Monday, April 13, 2009

Billboard Revenue Meltdown

I walk past these two advertisements almost everyday on my way to a studio I work out of often. Ussually they advertise for some high fashion clothing complany or an ucpoming movie that is willing to shell out what are probably big bucks for such prime chesea real estate. Both had been empty for quite a while until the Manhattan Mini Storage sign was put up on the right billboard about a month ago. The billboard on the left stayed blank until this ad for Larry Flynt's Hustler Club went up no more than two days ago. A while back I posted about what I thought was a unusual number of empty billboards probably caused by economic fears and cuts in advertising spending. The recent posting of this ad for Larry Flynt only strengthens my belief that the large outdoor advertising companies are feeling the burn of economic meltdown. If not, these billbaords would not have sat idle for so many months only to be used by what are clearly companies taking advantage of what are probably highly reduced rental rates.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Storefronts are illegal!

I finally called the senior attorney at the Department of Buildings Sign Enforcement Unit and spoke to him about the storefront window wraps that have been appearing around the city in a wave of business closures. I was curious about the above Western Union wrap at 936 Broadway that had drawn my attention to this issue in the first place. A week after I had seen a stop work order plastered to the windows covered in advertising, those same notifications were gone. After revisiting the DOB website it was clear that the violation was still active and that those stop work orders had simply been removed by the building without resolving the problem.

I wanted to know if there was a general rule regarding this new type of signage so I called up and asked the DOB. The definitive answer I got was that these ads, provided they are compliant with proper zoning regulations and are properly permitted, are like any other billboard and completely legal. Fantastic, so why don't these people bother getting permits? Other similar ad wraps have shown up recently and are also operating without permits. What I don't understand is the flagrant disregard for NYC law, which ends up being part of the reason that the public is so outraged. People like me would have very little recourse when complaining about signage in the city if those operating the signs would have the decency to run their business within the confines of NYC law.

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Thursday, April 2, 2009 on Subvertising

I just found Difusor through a friend and I couldn't be happier with their views on public advertising and how we should go about dealing with it. I have always promoted the complete removal of outdoor advertising by artists. Simple rearrangements and critical commentary not only leave the brand recognizable but often reinforce the advertisements original goal by drawing your attention to the advertisement with even more force.


For us, as for many other people, massive outdoor advertising is a problem: promotes excessive and careless consumption , it’s ugly, obscene and visually pollute the environment and spirits.

As a problem to us, we want to find a solution.


Subvertising is a technique that seeks to subvert, or at least question the message.

However, we believe that its real effectiveness is null or even counterproductive for the goal that has been created. Perhaps the message subverted ad questioning but also reinforces the brand. Generating controversy is a key factor in most campaigns, and is a largely explained strategy in marketing bibliography.

Therefore, we believe that subvertising is marketing 2.0, that made by users without wanting to, without knowing it, without charge, and on, believing that it is a critical tool. As has happened in several campaigns, subvertising itself is part of a guerrilla marketing campaign . Street marketing is a technique used mostly in central Europe and it works like this:

  1. Companies launch the street marketing campaign.
  2. They wait for the reaction of the target, which normally consists of “subversive” alterations in the advertising format.
  3. Reaction is incorporated as part of the campaign, launching the second and final phase of ads, which include the “subversive” changes obtained.

What happened?

  1. They have turned off the most critical and creative direct answer.
  2. They have incorporated the target (young, urban and creative) to the brand dynamics .


We believe that one way to do subvertising is not doing it at all, not using their language, not to using their logos. Buffing is a concept created for the cleanup in the railway system in New York in the early times of graffiti. From there it was extended, indicating any action to clear graffiti.

We present below three examples of how doing it:

Option 1: trash container

This is the best place for advertising.

antes_0.jpg despues.jpg

Option 2: billboards

If the posters are glued properly, the option would be as follows:


Option 3: eyetracking

You can always be creative. Eye tracking is a term that refers to the process that evaluates the point where the gaze is fixed or the movement of the eye. This process is used in research on visual systems in psychology, in cognitive linguistics and in product design. In this case, the hot zones are the most significant for the design concerning its effectiveness to communicate. Where there was relevant information for the ad is where we have put more effort into covering.

img_0077.jpg img_0066.jpg

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Norwegian ski billboard gets snowy when texted

Someone sent me this post on a simple mechanical bus advertisement in Norway. It's not the most interesting thing in the world, but what I found through a link in the post caught my attention. Apparently back in 2007, Marc Ecko had a hand in designing a bus shelter advertisement that allowed you to "spray paint" whatever you like on an LCD screen using your bluetooth phone. As much as I hate the use of this technology as an advertisement, as a public art work it is fantastic. Although the marks you make with your phone are not permanent, the act of creating ephemeral content in public space is still at the heart of what you're doing, and should provide similar emotions to actually writing on the walls of our shared spaces (without the fear). In fact, something as banal as this could even be a spark which motivates people who would otherwise not think of themselves illegally writing on public space, to actually go out and do so. It's almost a legal tutorial on what it is like to see your ideas expressed in the public, and that's empowering.

VIA Engadget Mobile

by Darren Murph, posted Mar 25th 2009 at 2:19AM

We've certainly seen mobile-activated bus stop ads before, but the cool factor on this one was just too impressive to overlook. Tryvann Winter Park, a ski resort that sits just 15 minutes away from downtown Oslo, was searching high and low for ways to better market itself to residents of the bustling Norweigian city. In order to do so, it turned to JCDecaux, who conjured up the brilliant idea you see to the right. Essentially, this advertisement packs a few internal fans and a bucketful of faux snow; whenever it starts snowing up at the ski resort, someone sends a text to the billboard and the flurries start to fly. This way, residents and workers in Oslo can easily see when conditions are good some 500 meters up. We're told that Tryvann "loved" the campaign and the resulting crowds that came, though there's no mention of whether it'll be implemented next season or elsewhere in the world.

Mark Ecko post off the first post:

Sure, we've seen a plethora of interactive billboards before, but Mark Ecko's (credit to Benjamin Busse) latest eye-catcher could seriously make you miss your ride. This brilliantly designed ad sports an LCD that can be painted up by your Bluetooth cellphone, as it allows passers to use their mobile as a spray can to decorate the screen as they please. No word on whether this thing accepts multiple connections or not, but a tagging duel would be mighty fine entertainment whilst waiting on the next bus.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Can’t Rent Your Storefront? Make it an Illegal Billboard

When new technologies come out and or become cheap enough to implement, the advertising industry often uses them to create new venues for advertising dissemination. It seems the large scale vinyl print has found its newest application as the economic crisis leaves storefronts abandoned and landlords without income. These locations are treated by the Department of buildings the same way billboards are treated and thus require permits. If permits are not obtained the signage is considered illegal and is subject to the same fines and violations associated will illegal billboards.

