Saturday, February 6, 2010

Reader Post Comment Response or Why Advertising And Public Space Are Inherently At Odds With One Another

A PublicAdCampaign reader named Dennis made a wonderful comment regarding the Philip Lumbang cuddly bear disaster in LA and I wanted to respond. He writes...
"The bloggers and commenters shaking their heads over this story need to look beyond the obvious. This kind of situation was created by our friends in the outdoor advertising industry who have used every legal tactic to destroy the ability of cities to control billboards, supergraphic signs, and other conveyances of outdoor advertising. In a nutshell, they have argued in court that the city is guilty of unconstitutional discrimination if it treats a fine-art mural differently than a supergraphic sign. In other words, if it permits a mural on a wall, it can't prohibit a sign for Nike or McDonald's across the street. There is ongoing litigation about this, but as of now the city jeopardizes its sign regulations if it issues permits for murals, or fails to act on complaints about unpermitted murals.
Dennis makes an incredibly important point here which speaks to the fact that outdoor advertising and a healthy public space are two incompatible ideas. Advertising by its very nature must control public space, dominate it, in order to have the most influence over public thought in order to push commercial consumption. This control is not only seen in outdoor advertising language which often describes its presence as dominating, but also in its legal tactics which attempt to strip the city of its ability to protect itself from advertising's ravaging behavior. (as evidenced by Dennis' comment)

What is sacrificed in the wake of advertising's constant land grab and volatile tactics, is the public's ability to use its own judgment on how to curate our shared environments. If the permit issue was not at hand in this current LA mural atrocity, the issue of whether or not to let this mural stay up would be decided by a neighborhood board. The single resident that is taking issue with the mural, calling it "ghetto," would be out voted by the many residents who love the mural and it would be allowed to stay. The public ultimately should be responsible for the curation of our shared spaces and the fact that the city must enforce rulings which do not agree with public sentiment is the horrendous result of how advertising alters and controls our public spaces for the worst.

For this reason, outdoor advertising must not be allowed in public space. A good example of this is a story I come back to routinely. One of the problematic things that outdoor advertising does to our environment is that it assigns a monetary value to public walls, or rather private walls that face the public and therefore have a direct affect on public consciousness. Without a monetary value, public walls can be used for a myriad of things, the value of which is determined by the benefit that use brings to the property owner and the community as a whole.

Take for example a typical corner deli in New York City with an entrance on one side and a blank wall on the other. Now imagine this deli is in close proximity to a public school. This school might ask the deli owner or landlord to use the blank wall for a mural made by the students of one of the classes. Without monetary value, the landlord would be inclined to say yes, knowing that the mural will not only benefit the students, giving them a sense of self worth and physical investment in the neighborhood, but also attract the approval of the community which will then patronize the store.

A moral obstacle arises once this public wall has monetary value. The landlord or deli owner must now decide between receiving a small paycheck for the rental of this public wall, versus the benefits it might have for the community at large. I don't believe we can expect people to disregard the inherent value ascribed by outdoor advertising firms to public space. This would be expecting a self sacrifice for the greater good that simply does not agree with our ego centric capitalist societal values. The answer then is to simply eliminate the motivation to strip our communities of a valuable resource, public space, by preventing outdoor advertising from prescribing monetary value to our shared environment.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Building Community, American Eagle VS JR

Today American Eagle Outfitters announced its plan to put your face on a 25 story digital billboard in Times Square, provided you buy something of course. Especially because this is in Times Square, I'm not all that opposed to this marketing ploy. After all it does present residents (tourists) with an opportunity to imagine a world where their faces and ideas become a part of the visual landscape, an alternative to outdoor advertising we at PublicAdCampaign champion.

I couldn't help but think of JR's work in Brazil as a similar and yet incomparably different version of this recent American Eagle stunt. JR is known for going into communities and photographing the residents, blowing those images up to incredible dimensions and then applying them to the city structure.

Both projects present the public back to itself but there are many differences between the two. The monetary incentives, nature of the subjects, location of project, are three of the more obvious, but I think there is one difference that is less noticeable, and yet incredibly important. This is the relationships that the people who interact with these two different projects develop. The American Eagle project leaves the participant and the producer separate, isolated and disjointed. You get 15 seconds of fame, American Eagle capitalizes on all the friends you have that will talk about American Eagle through your appearance. There is no lasting relationship developed in an exchange where the two parties intend to take something away from the interaction.

