that using empty storefronts to promote private commercial messages is the best way to take care of the urban blight that has been caused by the recession. InWindow went so far as to say neighborhoods with too many empty storefronts would surely succumb to the broken window theory, if the storefronts weren't immediately covered with ads. If this is all about saving neighborhoods from the ravages of the recession and the loss of community that comes with urban blight, I think No Longer Empty's solution beats out InWindow's any day.

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PosterChild New Work

If this is any indication of what PosterChild's stay in New York will bring, I am very excited. Keep your eyes on the street as he is known to put up a piece every day.

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Vampire Diaries Streetscape Video

A few days ago I posted an update on the illegal, Vampire Diaries Streetscape, located at 14th street and 9th avenue. In that post I explained how the video player registers when viewers stand in front of the ad for more than a few seconds. Not only is this an opportunity to collect simple marketing data such as how often the ad is looked at, and how long the viewer engages the ad, but also more specific information about each individual viewer using facial recognition technology that can provide viewer demographics, viewer counts, and even "opportunity to see" counts.
Don't ask me why those girls stopped to join me in my observation, I think they were drunk.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Direct T.V. Doormats-Bright Green Blight

Not everyone wants to live in a city free of advertising's menacing antagonism, but does anyone really want to come home to this bright green monster? Superintendents and residents who approve this sort of atrocity should be shot on site. Some people will take anything if it's free, anything.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

City Attorney Trutanich Goes After Pocketbook of Rogue Billboard Company

Considering the law, and simple respect for the public's wishes doesn't deter outdoor advertising companies from operating illegally in our shared common spaces, penalties are the only way to curb aggressive media takeovers of our public environment. Often these penalties seem outrageously large to the layman, but are in fact much less than is needed to stop illegal billboards from blighting the public.

VIA Ban Billboard Blight

Two years ago, a company called L.A. Outdoor Advertising put up full-sized billboards along the north side of the Harbor freeway downtown. There were some problems with this—the company hadn’t obtained any permits and the billboards violated various sections of the city’s sign code relating to height and freeway proximity, in addition to the general prohibition on off-site advertising signs.

The city cited the company, and predictably, the company reacted by suing in federal court to block enforcement. Now, as the suit works its way through the legal system, newly-elected City Attorney Carmen Trutanich has filed a counterclaim seeking more than $6 million in damages and an order requiring the removal of three of the billboards, which are on private property but less than 100 feet from the roadway.

This welcome action addresses an ongoing complaint about enforcement of sign regulations—that the penalties for violations are so insignificant that a company eyeing the considerable revenue from billboards and supergraphic signs in prime locations like the freeways will simply consider it a cost of doing business.

That complaint is valid if the city relies on the penalty in the municipal code for sign violations—a maximum of $100 a day. However, the municipal code also states that any violation may be designated a “public nuisance” and subject to a fine of up to $2,500 a day. That provision hasn’t been used in the past for sign code violations, for reasons that could be open to speculation, but include the fact that the building department can’t simply levy the fine but must rely on legal action by the City Attorney.

The City Attorney has also gone after the owners of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and the company that put up a huge supergraphic sign on one side of the historic building without permits.

No doubt these cases will drag through the courts for some time before any final resolution. But if the city prevails, it could throw a big monkey wrench into the strategy of rogue sign companies, which is to put billboards and supergraphic signs wherever they can get property owners to sign leases, then sue when inspectors come around to point out the violations of the sign code.

These companies appear to be operating on the theory that even if they ultimately lose in court they stand to make millions in the interim from advertising revenue. If they could lose all or most of that revenue, they might think twice before digging that hole in the ground or hanging that ad over the side of a building.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Billboards Spur a Fight: Free Speech vs. Beauty

VIA The New York Times

Billboards on the Long Island Expressway in Queens. Billboard companies are appealing a court ruling allowing the city to regulate the signs on highways

Published: September 13, 2009

Seen from the Long Island Expressway, the Manhattan skyline glows on the evening horizon. The Empire State and Chrysler Buildings rise above the rest, their art deco spires lit up like lighthouses marking the way.

Then the highway dips, and the view changes.

Martha Stewart’s face is plastered on a billboard promoting her new television show. An enormous cartoon dinosaur nudges a terrified woolly mammoth in an ad for “Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.” A bright orange board advertises AT&T, and others hawk Honda Civics, Mercedes-Benz, Holiday Inn and the TV series “The Good Wife.”

The sight of marching billboards is also familiar to anyone who drives on the Gowanus Expressway, the Henry Hudson Parkway and other city highways. But unlike the ads-cum-attractions in Times Square, many of these billboards are illegal.

Since the 1940s, at least on paper, the city has restricted, or banned outright, the placement of billboards along its highways. But because of haphazard enforcement and what a federal judge described as “subterfuge” and willful lawbreaking by sign companies, the rise of the billboards — some even on city property — went on unchecked.