Recently I found a stop work order plastered on top of a large vinyl building wrap for Western Union on the corner of 22nd street. It seemed that with good reason, the DOB was treating the advertisement like a billboard. Because the premises had not obtained the correct permit from the DOB, the sign was in violation. I was sure similar ads cropping up around the city were illegal as well but needed to find another similar ad so I could look at the DOB website for permit information. Sure enough today I ran across this illegal Snickers building wrap which has no permits and is larger than most billboards even in Times Square. Here is my complaint #1251002

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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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Bussiness Goes Under, Ads Pop Up

Recently I've been noticing a lot of street level businesses closing shop, either relocating or going under completely in these dismal financial times. As if empty store fronts weren't bad enough, these empty spaces are now being turned into giant inescapable street level billboards as a way to offset rental losses for the landlord. The complete vinyl wraps are sure attention grabbers and must work very well as ads cause they are popping up everywhere. I had been meaning to look into the legality of these ads when I stumbled upon this one at 22nd street and Broadway on the south east corner.

It seems a stop work order has been issued because the sign at this location was erected without a permit. The DOB website has many violations in regard to this sign but complaint #1250447 seems to be the clearest citation. The problem here is despite the sign being erected without a permit and therefor being illegal, the sign will continue to operate exactly as it was intended. It is likely if a permit is obtained, the company responsible for this abomination will face no penalties and be allowed to continue to operate at this location. It is important that we understand that outdoor advertising is able to operate unphased despite the city's best efforts to control rampant illegal operations.

If this sign was erected without a permit you can be damn sure the rest of the signs erected in a similar fashion and on similar locations are probably done without permits as well. This is often the case with new forms of advertising, companies test the public's reaction by erecting signage before asking for permission. Only once the public has put out a distress signal do the ads come under city jurisdiction and begin to comply with the law. It is in our best interest to be outraged by these new intrusions and make that voice heard. Maybe enough distaste for this type of signage will keep these from becoming another expected intrusion on our public psyche.

If you see any other signs similar to this one please take a picture and send it to us. We will report the sign and follow its removal.

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Who Watches The Watchmen? Hopefully the Anti-Vandal Squad

I won't go into a rant on this one. We have all seen similar amazingly insidious forms of outdoor advertising taking advantage of graffiti and street artists. These campaigns exploit these artists by having them create content for advertising in a medium they developed for self expression. What once challenged the use of public space has become a commodity held hostage to the desires of the advertising industry. And this does not even begin to talk about the fact that the Anti-Vandal Squad should be on this one like flies to shit, but obviously won't pay any mind. You think they have as extensive a file on the company that does this sort of illegal commercial graffiti as they have on PosterBoy? I doubt it.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

To the Anti Vandal Squad: I Got One!

Walking 21st street between Park avenue south and 5th avenue, I came across some graffiti. Sprayed directly on the city street these vandals has audaciously stenciled their messages directly onto our public space.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dangerous Illegal Art? How About Some Dangerous Illegal Billboards

So with all this talk about illegal art I thought we should all be reminded of the other illegal image making that goes on around the city, outdoor advertising. There is a stark contrast between the two processes which needs to be noted, and one which has not been acknowledged by those commenting on this blog in regards to PosterBoy's illegal and destructive billboard takedown.

Above is an illegal billboard I found recently that I called in to the Department of Buildings (complaint #1247134). I am one of a group of diligent citizens that runs a site called illegal billboards that keeps track of illegal signage in the city, and is a forum for the discussion of billboard rules and regulations. We also keep track of the billboards we are responsible for getting removed, like this illegal sign at the corner of 34th street and 9th avenue. Illegal signage is nearly as prevalent if not more prevalent than legal signage in our public environment. Companies like Fuel Outdoor, (illegal signs' dirtiest billboard company) and NPA Outdoor, remain in operation despite conducting almost no legal business whatsoever. The fact of the matter is that both illegal artists and advertisers are operating vigilante style in a battle to gain the public's attention for their own cause.

With that said, the social deviance and danger associated with our illegal public projects pales in comparison to equivalent outdoor advertising activities. The most obvious difference being that their deviance creates an environment rife with illegal activity for profit, and ours creates an environment which promotes deviant activities in pursuit of social justice. The former is an environment where profit is paramount, and the public is silenced in order to keep quiet the illegal activities being perpetrated by private forces. The later is an environment where the public is rewarded for outing illegal activity in the public at the cost of our very own safety and well being.

Another difference between the two types of illegal image making taking place in our public environment has to do with the dangers associated with each. Recent PosterBoy activities were looked at as being especially dangerous to the public's safety by recent commentors. Yet the danger caused by PosterBoy is dwarfed by the incomparable danger that outdoor advertising poses to our public safety, both mentally and physically. This article details the safety concerns posed by outdoor advertising's illegal use of scaffolding around the city a few years back.

The above images are from a sidewalk shed which collapsed after strong winds got hold of a giant Helio advertisement wrapped around the shed. This eventually caused the structure to collapse, destroying several cars and potentially risking the lives of the public.

Therefore when we talk about illegal art and public destruction of property let's all remember that our efforts to press our issue by illegal methods do not veer too far from the operations of industries which have strangled a vital lifeline to our city, our ability to protest by any means necessary, while perpetrating the exact same crimes.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Hard Times For Everyone

Seems like Van Wagner is having some hard times, or else PosterBoy is really going all out. (He tells me these aren't his handy work) I'm sure this is just fallout from the current financial madness but that doesn't make it any less sweet. Empty like this, a billboard's potential becomes much more apparent, and its expected use less determined.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Fuel Outdoor Suffers Huge Defeat as US Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down Metro Lights Decision

Rami Tabello is a genius. This post chronicles the ongoing Fuel Outdoor drama which seems to have ended in Fuels defeat. We should see the removal of many Fuel advertising structures in New York and other cities as this decision trickles down. The end note regarding the stock price for the hedge fund that owns Fuel is amazing.

from by

We’ve written about Fuel Outdoor before. This is a company that we have termed the “Dirtiest Billboard Company in America.” We also wrote about Fuel’s legal challenge against New York City in Fuel Outdoor Builds 324 Illegal Signs in New York City Then Sues New York City.

Fuel Outdoor is owned by Och-Ziff Hedge Fund which, after it acquired Fuel from Sergio Fernandez De Cordova and Seth Lippert (see an interview with these two oleagenous twats), financed a multi-million dollar USA-wide spree of illegal billboard construction.

