Update to The Highway Beautification Act Needed?
A few weeks ago, I finally got around to watching Morgan Spurlock’s POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. The most interesting part of the film was learning of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s Lei Cidade Limpa, or Clean City Law. The law went into effect in 2006, banning billboards, most outdoor posters, and bus advertising, as well as graffiti.
As an Ohioan, it’s certainly difficult to imagine living without the constant barrage of advertising. They seem to be everywhere. Depending on where you live and what you do with your day, you have the potential to see thousands of advertisements a day. In addition to being information overload, outdoor ads can become visual pollution if executed poorly. The Highway Beautification Act of 1965 was implemented to help curb some of the bad taste, but it clearly has some shortcomings. When I was helping my friend move to Colorado in 2005, I could not believe how many billboards I passed between St. Louis and Kansas City in Missouri. I would not be exaggerating in saying at least 500 in 3 hours of driving. Not exactly a scenic drive. While Missouri may be extremely friendly to billboard advertising, 4 states have banned them outright: Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, and Vermont. Others have mode of delivery bans. Arizona recently banned electronic billboards.
So, what effects have been seen in Sao Paulo? According to a 2011 survey, 70-percent of residents supported the ban. Graffiti and street art can still be seen in the poorer areas of the city and marketers still hope for relaxing of the law. Several media sources cited the need for building improvements. With the billboards, posters, and graffiti gone on many buildings, years of neglect are beginning to show and have presented the city with new challenges.
Personally, I wouldn’t miss billboards if they were banned in Ohio, even the one I saw in Cleveland a few weeks ago that informed me of current NFL scores as I drove by. It was possibly the most useful billboard I have ever encountered. Typically, I look at a few dozen a day as I drive around Columbus, but I could only tell you the messages of a few that I find amusing. I think this is true of most people. We’ve learned to ignore them. And if such a ban were even discussed in the Ohio Assembly, business would be front and center in this discussion. As with any change, businesses will overreact, claiming doom and gloom, but they will survive. It may take some creative solutions, but marketers will still find ways to get information to you. It could even have a few positive benefits for businesses and customers, not to mention for the aesthetics of communities, the rural landscape, and nature.
What’s your take on outdoor advertising? What, if anything, would you like to see changed?