<body> Public Ad Campaign: An Email Conversation with Brian Sterling - Part1
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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

An Email Conversation with Brian Sterling - Part1

Just after NuART I got an email from Brian Sterling who works in the OOH industry in NY. He had some complaints about my behavior and my motivations regarding the PublicAdCampaign project. Eager to respond and have a conversation about this I asked Brian if he minded if I published our conversation for PublicAdCampaign readers. He agreed and recently replied to my initial response with a well thought out rebuttal that I will answer and post as the second part of this conversation. How long this will go on for I am not sure but here we go...

Brian Sterling: Initial Email

I find you're "campaign" against out-of-home advertising to be comical. I recently stumbled onto your website and find you're mission to be ambiguous, misleading and overly ideological. First of all, privately owned buildings are by no means "public space" or "shares space". Would I come in to your private apartment and remove a poster on my wall because I think it doesn't look good? If you truly believe that all space is "public", do I have the right to cut down a tree in a park simply because I don't like it there? Any agreement held between a building's owner and a 3rd party sales rep is totally legal and, most of the times, very far from "blight". Further, I have been introduced to many things by advertising (which, by the way, finances virtually everything that you probably enjoy. Like that TV show you watched last night? You owe it to companies like Proctor & Gamble).

I guess what I'm trying to say is if you don't like billboards and signage, then move out of Manhattan and go someplace like Kansas. You will have all the "public" and "Shared" space there you can handle. Until then, get a life and stop complaining about trivial things.

Jordan Seiler: 1st Response

Brian,

while I understand that technically the walls of a privately owned building are the property of the building owner, the fact of the matter is that their use has a direct affect on the public and all of those people which make up that group. For this reason, many cities have rules about how those private/public walls are used, most notably with the permitting process which allows the NYC DOB to control the amount and type of advertising which adorns them. For this reason alone I think we must rethink our idea of how the private walls of a building are used. That said, advertising imagery has a tendency to do two things which might be detrimental to the public's welfare and therefore require us to again, reconsider the private ownership of building surfaces which face the public.

First, research has shown that through repitition and normalization, consuming more advertising messages has a tendency to increase poor social behavior while increasing consumption, contributing to environmental devastation and lack of concern for human rights. This might seem like and oversimplification of the issue but basically being sorrounded by images which reinforce desire for increased wealth and power, causes one to give those social behaviors more prominence in ones life and their pusuit more importance. While the desire for wealth and power is human nature, increasing the prominence of that behavior in our population comes at the cost of other concerns like community involvement and increased concern for your fellow man.

The second problem with allowing outdoor advertising access to our public/private walls is that by doing so we monetize public space. Advertising has the luxury of deep pockets and once you tell a landlord that the walls of their building are worth large sums of money, it becomes difficult if not impossible to imagine that space being used by the community. The example I go back to over and over is that a landlord whose small two story building sits close to a NYC public school has a free wall. The landlord might offer this blank wall to the students so that they might paint a mural and become physically engaged in their environment. Something I think we can all agree would be a good thing. With advertising in public it becomes hard if not impossible to expect that landlord to donate the space when he or she could be making money from it. Allowing OOH advertising presents building owners with a moral conundrum I don't think we should ask them to face. Instead the solution might be taking away that conundrum by banning outdoor advertising and its tendency to monetize our shared environment.

To the comment about you coming into my home and taking down the Hiro print that I so much enjoy, you are right. To me the issue is that public space is in many ways our shared living room, and not the commercial space that we often see it as in the 21st century city. My argument then is that the advertising in public is actually akin to someone coming into all of our living room and hanging imagery which we didnt come to agree upon collectively. Its an assault on our shared space and our communal living space. This might seem overly ideological but i think the health of our cities and the people that occupy them should be treated as ideologically as possible in the hopes that we can live in the best environments we can.

The last comment you make about advertising paying for all of the services I have come to enjoy is one that is very often used by the industry to justify the massive proliferation of their medium. First, I have no issue with advertising on TV or any other media which I have the option to use. As a citizen concerned with how much advertising I ingest, I can simply not watch TV or buy a DVR, both an active choice that is not available to me in public space. My inability to opt out of public space makes OOH advertising particularly manipulative and as you probably know this inability to opt out is one of the reasons the OOH industry has seen little loss of business in this recession and age of new media possibilities like the internet and social media. With consumers blocking advertising in other media, advertisers know they get the same bang for their buck in public space as they always have.

As well you might argue that OOH advertising supports public infrastructure. We could look to companies like Cemusa to keep our bus shelters in service, or CBS to keep our MTA fiscally sound, or Titan, Van Wagner and the other two to keep our pay phones operational, but when we do they come up far short of actually supporting any of those amenities. If you take a look at pay phones in this city you will quickly notice that non of them work. If you consider the 100 million dollars the MTA receives from CBS for exclusive rights to everything transit and weigh that against the 10 billion dollar MTA operating budget you find that increasing fares by only 2 cents a ride would make up for their "help", and well we all know Cemusa got a great deal. The minuscule aid that the OOH industry brings to our city infrastructure should then be weighed against the detrimental social affects i mentioned earlier and I think the answer becomes a resounding we don't need that kind of help.

As for moving out of NY, well that's just not going to happen. I love this city dearly and my fight for better use of our shared public environment is one I think worth continuing as I try to make my home a better place for everyone.

Please tell us a bit about yourself and maybe respond to some of my comments about your initial email

Thanks

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