In addition to installing illegal billboards, Fuel Outdoor would oversell their signs. They would sell, say, 2,500 sign faces nationwide to a major media buyer, then actually install less than that. Pattison Outdoor does the same thing in Canada, although Astral and CBS are careful not to. (When CBS Outdoor acquired the TTC advertising contract from Urban Outdoor TransAD, CBS found that Urban was overselling quite a bit and CBS Outdoor officials believe that IMA Outdoor currently oversells signs for its GO Transit franchise).

Fuel’s signature product is their “Metro Lights Panels” which you can see above. They were installed without permits first in Los Angeles, which has a street furniture contract; Fuel Outdoor than challenged the signs by-laws of Los Angeles, under the First Amendment. Fuel was quite successful in the lower courts, which ruled that Los Angeles cannot ban Fuel’s signs because it allows the same type of signs on transit shelters.

Emboldened by the lower court victory in Los Angeles, Fuel Outdoor installed the same signs illegally in other American cities that have Street Furniture contracts including: New York, Boston (in very useless places), Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington DC and San Francisco. There are currently outstanding challenges by Fuel Outdoor to the signs by-laws in San Francisco and New York. Those challenges in San Fran were stayed pending the outcome of an appellate court ruling in the Los Angeles case.

Thankfully, appellate court completely destroyed Fuel Outdoor and said that municipalities can ban billboards even if they allow the exact same signs on transit shelters. This is the ruling [PDF]:

Fuel Outdoor can now be expected to lose the associated court cases in the rest of the country. One blogger, points to a particularly scathing paragraph in the opinion in which the judges slam Fuel Outdoor’s famous attorney Lawrence Tribe:

Not to be deterred, Metro Lights drew our attention to additional precedents at oral argument in support of a further variation on this allegation of unconstitutional favoritism. Upping the rhetorical ante, Metro Lights accused the City of “auctioning off First Amendment rights” to the highest bidder, in this case CBS. This is strong, if rather sloganeering, language, but after reviewing the case law on which Metro Lights relies, we believe it to be little more than a canard.

Och-Ziff Hedge Fund is currently trading at $4.85/share down from its $32/share initial public offering price in late 2007.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Acts of Beneficent Citizenship

A regular reader and I have been in correspondence lately and his last email was so fantastic I had to share. I asked him a few questions about how he came upon the site and that required some history. Explaining some of his time in the advertising industry he says...

"I interned at CP+B an advertising giant, an interesting experience doesn't even begin to describe it. A slave ship, full of cultural and artistic titans, shackled with brands."

He then regales me with this quote from advertising giant David Ogilvy that I had never seen before. If anyone should not be talking like this, it's ad exec's like Ogilvy, yet here it is in words.

One of my favorite quotes from an advertising God:

"As a private person, I have a passion for landscape, and I have never seen one improved by a billboard. Where every prospect pleases, man is at his vilest when he erects a billboard. When I retire from Madison Avenue, I am going to start a secret society of masked vigilantes who will travel around the world on silent motor bicycles, chopping down posters at the dark of the moon. How many juries will convict us when we are caught in these acts of beneficent citizenship?" - David M Ogilvy

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Public Opinion by Walter Lipman

I'm reading Walter Lippman's Public Opinion and came across some interesting quotes. The chapter they come from is called The Buying Public and talks about the tenuous relationship between advertisers, newspapers, and the buying public.

"It would be regarded as an outrage to have to pay openly the price of a good ice cream soda for all the news of the world, though the public will pay that and more when it buys the advertised commodities. The public pays for the press, but only when the payment is concealed [by advertising]."

Unlike those comoddities we are willing to pay for, the news is expected to be open, fair, truthful and above all free, in many ways a right in democratic society. It is in the end how we shape our understanding of the world we live in and then function as informed citizens.

"The real problem is that the readers of a newspaper, unaccustomed to paying the cost of news-gathering, can be capitalized only by turning them into circulation that can be sold to manufacturers and merchants."

Our inability to accept the cost of running what we want to be a democratic and transparent endeavor, the news, results in the sale of this institution to advertising and inevitably corporate interests.

The public environment we live in is not so dissimilar. In an effort to create a space true to the publics interest we must be willing to accept the cost and not rely on corporate sponsors to fund our public spaces, be they advertising, Business improvement Districts, Park Conservancies, or any other type of public institution funded by private monies.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Words Matter: How Redefining “Billboard” Helps Sign Companies and Developers Bring Us More Outdoor Advertising

VIA Ban Billboard Blight

A flat surface (as of a panel, wall, or fence) on which bills are posted. Specifically, a large panel designed to carry outdoor advertising. This is the definition of “Billboard” from Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. Other dictionary definitions vary slightly, but the central idea is the same, that a billboard is a surface or panel upon which outdoor advertising is placed.

Contrast that with the city planning department’s latest definition of billboard as “Any sign structure that accommodates a sign larger than 40 square feet that is erected or affixed to one or more poles, columns or posts, or is attached to a building or structure, but excluding an Integral Electronic Display Sign, Supergraphic Sign or Wall Sign.”

Where does this definition come from? The word billboard doesn’t even appear in the L.A. municipal sign code, which only distinguishes between on-site and off-site signs (ones advertising goods and services available on the premises versus those advertising goods and services sold elsewhere) and defines specific types of signs, such as pole signs, monument signs, ledge signs, and so forth.

Do we really care about this parsing of definitions? We ought to, because limiting the definition of billboard to exclude such things as supergraphic signs, digital signs, and wall signs is allowing developers to claim a reduction in “billboards” at the same time they seek entitlements for enormous amounts of new advertising signage. For instance, a lobbyist speaking on behalf of the Figueroa and Olympic Sign District last month told the city planning commission that adoption would actually result in billboard “reduction.” He was able to make this claim because some of the conventional variety on poles would be removed to make way for development, even though the proposed signage in the district would total almost 50,000 square feet.

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Friday, January 9, 2009

Zip Car and the Advertising Dilemma

Some of the topics I choose to address may seem a little far off base but negotiating a common public space is a complex issue with many facets. The removal of outdoor advertising from the public environment is negotiated everyday by our interaction with the market and our streets.

Zip Car is a rent by the hour, membership based rental car company throughout the United States. They offer cheap access to cars in major urban centers and have become a smart way to "own" a car in a congested and expensive city environment. Social responsibility and the removal of cars from the road is part of their mission statement.

It turns out they are paying attention to other urban concerns as well. At the end of a customer survey I came across an interesting multiple choice question.

How would you rate the value of the following services? from High-low.