JR's work is exactly the opposite. No one takes anything concrete away from the interactions between artist and subject in JR's large scale projects except a lasting connection and real relationship. The images, taken by JR, are returned to the community in the form of artwork. The initial gift by the subject, allowing themselves to be pictured by the artist, is returned to the subject as a lasting image of themselves in their community which announces their humanity and presence in the world. An exchange of this nature actually builds, gives life to new community.

The difference between the two then is not so much monetary, but in their ability to alter the community positively by causing real social interaction which turns into lasting relationships. You can be sure both JR, and the lives of his subjects were significantly altered by these projects and that a continued mutual respect will pervade any further interactions. You can also be sure American Eagle, and the consumers using their purchase to buy time on a big screen have developed nothing, and in fact stolen from each other for personal gain. Each participant in this case moving away from the point of interaction with no sense of community and no lasting attachment to one another. Such is the difference between commercial interactions and community interactions in a public environment.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

KID & PK Tags Gone Forever

On the way to my studio is the Highline. This abandoned track has recently been converted to a public park championed by the Friends of the Highline organization. In the process of dressing up this dilapidated track, they have begun painting portions of wall along certain sections. Two recent casualties of this action were a PK throwup and a KID throwup. I wrestle with graffiti's place in our public spaces, but I can definitively say these two pieces had grown on me over the years, and I mourn the loss of these woks. I know the Friends of the Highline are trying to clean and beautify this public space but their mistake was thinking these tags detracted from the visual landscape when in fact they added a rich texture and history to the wall that only becomes apparent through the grafitti's patina, the age of the spray paint, and the history of writing culture. What a shame.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ads Realize It's The Quality of the Connection That Entices the Audience

A while back I decided to use the phone kiosks more three dimensionally. Partially this was to allow people to see the advertising displaced, grabbing their attention by using a physical object instead of the flat surface provided by advertising. These pieces eventually became a critique of the content provided by advertising, using crumpled up newspaper, which despite being illegible acted as an enticement for some richer exchange than what is regularly provided by advertising.

I enjoyed these pieces and thought it was only a matter of time before someone in the ad world realized these dull two dimensional surfaces hold so much more potential. Sure enough here is an ad for Tylenol which fills this bus kiosk with coffee cups. It is widely understood that an ad is only successful if it can gain the public's attention first. By providing physical objects, this space is far more engaging and absolutely more effective at holding our ever wandering attentions on our city streets. It's the quality of the connection that entices the audience

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Gregory Snyder-Graffiti Lives

On the first page of Graffiti Lives-Beyond the Tag in New York's Urban Underground, Gregory Snyder articulates why I think public interaction with the visual environment is such an important public health issue. It not only engages those individuals who physically alter the space they live in, but also those who consume that alteration (happily or not), creating a participatory interaction in public space. This is by no means a small achievement and one of the achievements of a properly functioning city and residency.

He writes, "I lived in New York for three years, but suddenly I was in an entirely different city; it felt like the walls around me had burst to life. I began to explore my city looking at graffiti, and this gave me a greater appreciation of the diversity of its architecture and it's people. I learned to take photographs, improved my penmanship, and got into lots of fascinating conversations."

Somewhat related, later in the book he writes, "Graffiti writing incites stories, and the desire to write graffiti in part comes from the need to be part of the story." "Stories are an essential part of city life, and the way that graffiti animates spaces is an enjoyable, fascinating aspect of the urban experience. French architecture critic Michele de Certeau agrees with this notion, arguing that graffiti is in line with a collection of urban activities in which we make our own stories and produce the memories that make space habitable. This lived space is the space of everyday experience, in contrast to the planned, ordered city that seeks to impose a metanarrative on space. This may be more than just enjoyement; the author of the reknowned Marxist text The Production of Space, Henri Lefebvre, believes that transforming space in this fashion is potentialy radical, and that the reevaluation of space is as critical to social change as economic and political restructuring."