By the time the judge, Paul A. Crotty of Federal District Court in Manhattan, issued a decision in the spring that upheld the city’s right to regulate the billboards and excoriated it for not doing so sooner, no one could even say for sure which of the more than 600 highway billboards had the right to be there.

“The City’s enforcement of its zoning regulations has been inconsistent and less than vigorous,” the judge wrote in his 62-page opinion. “The billboard industry has taken advantage of this lax enforcement and has consistently ignored the regulations on billboard sign location.”

Billboard companies, which have earned far more from advertisers over the years than they have paid in fines, have appealed the ruling.

“Right now, it’s not as prevalent as it used to be,” Vanessa Gruen, director of special projects at the Municipal Art Society of New York, said of the advertising. The society has been keeping tabs on billboards in the city for more than 100 years. “But these companies still make enormous amounts of money, and over a long time, they have gotten used to it, and they are not ready to give it up.”

The debate over billboards goes back more than a century, and its contours were established early: free speech and enterprise versus aesthetics and safety. In 1902, The New York Times, in its periodic editorial Street Signs, declared that billboards had become a problem.

“A frightful spectacle, made so more by the wilderness of discordant and shrieking signs,” it read.

Over the years, the city eventually triumphed in limiting signs near most parks and residential areas. But along the arteries leading into New York, the wild west of the city’s advertising acreage, enforcement was difficult — even when zoning laws finally passed in the 1940s banned most billboards within 200 feet of major highways.

In 1979, when the federal government was threatening to withhold $25 million in highway funds from a cash-strapped New York because it was not enforcing its own highway advertising rules, City Council members performed a legislative trick: they grandfathered in every existing billboard — about 150 at the time — so none would be in violation of the law.

Today, there are at least 634, according to court documents. But not all the post-1979 billboards are illegal. City laws make exceptions for billboards attached to, or on the grounds of, the businesses they advertise, and for signs bearing public-service announcements.

But the judge wrote that some billboard companies built legal signs, with city permission, then converted them to so-called off-site commercial billboards, rendering them illegal.

“Other times,” he wrote, “the billboard companies would not bother with subterfuge and simply erected signs with no permitting at all.”

The city and billboard companies agree that many of today’s signs would be considered illegal, but neither side has been able to say how many.

Many billboards have changed ownership several times. Companies also have complained that city paperwork showing which billboards are legal is in disarray, while the city has blamed property owners for requesting documents over the years and not returning them. Billboard companies typically pay property owners for the right to operate signs on their lots, then charge rent to advertisers.

In an attempt to begin enforcing the law more regularly — and to get a handle on the size of the problem — in 2005 the city began requiring billboard companies to show proof that their signs were legal. It also began enforcing fines of $10,000 and up per violation.

Six billboard companies sued, including Clear Channel Outdoor, which has 84 signs along arterial highways, earning about $10 million in revenue per year from them, according to court records. A lawyer for Clear Channel said he would not comment on pending litigation.

The city argued that it had the right to control the spread of billboards for aesthetics and to limit distractions to drivers. The companies sued because “they basically realized their history of not conforming, and that it will have consequences,” said Gabriel Taussig, the city’s chief administrative lawyer.

The companies argued that the laws restricted free-speech rights, and noted that the city itself and other public works, like the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Amtrak, had nonconforming signs on their own land. The companies also complained that the city was asking them to produce records of signs dating back more than 25 years after requiring no such record-keeping in the past.

“The city’s regulation of highway billboards has more holes than Swiss cheese, demonstrating plainly that its asserted interest is nothing but a pretext for the city’s true purpose for its regulation: to eliminate competition and make money for itself,” lawyers for some of the companies wrote.

The city said that it did not believe until recently that it had the power to regulate billboards on land owned by the M.T.A., a state agency or Amtrak. It also said that after the companies’ lawsuit was filed it began removing billboards on city land close to highways, including three on the High Line, an unused railroad track near the West Side Highway that it acquired in 2005 and is now a park.

Although the judge ruled in the city’s favor, the view along the city’s highways is not likely to change quickly.

Since April 6, the city has pledged not to levy any fines until the appeal is decided — a process that could take up to a year.

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Fresh Stuff From Princess Hijab

VIA Wooster Collective

Photo by Antoine Bréant

Princess Hijab explains the motivations behind her work.
This is the story of a young woman fighting every day for a noble cause: she wants to “hijabize” advertising. Princess Hijab knows that L’Oréal and Dark&Lovely have been killing her little by little. She feels that the veil is no longer that white. She feels contaminated. When she was a teen, she heard about movements such as Adbuster; but since 9/11, things have changed. She does not subvert images in an American way. Princess Hijab will go on, veiled and alone, forever asserting her physical and mental integrity. By day, she wears a white veil, symbol of purity. By night, her black veil is the expression of her vengeful fight for a cause (custom ad). With her spray paint and black marker pen, she is out to hijabize advertising. Even Kate Moss is targeted. She knows all about visual terrorism! And she will not spare her right of expression for the likes of publicists. Make sure that all advertising can be hijabized “ ‘cause that’s her fight Jihad is her art”. And don’t forget, she acts upon her own free will. She is not involved in any lobby or movement be it political, religious or to do with advertising. In fact, the Princess is an insomniac-punk. She is the leader of an artistic fight, nothing else.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Artists' Billboards For Target

image stolen from Patrick McMullan

A good friend of mine Stephanie Diamond told me about this recent Target art/ad/fashion collaboration. You know how I feel about this type of artistic degradation.