A car with advertising on the exterior or interior (whether electronic or traditional) offered at reduced rates

Reduced rates subsidized by advertising on (e.g. you would see ads when you went to make a reservation)

Instead of just placing advertising on the cars and charging the same rates, Zipcar is offering the public an opportunity to weigh in on how much driving around an advertisement is worth in savings.

In an era of advertising overload this is a good lesson in economics. If zipcar reduces rates after selling advertising space, they will get nothing out of the deal. Instead they are presenting themselves as socially responsible, and in many ways integrating themselves into the public identity by allowing the public to make decisions for the company. They see profit from their services rising by possibly not selling ad space. How novel.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Simple Conundrum

I received an interesting email this morning asking me if I knew anything about blue tooth advertising laws in the city and whether or not it was banned. The email came from a man I will not name at a company called Street Blimps, so I was understandably a little wary. After deciding it was safe I made the call and realized very quickly I had nothing to worry about and wasn't talking to anyone suspect.

Apparently a Google search had returned my name and involvement with the illegal billboards site. funny. He seemed genuinely interested with our public space concerns and explained his disgust with the scaffolding advertising scandal that plagued New York a while back. He told me a client wanted to know about Blue Tooth advertising options and was curious about what I knew. I told him I knew very little except that the new Cemusa Bus Shelters were supposed to have Blue Tooth technology both for ad content as well as bus information.

He then began to tell me how only 25% of phones have Blue Tooth and that text for information was available on all phones, making it a much better advertising tool. He also made a comment we both picked up on regarding the privacy issues allowed through text for information advertising versus blue tooth advertising. I was happy to hear an advertiser talking about privacy issues and told him a little more about my work.

This got us in to a little social responsibility frenzy at which point he explained his prior job in environmental products ten years before entering the advertising industry. He talked about it with passion and interest. That is not to say that he wasn't talking about his current job with as much fervor. I only bring it up because he did. His unprompted explanation for being in the ad industry was responsibility, including children.

Street Blimps is an advertising company which specializes in the more avant-gard forms. Amongst its repertoire, sidewalk stickers, projection billboards, mobile billboards (billboards on trucks) street teams, ad balloons, Segways, vehicle wraps and "innovative ideas". If these were the products being pushed for the last ten years, who was the contradiction I was talking to, and why did it sound so familiar?

I think it is safe to say a large portion of people I know or have met in advertising had aspirations for other things. They may not have been on any grander scale or meant anything more to the world, I only say that they thought of other things and ended up with advertising. It seems many of us, myself included, have issues we fail to see or choose not to look at.

Lippman Says, "From father to son, from prelate to novice, from veteran to cadet, certain ways of seeing and doing are taught."

If you're feeling antsy and you're ready to make the jump out of advertising, the Anti Advertising Agency can help with their foundation for freedom project.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Orwell Qoute

"Advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill pail." George Orwell.

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Friday, January 2, 2009

Nike ACG BOOTS Billboard Project

Via Hypebeast

Bringing light to the Nike ACG Boots “The Strength Inside” campaign, Nike Sportswear partnered with a handful of high school teens in and around New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore to create a photographic journal representing the concept of “What strength means to you”. The Center for Arts Education (NYC) and the Peace and Love (Philly/B-more) organization brought over 250 kids together for the billboard campaign as one picture from the following neighborhoods/cities were chosen: Queens, Harlem, Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Baltimore. The winning entries from each city/borough will have their images displayed on billboards during the month of January in 2009. Two of the winners seen here include Brooklyn winner Kimone Napier (Billboard located at the corner of Flatbush Ave. & Washington Ave., Brooklyn, NY) and Queens winner Cindy Bencosme (Billboard located at the corner of Jamaica Ave & Sutphin Blvd, Queens, NY).

Giving children access to their own forms of personal communication in the public is a vital way to invigorate peoples investment in their community and public space. Not only do the children understand how their ideas can become a part of the public dialogue but also others within the community bear witness to alternative voices controlling the subject matter of visual communication. It can be extremely empowering to individuals and communities alike and should not be taken lightly. This video of Tom14 speaks to the importance of such community interaction.

How then do we consider this project, which is a stunt for Nike, but yet still a legitimate community project? I don't feel able to fully discredit this project solely on the basis of it being advertising because if all outdoor advertising was done similarly, the city would be a much different place. In fact this change in where outdoor visual content is taken from would result in the great businesses of our communities becoming the curators of our cities art and ideas. Instead of simplistic on way messages meant to steal your attention, companies would gain time in our thoughts by bringing the most interesting content to our city streets.

It's a novel idea and one which can make you imagine how other uses of our public environment might suite the city better without directly changing any of the more rigid power structures which exist in a commodity based market system.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

What Ban? What Moratorium? New Billboards Go Up Alongside Downtown Freeway

Just another case of outdoor advertising companies doing what they want in our public space. If they can so blatantly disregard the law I don't see why I can't do the same thing. the next post will be a response.

As an early Christmas present to the city, a Los Angeles company has put up three full-sized, double-sided billboards alongside the 110 freeway downtown.

Coming on the heels of the city council passage of a three-month moratorium on approvals of new billboards, the structures looming some sixty feet high were not permitted or inspected by the Department of Building and Safety, and were apparently erected over a single weekend.

The billboards bear no company name, but are identical to a billboard put up the same area last year by L.A. Outdoor Advertising, also without any required permits or inspections. That billboard was ordered removed, and at an appeal hearing, Andrew Adelman, head of Building and Safety, said it was the most blatant case of disregarding city codes he had seen in his years with the department.

Billboard Illegally Erected Alongside 110 Freeway Last Year

Billboard Illegally Erected Alongside 110 Freeway Last Year

The company subsequently filed a lawsuit against the city, challenging the constitutionality of its ban on new billboards. Keith Stephens, president of the company, was interviewed on KCET’s recent “Billboard Confidential” and claimed that the city was unfairly discriminating against his company because it had allowed larger companies to put up new billboards and supergraphic signs in special Sign Supplemental Use Districts and as part of community redevelopment agreements.

The multi-ton billboard structures would normally require the submission of structural drawings and calculations, and the foundations for the supporting columns would be inspected for proper depth and steel reinforcement before any concrete was placed. One of the billboards, at 11th and Blaine Streets, appears to be no more than 20 feet from the edge of the freeway.

One of the billboards, at the site of the Plumbers Union Local 78 on James Woods Blvd., is displaying advertising, but the other two have not yet been put into service.

New Billboard Structure

New Freeway Billboard Structure

New Freeway Billboard Awaiting Ad

New Freeway Billboard Awaiting Ad

Posted under Billboards, Freeway Billboards

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Subway Window Ads Alarm Some Riders

The fact that this is all being promoted under the guise that it is to cut down on Scratchiti is a little perplexing.
By Jennifer 8. Lee Via The New York Times City Room.

