business consumerism design

The ad-free city

I’ve lamented London’s advertising a few times before, as the industry thinks up ever more intrusive tricks – bus stop posters with sound effects, illuminated bus panels, the tube’s many screens. What would the city look like without all the advertising?

The citizens of Sao Paulo know the answer to that question. In 2006 the mayor Brazil’s largest city declared war on ‘visual pollution’, and all forms of display advertising were banned – no billboards, bus adverts, posters. Even shopfronts had to be cut down to size.

The advertising industry reckons it lost $133 million in revenues, and in a bizarre twist, ad executives found themselves protesting in the streets. In cars, naturally. And yet, as local writer Roberto Pompeu de Toledo put it, the law was  “a rare victory of the public interest over private… For once, all that is accustomed to coming out on top in Brazil has lost.”

As the billboards came down, the city emerged from behind the clutter. In time, advertising will probably be allowed back, but it will have to be more creative, more subtle, less intrusive and shouty. For now, Sao Paulo remains a bold, even prophetic statement about the pervasiveness of consumerism.

  • Local photographer Tony de Marco has documented the change, and you can view a before and after series of photos on his flickr account.

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