Just in time for New York's "Fashion Week," the art-friendly people at Target have hired four artists to provide flashy designs -- featuring Target's trademark red target image -- for the company's giant billboards in Times Square. The artists are Laurie Rosenwald, Michael Anderson, Josh Goldstein and Charles Wilkin, all selected for the job by the New York ad company Mother. The ads stay up through October, then the vinyl is re purposed into totes designed by Anna Sui -- which are available for $29.99 each (click here).

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Friday, September 11, 2009

NPA Updates Their Lame Attempt To Circumvent The Permitting Process

The above image shows the newest version of the contest promotion placards placed on all NPA Outdoor illegal advertising locations in NYC. I'm not a lawyer, but I'm assuming they are doing this to convert these signs from illegal third party signs into legal first party signs. By this logic, the posters on the giant billboards are not advertisements but merely a display of goods available inside. In this case, La Casa Del Pan (The House Of Bread) is now in the business of giving away free adverts and allowing you to enroll in contests in which you can win more adverts. For this service, they are paid $50.00 a month by NPA. Amazing!

Now this is just shameful subversion of the law and I don't think it really holds water. One would have to be able to argue that the advertising posters are an actual good or service being provided, (by La Casa Del Pan) and not just some obscene ruse cooked up by well paid lawyers and greedy outdoor advertising corporations to outsmart the city.

The one nice thing about this new system is that it makes gathering the exact addresses where permits should, but don't, exist for all NPA Outdoor illegal signage. For example at 3802 Broadway Avenue in Queens, of the six permits shown the Department of Buildings website, no permits for advertising signage exist.

Oddly enough the Google Maps Streetview doesn't show an NPA sign. Must have been put up very recently.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Most Exciting Thing I've Seen In A Long Time

The Association Le M.U.R. Modulable Urbain Reactif is a website showcasing artwork on a single street level billboard in Paris. It seems the advertising location was overtaken by graffiti scrawl to the point where the ad company simply gave up on the billboard in early 2007. Left abandoned, Le M.U.R. began to curate artworks at this location and has continued to do so ever since. The website showcases the long list of artist projects and is a fantastic example of what art can bring to even a single location if given the opportunity. It also is a compelling argument for an environment in which art is championed over advertising as it is clearly a better option than the typical ad posters which adorn these types of locations in Paris.

Photo of Association Le M.U.R.Modulable Urbain Reactif advertising location with work by SAN

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Catching You Off Gaurd

A few days ago I found a large Streetscape for the Vampire Diaries on 9th avenue between 14th and 15th streets. I walked by the day after and found this devious video installation. The screen mimics a mirror by playing back a video feed from directly over the screen, while the text below asks "Vampires can't see their reflection...can you?" Intended to make you look at the screen and engage you in the vampire myth that is the show's premise, this installation does something else. If you stand in front of the advertisement for more than a few seconds, the screen flashes and a crow flies through the image. After this short clips of the show begin to play giving you a preview of what is in store for you should you choose to tune in.

Similarly to the ESPN advertisement just installed on 43rd street, this ad interacts with you, or you it. As cute as this may be, there is another aspect to this interaction we should all be aware of as public citizens. Every time someone stands in front of this ad long enough to trigger the video playback, valuable information is being gathered for the company advertising as well as InWindow on how affective the message and medium is. Combine this information with facial recognition technology provided by companies like Quividi and you are not only advertising, but obtaining highly specific market research at the same time. I make sure to stop in front of this ad as often as possible.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

New ESPN Streetscape An Interactive Video Game

A good friend and PublicAdCampaign reader from Abztract sent me these images of a new InWindow advertisement on 43rd street and 5th Avenue. This location has been added to the growing map of Streetscape locations around the city.
I was walking down 5th ave at 43rd this AM and ran into where the Circuit City (now empty) store is. ESPN has a giant wrapped ad around the store. Except now, they installed an interactive TV/camera sensor. Basically, in the TV is a Quarterback. He tosses the football and the passerby has to attempt to catch it. As you catch it, it ads points on the TV screen. Not only is this annoying (because a group of 30 tourists stand in the middle of a very busy 5th ave to watch this tool attempt to catch imaginary footballs) I think this is also ugly. Who ever thought that a video game needs to be played in the middle of the street where people are hurrying to their office.

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