Coca-Cola ads are placed over the windows of subway cars in a pilot program to discourage scratched graffiti. (Photo: New York City Transit)
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority continues to find new ways to rent its subway real estate to advertisers. Joining the tunnels, station stairs, columns, subway insides, subway outsides, station turnstiles: subway windows.

As Gothamist pointed out last week, red Coca-Cola ads are now covering a number of subway windows, as part of a 30-day pilot program. They are being used on a single eight-car A train where four of the cars have ads covering their large windows (though not their door panes). None of the windows on the other four cars are covered.

Despite the M.T.A. budget shortfall, transit officials say that advertising revenue is not the main motivation for the program. Instead, the sprawling ads have a practical purpose. The first is to reduce what officials call “scratchiti,” or scratched graffiti on the windows.

Scratchiti has become more popular over the past decade as more cleaning agents were developed to fight traditional graffiti. Scrachitti is a major vandalism problem in the subways, costing the system more than $2.5 million a year to replace the glass and covering it with protective Mylar. One man was arrested last month for scratchitti after he was caught in the act by a cameraphone.

Paul J. Fleuranges, a spokesman for New York City Transit, said the agency hoped that the film, called Scotchcal, would cut down on the frequency of scratchitti. The vinyl graphic film, made by 3M, is widely used to wrap buses, because a it allows a full image to be printed on the outside, while the little perforated holes allows people (in theory) to look outside.

The other benefit transit officials are hoping for is that the film will save on energy costs, as the covered windows reduce the amount of hot sun that enters subway cars.

“The car equipment people have for a long time sought to use tinted windows in an attempt to cut down on that ’sun soak’ effect; just like tinted windows reduce the warmth of the sun on a passenger vehicle and help keep the car cooler and assist in the A.C. cooling the car more efficiently,” Mr. Fleuranges wrote in an e-mail message.

Of course, this aspect of the pilot, given that it is December, will be harder to test.

Mr. Fleuranges said the pilot program is actually free to the M.T.A., because Coca-Cola paid for the ads, and CBS Outdoor, which handles subway advertising, threw in the labor.

This Coca-Cola window ad campaign — which started last week — has caught the attention of bloggers, and at least one rider wrote an alarmed letter to the M.T.A. (Others have ranted about the decrease in light in the cars.)

And because you can see out of the windows but not necessarily into the car, a number of people have pointed out the potential security hazards. It seems like a fertile place to get mugged if you are the only one in a subway car late at night. How will the police know to rescue you?

Mr. Fleuranges said that the Police Department’s transit bureau had been involved in pre-pilot discussions and had viewed the material after it was applied. An e-mail message to the Police Department on the topic has not yet been returned.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Pop Down Project

Though this project does not get rid of urban blight, the comment is so clear I had to post it. should we not, just like on the internet, have the right to prevent ourselves from viewing ad content in the public? It has been said that the world of social networking and communication via the internet is the next form of public space or the next democratic public forum. If we reserve the right to censor ourselves from advertising in this medium, should we not do the same for the old tried and true public forum, our city streets?

from Urban Prankster Charlie Todd
The Pop_Down Project offers an alternative to the “pop up” advertising we encounter on the streets. They write:
On the Internet, getting rid of unsolicited pop-ups is pretty easy. In real life, things are a tad more complicated. The Pop_Down Project aims at symbolically restoring everyone’s right to non-exposure: Just stick a “Close window” button on any public space pollution.
Head to the site to download the template and start sticking yourself.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

City Will Try To Untangle Public Art Murals From Billboard Legal Battles

Via Ban Billboard Blight

Murals have long been an important part of visual landscape of Los Angeles, particularly in their illustration of the city’s cultural and political history. Unfortunately, murals on private property have been caught up in the recent legal battles between the city and the outdoor advertising industry, which has argued that the city cannot enforce its sign ordinance, including the 2002 ban on new billboards and other forms of “off-site” commercial advertising, if it doesn’t apply the same enforcement to public art murals. As a result, the city has been forced to cite owners of properties with murals for violation of the ban.

But now the city Planning Department has proposed a way to allow these murals, and a joint committee will be discussing the proposal this coming Wednesday, Nov. 19. This proposal essentially allows private property owners to donate an “art easement” to the city for a wall with an existing or proposed mural, thus turning that piece of the property into a public space exempt from the city sign ordinance.

Anyone interested in this issue should plan to attend the hearing and/or send comments to the committee members. See the committee agenda and planning department report here.

Posted under Billboards, L.A. City Government, Supergraphics

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What's The Difference?

One is done free of charge by residents who by participating in the production of their city space become concerned and involved citizens. The other is paid for by non existent corporate entrepreneurs hellbent on convincing you that the products they are pushing are worth paying attention to. You be the judge of what serves us better.

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More Malfunctioning Taxi TV Screens Are Always On

Is this public space? Should taxi riders be upset with being forced to digest advertisements while they ride through the concrete jungle?

Gothamist by John Del Signore

It seems that more and more taxi TV screens are losing the "off" or "mute" button, turning NYC cabs into hell on wheels. Incensed reader (and big band leader) Gregory Moore writes:

I made the very unpleasant discovery this weekend during a $20 cab ride downtown that those hideous backseat televisions are being re-designed so that they can no longer be turned off, muted or have the volume turned down. As I tried to conduct business on my mobile phone, I continued to be barraged with the same horrendous commercials over and over. Please notify your readers to file a complaint with the Taxi and Limousine Commission over this revolting new "innovation".
Moore goes on to rail against other modern abominations like "dungarees" and "intendos," (kidding) and adds that the driver "said people have actually been stiffing him because they're so pissed at this 'innovation.'"

Ira Goldstein at the Taxi and Limousine Commission assures us the screens are not being changed to eliminate the "off" or "mute" buttons and explains that it's simply a case of technological malfunction. "We have had reports of a handful or less situations such as you're describing and we're currently investigating that. The reports seem to be isolated to one of the three authorized vendors [who manage the TV screens]."

That would be Creative Mobile Technologies, who broadcast NBC and Clear Channel content in over 5,500 cabs citywide. Jesse Davis, the company's president, tells us that "in very small instances, if the touch screen becomes a problem the area can become non-sensitive. And when that happens the car is brought in for service because you can't use it for payment either." Davis insists the malfunction is "very infrequent and quickly remedied."

We started getting jeremiads like Moore's back in July; has anyone else encountered a similar problem? Moore is urging everyone to file a complaint here; the furious rant he sent to the city is after the jump.