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Lossing Billboards Left and Right

I made an observation a few days back about the financial crisis possibly hitting outdoor advertising companies in New York. I made it because there seemed to be a few billboards without any content around my studio and I hadn't witnessed that very often. Sure enough one of our diligent commentors told us what's up by posting "I know you hate billboards & etc, but Jan-March are THE WORST MONTHS for outdoor advertising no matter what." I was glad to have been informed of the slow season in outdoor advertising.

It seems that the season this year might be a little slower than usual. Driving along Houston street west of Broadway, one of the most advertising rich sections of NY outside of Times Square I know, looked like the above. Eight outdoor advertisements were missing from Broadway to Sixth avenue; that's a mere 6 blocks. Call it a coincidence if you want to "anonymous" but I think I was right.

We are seeing a dramatic decline in outdoor advertising investment suddenly. One can only speculate that advertisers are unwilling to risk wasting money, knowing the consumer has lost confidence in the market and is therefor spending much less and therefore unaffected by advertising messages. If I can't afford it I definitely don't want to persuaded to buy it, in fact to do so almost offends.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Reader Comments

In case you don't read the comments on this blog, here is a recent diatribe from Ronnie that everyone should look at carefully. It is in response to some of the other comments on the "What's Left is the Idea" post, but makes some incredibly clear and incisive observations about advertising, its manifestation in the public sphere, and its effects on our social psychology. Thanks Ronnie.

Calling all critics!

1) Public property is subject to the authority of the majority. Any laws restricting the freedom of the people to express their views using public media are unconstitutional, whether these laws provide censorship, exact fees for the "service" of expression, or even require an application and identification process. MTA is a public benefit corporation, meaning that insofar as many aspects of their operations are concerned (for instance promotions), they reap both the advantages and responsibilities of any other public entity. If you don't adhere to such standards of liberty, then I suggest that you relocate to a place where the government more overtly overlooks the basic rights of the people.

2)Billboards are tools used to influence people's minds and gear them towards consumption, and it is very good at accomplishing that goal. If it wasn't an effective means of manipulation, then companies wouldn't collectively spend billions each year on advertising.

An individual with no background in advertising or psychology may make the mistake that the purpose of a billboard is simply to forge a memory of a product or company name. The truth known by most if not all who are educated on the subject is that advertising uses one or multiple "emotional appeals" to manipulate public opinion in favor of the product or company. Britney doesn't drink Pepsi so you'll remember Pepsi. You already know about Pepsi. Britney drinks Pepsi because you want to fuck Britney or you want to be Britney or you love to hate Britney like you love to hate your precious/detestable caffeinated corn syrup soda water.

This force of psychological manipulation DOES have a negative effect on society, since the vast majority of advertisements emphasize self-interest. You cannot emphasize self-interest without simultaneously de-emphasizing self-sacrifice. This means that those "buy zit cream and she may give you a hand job" commercials and even the helpful "if you smoke could look ugly when you're 40" billboards may help turn sweet little Timmy into a self-centered, self-loathing, self-improving-and-destructing Tim. Since this archetypal "Consumer Tim" is probably more likely to see the inside of the space station than his local soup kitchen or Habitat for Humanity office, anything to help slow the rapid production of Tims in this country is helpful, not harmful.

3) As for those of you who think that somehow this act is irresponsible, perhaps you should compare it to some of the "legitimate" artistic endeavors. (look for the article "Giant Feces Destroys Swiss Town").

4) People are dying. The world is dying. If we don't do something about it, there will be nothing left of this beautiful thing we call life on this planet. One way for a skilled, creative person to make a difference is to help pull the plug on consumerist psychological manipulation, to remove us from the realm of the unreal and back into the world where your purchases and actions have real effects on you and everyone else on this goddamn rock. If you have a complaint, stop bitching at others who are trying to use their own abilities to make a difference and go do something about it yourself. Some day, despite your disapproval of his methods, you may even thank PosterBoy for drawing your attention away from the contents of a billboard and towards the issues that this world faces. With that I bid you good day. You are free to respond, but you will most assuredly receive no response. I limit myself to one blog response manifesto per annum, and it looks like I used mine a little early this year. Have a good day.

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