Mad Men or Mad Max?
Sao Paolo, Brazil, is the fourth most populated city in the world, and the largest city in the southern hemisphere. In 2007, mayor Gilberto Kassab had a bill passed banning advertisement. Whether it was a political game, an anti-advertising sentiment or a response to a real problem, the Brazilian Supreme Court considered the bill constitutional.
At the time, the mayor emphasized the non-ideological nature of the Cidade Limpa (“Clean City”) plan—he only wanted to curb excesses. He was thus comparing advertisement to a kind of pollution. In fact, in an environment that was saturated with advertisement, the population needed to rethink its urban landscape.
But why question the existence of urban advertisement, which is a necessary evil? One has to understand that the busier the context, the more advertisement will need to stand out. Advertising often sacrifices aesthetics in favor of efficient visual effect. This is why 15,000 billboards were taken down. Posters, flyers, stickers, logos, signs and other promotional media were systematically banned.
The quick implementation of the new bill created an economic shockwave. The whole industry had to question its purpose. Creative directors dramatically changed their relationship to the city and performed branding innovation; they managed to logically readjust the role of all stakeholders in the city. They understood consumers’ behavior and usage better, and favored word-of-mouth and digital strategy. This is how the whole field changed.
However, brands or their visual presence have not completely disappeared. First confined to closed spaces like the subway, restaurant toilets, and elevators, they had to adapt to their new urban context and to appropriate a new language. Today, color-coding (the most minimalist reduction of a brand) allows ties between architecture and brands. Branding is done without looking into volumes; it adapts smoothly with its surroundings. Citibank, for example, uses a very bright blue that is easily recognizable and McDonald’s had red tint areas.
A study conducted in 2011 in Sao Paolo shows that 70 percent of the city inhabitants are very satisfied with the bill, because it addresses the issue of visibility. Today only strategies that are built on cohesive values of meaning and usefulness can integrate in a permanent way.
In order to meet the new scenarios, the city becomes an important platform for innovation. Visual media that synch with traffic in real time; GPS tracking for garbage, noise level indicators, extended mapping or 2.0 citizenship: these are new ideas that break radically from a traditional approach to the urban ecosystem.
Although too much advertising is bad for advertising, the lack of innovation and creativity will cause serious problems. For some years now, more than half of the world population lives in an urban setting. Whether in Brazil or elsewhere, cities face challenges linked to ecology, mobility, and wellbeing. Cities and advertising agencies have to offer a framework for the development of new collaborative behaviors and have to follow through with the paradigm shift created by a networked and globalized world.
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PHOTO Paul Englefield (Creative Commons BY 2.0)