"The new forced advertising inside of taxis is no less than being held hostage and made to listen to unwanted noise. Now that the TLC has determined that most thinking riders choose to turn off these backseat televisions, they have made it so that one is FORCED to watch/listen, with no access to on/off or volume. I conduct business from taxis in New York, and this is no less than a violation of my privacy and ability to choose.

"I made a list of all the advertisers that participate in this "innovation" and am going to actively boycott their products, starting with WNBC. Absolutely the worst invasion of privacy I've been forced to be subjected to. I plan to ask the driver if there is an on/off button before entering a cab and will refuse to ride in a cab that does not have one. This is absolutely shameful, in light of rising taxi fares. You should all be ashamed of yourselves for thinking this was acceptable."

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Volunteer Billboard Inventory in Council District 11: We’ve Got the Results

This is the kind of community involvement that is needed to even begin to take on and disarm the outdoor advertising industry. I applaud those who volunteered their time and efforts on this project. As one of the comments to this post stated, "We now have something measurable to take to our Neighborhood Councils, Neighborhood associations, the CRA, Planning Commission and to our City Council members." One of the major problems fighting illegal signage is the lack of public awareness and veil of secrecy surrounding the illegality of so much of outdoor advertising.

It seems LA has been over saturated by outdoor advertising, and is seeing a strong community response. A recent New York Times article speaks to the outrage that prompts the kind reaction we are seeing come out of that city. Tensions are high enough to move forward a proposed citywide block-by-block survey and inspection of the estimated 10,000 billboards beginning February 1st. Ban Billboard Blight is skeptical whether or not this will happen "because an assistant City Attorney has said that he expects billboard companies to go to court to challenge whatever fee the city decides to levy to pay for the program."

Via Ban Billboard Blight

Beginning a week ago, more than 30 volunteers have been going through the streets of L.A. City Council District 11 and cataloging billboards. Volunteers Catalog Billboards in City Council District
Forms Used For Billboard Inventory

Forms Used For Billboard Inventory

The district, represented by Councilman Bill Rosendahl, runs from the 405 freeway west to the ocean, and includes Brentwood and Pacific Palisades on the north, and LAX on the south. Here’s what they found:

  • Total Number of Billboards: 563
  • Number of Digital (Electronic) Billboards: 17 (a number that may be increasing as you read this)

And what is the most billboard-infested street in the district? The clear winner is Lincoln Blvd. which runs from the Santa Monica border south through Westchester, with a total of 84 billboards. Here are the other streets that qualify for the billboard Hall of Shame.

  • Santa Monica Blvd. 61
  • Pico Blvd. 44
  • Wilshire Blvd. 32
  • Sepulveda Blvd. 28
  • Century Blvd. 28
  • Olympic Blvd. 24

And what company owns most of these signs? No surprise that two of the largest outdoor advertisers in the country take that prize Here are the numbers for the five companies with the largest number of billboards.

  • Clear Channel 143
  • CBS Outdoor 136
  • Vista Media 49
  • Regency Outdoor 47
  • Fuel Outdoor 43

There were a total of 34 billboards that had no identification, although the city’s sign ordinance requires all off-site signs to be clearly labeled with the name of the sign owner, the city permit number, and other information.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Remy Martin Gate Advertising

Many forms of outdoor advertising structure that are located on private property in New York City are illegal because they do not conform to city regulations determined by the Department of Buildings. These rules require permits for advertising structures, which allows the city to keep tabs on outdoor advertising and make decisions about when, where, and how they go up. In the City illegal advertising venues operated by NPA outdoor are overlooked for more pressing issues the DOB must deal with everyday. Provided we had the manpower these illegal advertisements would be removed, though probably not before a major battle was fought over their placement on private property, something the city cannot control. Great examples of this are the NPA outdoor wildposting locations throughout the city.

This new form of advertising I ran into tonight shows the ways in which outdoor advertising can circumnavigate its illegal tendencies in our city space. Being on a private pull down gate, and not a structure in need of a DOB permit, this advertisement is completely legal. Without recourse, the public is expected to endure the onslaught of outdoor advertising which can take advantage of these legal channels.

This raises an important issue for me, and that is the definition of private property when it is in public space. Without a doubt, outdoor advertising effects our public environment, and without being able to control it we kneel before its imposing will. Should we not make an attempt to more thoroughly define how our public space is used in general and declare private property in public, public property. Decisions about how that private space is used, which effects the public, would be left up to all of us, as opposed to the property owner. If as a public, we decide that outdoor advertising is unacceptable, the public would have the right to demand its removal despite it being legal because of its placement on private property, permitted or not.

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Long-Awaited Citywide Billboard Inspections to Begin in February: But Will Billboard Companies Sue to Stop It?

Wouldn't it be nice to know definitively how many billboards exist in New York and whether or not they are legal? Los Angeles is proposing to do such a thing and pass the cost on to the outdoor advertising companies. This kind of transparency is unheard of in the world of outdoor advertising, something I found out first hand when attempting to get numbers on subway, phone kiosk and other outdoor advertisements in NYC. This kind of research or public information is exactly what is needed to call to arms the average individual who doesn't contemplate how overwhelming outdoor advertising is. Upon receipt of this information I would expect the average citizen to have a much stronger, and visceral reaction to public advertising in general.

Via Ban Billboard Blight

Almost seven years after the L.A. City Council voted to conduct a block-by-block survey and inspection of the estimated 10,000 billboards in city, the Department and Building and Safety is proposing to start the program on Feb. 1 next year. Whether or not this actually happens is open to question, though, because an assistant City Attorney has said that he expects billboard companies to go to court to challenge whatever fee the city decides to levy to pay for the program.

And what is that fee the deep-pocketed billboard companies might find so onerous? The building department proposes to charge $186 per billboard structure for a three-year inspection period. This would pay for three field inspectors to conduct the actual survey and enter the information into a billboard database, plus a supervising inspector and a clerk. The information gathered would be compared to permit documents submitted by the billboard companies, and any billboards erected or altered illegally would be ordered taken down or brought into compliance with their permits.

The four companies that sued in 2002 to stop the program–Clear Channel, CBS Outdoor, Regency Outdoor, and Vista Media–have already agreed to the fee in a 2006 lawsuit settlement. According to inventories submitted by the city, the four companies own 6,581 signs, which leaves an estimated 3,500 signs owned by other companies that would be covered by the latest proposal.

What will the inspectors actually be doing in the field, to complete a process estimated to take 2.7 years? According to Frank Bush, chief inspector of the Code Enforcement Bureau, inspectors will be “measuring the distance from the property lines to the sign structure; setting up a measuring device to determine the height and size of the sign; actually measuring the height and size of each structure; logging the measurements; comparing the actual measurements against information on a permit or documentation supplied by the sign company; and inspecting each sign structure in terms of code compliance for structural safety and adequacy of the electrical installations for lighted signs.”

What if billboard companies fail to provide copies of their permits? In that case the department will research its own records, for which it will bump the fee for the three-year inspection period to $342. Why so much for a minor task? The answer, apparent to anyone who has attempted on their own to comb through records in search of billboard permit information, is that it’s not minor at all, but a daunting, often frustrating job.

Bush says as much in a detailed memo laying out the proposed terms of the inspection program:

“Locating relevant permits is a tedious and time-consuming process. Not all billboards have been assigned their own separate and distinct address. Some billboards have been assigned a separate address based upon historical practices for the convenience of the Department of Water and Power and other purposes to allow for billing and a dedicated electrical meter to the billboard company. Many other billboards have permits indexed to the address of the property on which they were initially constructed, which address often changed over time as areas developed and lots were split. Many others have permits indexed to a commercial development address which includes dozens and possibly hundreds of permits in cases where the billboard is constructed upon a large commercial property or mini-shopping center. Thus, to locate a billboard permit LADBS must frequently search permits over a range of addresses.

“To view actual permits a BMI [note: inspector] must physically pull the corresponding microfilm reels, search the reel for the permit desired and review the permit to determine whether it relates to the sign structure in question. Assuming that the correct permit is located, the information on the permit (type of sign, dimensions, single or double face, orientation, sign location and plot plan) must be interpreted. Often, the information is handwritten and the record of poor quality. This information can now be compared with the field conditions and any differences noted. These decisions must be made in order to decide if violations exist and whether to issue any enforcement orders for code violations.”

The fees and related approvals for hiring inspectors now go to the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee and then to the full City Council. Will this program which was a critical adjunct to the city’s 2002 ban on new billboards actually get underway in February? Will the billboard companies sue and tie it up in court for another half dozen years, in the meantime putting up digital billboards and enjoying other concessions handed them by the 2006 lawsuit settlement?

Stay tuned.

Read the Sign Inspection and Fee Proposal

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Friday, October 31, 2008

Supergraphic Signs: Are They Fire Safety Hazards? Councilman Says “Yes”

The language used by many anti billboard and general advertising blight advocates is troubling to me. I am well aware of the fact that in our culture a legal battle is often more immediately effective in the removal of outdoor advertising than a discussion about the negative consequences, to ourselves, and our city environment. The problem is these efforts remove outdoor advertising only to see it re-posted in the same location at a later time, or moved to another place entirely. In order to fully reform our city space to function for those people who live in that space, residents must understand their relationship to the city public and what that space should offer them. I help produce the illegal billboards website, which locates un-permitted illegal signage in New York, but as far as I'm concerned all outdoor advertising is illegal.

Via Ban Billboard Blight

Almost a year ago, city building inspectors raised this issue at a meeting of the Board of Building and Safety Commissioners.

These huge signs wrapped over the entire sides of buildings and covering windows could impede firefighters in an emergency, they said. And because almost all the signs have been put up without permits or inspections, they added, there isn’t any way to know if the material or manner of installation meets fire safety standards.

Now, City Councilman Jack Weiss wants the fire department to conduct sweeps to identify hazardous supergraphic signs, and get them immediately removed. At a press conference yesterday on Wilshire Blvd. with a huge supergraphic as a backdrop, Weiss also said he would introduce an ordinance to ban unsafe materials and installations.

“Supergraphics are going up all around the City and the advertising they carry has blocked views and architecture, but today we know that some of these supergraphics also are blocking escape routes and posing a safety hazard for people inside,” Weiss said.

A Fire Department official estimated that there are 90-100 such signs now installed on buildings throughout the city. Because these signs fall under the city’s 2002 ban on new off-site advertising signs, a number have been cited by building inspectors, but one sign company, World Wide Rush, sued the city and this past summer obtained a federal court injunction against enforcement of the ban.

The city council just this week received a communication from City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo regarding a closed-door meeting for a “settlement discussion” in that case. By now, everyone knows that the settlement Delgadillo negotiated with Clear Channel and other billboard companies in 2006 has turned out to be disastrous for the city, so stay tuned.

Weiss Press Release

KABC-TV video

World Wide Rush v. City of Los Angeles.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

SVA Street Art Discussion

My good friend Ava Heller made me aware of a wonderful discussion that took place last night at the School of Visual Arts. The panel included Marc and Sara Schiller of the Wooster Collective, Elbow Toe, Thomas Beale of Honey Space, and Frank Anselmo who teaches "Unconventional: Guerilla Advertising" at SVA. Amy Wilson moderated the talk in which "The panelists will discuss the history of street art, how art and business have blurred on the city streets, and what recent mainstream attention means for the art form: Is it a blessing or a curse?"

I was interested in the fact that art and business blurred on the city streets a long time ago, and how these panelists might define the differences and similarities between the two, if they exist.

Elbow Toe remarked that after ten years of creating ad content he decided to stop pushing product and imbue his life with personal meaning by creating street art. He is a classically trained painter. Marc and Sara Schiller seemed to keep hitting on the idea that "good" street art creates intimate city moments. Shared experiences within the city space where messages or folly were exchanged to the betterment of both parties.

They seemed to be explaining street art as something which is deeply personal for the creator and viewer. The methods and tactics used in street art are all in service of this simple idea of creating an interactive space out of our normal city environment.

My immediate question was what are the problems facing outdoor advertising which uses these same tactics? Does advertising which uses the methods of street art retain a similar potency?

The answer lies in the definition of what that "intimate" moment looks like. Street art tactics often use surprise, serendipity, and amusement to draw in the viewer, creating a space where the unexpected moment becomes a connection between the viewer and what is viewed. That connection defines an interaction in which ideas are exchanged between both parties. Street art, being an offering, asks nothing more of the viewer than to bring what he or she has to bear on the situation. This open ended conversation, started by the artwork, gives in that it provides opportunity without asking for anything in return. Street art advertising, which uses these same tactics of surprise, is different in that the motivation is not an open ended conversation, but the transfer of a singular idea, the recognition of product. The use of street art methods then becomes a wolf in sheep's clothing, drawing you in to relay a message as opposed to invite conversation. The lack of exchange is what renders the moment impotent, not the methods by which it draws you in.

The difference between the two is relatively black and white. Using the same methods, street art manages to invest thought in the public environment while street art advertising attempts to solidify and control thought in the public environment. One gives and one takes. Simple as that.

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Question For AIA Panel: Is It Time to Ban Billboards?

This is the type of open discussion needed about outdoor advertising in general. Thanks to Ban Billboard Blight for their post.

Are billboards incompatible with the practice of architecture, which aims–theoretically, at least– to enhance the visual environment of the city? Or should outdoor advertising be integrated into architecture, thus providing financial benefits that will make projects more feasible? These and other questions will be put to a panel at a discussion entitled “Is It Time To Ban Billboards?”, sponsored by the urban design committee of the L.A. Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) on Nov. 12. Panelists will include anti-blight activists, as well as lobbyists for developers who want to include significant advertising signage in their projects.

When: Wed., Nov. 12, 7-9 p.m

Where: AIA Los Angeles
3780 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 800
Los Angeles, CA 90010

Kevin E. Fry - President, Scenic America
Dennis Hathaway - President, The Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight
Con Howe - Managing Director of The CityView Los Angeles Fund and Former Director of Planning of the City of Los Angeles
Craig Lawson - President, Craig Lawson & Co., LLC
Jeff McConnell - Vice President, Arnie Berghoff & Associates

Moderator: John Kaliski, AIA - Principal, URBAN STUDIO

The public is invited, but space is limited, so anyone wanting to attend should RSVP to

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Union Square Showdown

Last Saturday I was walking through Union Square around 6:30pm, and came across a fantastic scene. In many ways it helped to clarify my own understanding of what true individual to individual public interaction was about, while juxtaposing it with the same scenario mediated by an advertising experience.

AArrow Spinners, a young outdoor advertising company that employs energetic youth and dance spectacle to attract attention for advertising purposes, was performing at the top of the stairs on the southern end of Union Square. At the same time a band called Brothers Moving, a young group of buskers, was performing less than 200 feet away. Each group was enthusiastically entertaining and gathering a crowd quickly.

Video was being shot, and photos taken, by a variety of individuals passing through. I stood back and observed the crowd, realizing this was a unique situation for me. Those who seemed to be using the space more transiently were immediately attracted to the AArrow Spinners, taking photos as they moved from one end of the square to the next. Those individuals that were waiting for someone, or meandering about with some time to kill, generally stopped and gathered around the entire event.

Over the course of about 30 minutes I watched this group slowly make its way to what became a large crowd of nearly a hundred people seated in front of the Brothers Moving. Tips were being tossed in a guitar case and cd's were being purchased, all while the crowd enjoyed a very personal (no mics or amps) musical experience. This migration left the AArrow Spinners with a much smaller crowd watching their antics.

I have always assumed that street art/performance/interaction, are valuable tools that use the public environment to bring together people who would often otherwise not interact. In doing so they create a cohesion amongst the public that emphatically demands an autonomous public use of the public environment. To reiterate the need for a public space of congregation for the exchange of public ideas, is to present a vision of a public forum where in the individual triumphs over the imposition of a few. It mimics the rules of the medieval carnival, where top down authority gives way to individual visions of society as a whole, even if those visions do not support the positions of authority.

These two street performances, which I must grant to both the AArrow Spinners and the Brothers Moving, were exercising their own individual visions for the public environment. Both of them were creating an entertaining environment filled with public interaction and reaction. Yet the performance which most captivated the audience was the one without something asked of the viewer.

Everytime I became lost in the dancing and acrobatics of the AArrow Spinners, I was wrenched out of the experience by the constant realization that this was all being done for my allegiance. This was most hieghtened when the dance action was stopped by a move made to attract my attention to the text on the sign. My interest was constantly asked to confirm my consumption of the product being advertised.

As I stood in front of the Brothers Moving, I quickly became aware that I was tapping my foot and found I had not thought about what I was watching so much as had been enjoying it for quite sometime. The experience was immersive and interactive. I found myself making eye contact and smiling at the kazoo player as he strut a small circle in front of the crowd. My interest here was left to my own choosing and I found it very satisfying.

My thoughts wandered around as I stood there watching the band play. I thought about how fun it must be to sing in front of such a large crowd of strangers. I thought about what kind of people would stop and listen to this kind of music and why the crowd did not fit my expectations. I thought about dinner. I thought about what a nice night it was. All the while those thoughts went on uninterrupted.

I left Union Square thinking. I left Union Square excited about the city. I left Union Square happy to be living around such an incredibly rich group of people and happy I had a moment to sit with them. I did not leaving thinking about AArrow Spinners and whatever advertisement they had wanted me to take notice of.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Station Domination and the Assualt on Your Senses

When an outdoor advertising company like CBS uses the term "station domination" to refer to one of their advertising packages, you can be sure they mean to capture your attention. The experience is meant to "surround the consumer with multiple messages throughout their commute.", and ultimately reach a point of saturation that is unavoidable to the sighted. That being said, "station domination" is often no more than a handful of large vinyl stickers with the same or similar messages from a single company haphazardly strewn about a major NYC station. Recent incarnations of this have been the Converse One Star campaign and the Apple Chromatic campaign.

let it be known that the days of these relatively benign attempts to harness your commute are over. They may not have a name for it yet, but the History Channel is embarking on "transit system domination", with an abundance of above ground and underground locations being used by the company.

Underground, the normal platform advertising locations are being used in conjunction with the above ground Urban Panels, as well as the exteriors of MTA buses, which we are all familiar with. Alongside this, the first (S) shuttle line full subway car wraps were debuted with History Channel ads.

Another new form of transit advertising the History Channel has been using is adhered to the exteriors of the 1, 2, and 3 trains similarly to the exteriors of MTA buses. By not only using every transit advertising opportunity available, but being the first to dominate both an entire train and an entire line, the campaign has gained unprecedented placement in a commuter's daily routine.

And yet what prompted me to write this post was what I found when exiting the station. Both AM NY and Metro NY, free newspapers with mostly bogus news and Hollywood coverage, had full page advertisements wrapping their entire paper on the morning of Friday, October 24th.

Instead of reiterating the devastating effects of advertising on the unprotected psyche, especially at such a vulnerable time as during the morning commute, I want to visualize where this process is going. With the proper coordination of outdoor advertising firms, which is apparently happening before our eyes, and at a very fast pace, it should be feasible to create a "citywide domination" campaign which would take advantage of all the forms of outdoor advertising this city has to offer. These might include billboards at the major automobile entrances and exits to our city, like bridges and tunnels. It would obviously include large purchases of telephone kiosks, bus shelters, and NPA wildposting sites to cover the city streets. One can only begin to imagine the depth to which this could be taken when one begins to think about the incredible number of outdoor advertising operations the city is now home to.

Maybe this would only be feasible for a day, but the affect would be overwhelming. If you can imagine every outdoor advertisement you see in a day all with a similar message, you are beginning to get the idea. The scale which we are talking about here is obviously outside of our normal comprehension, but can be glimpsed in the History Channel's recent attempt to consume the NYC subway system under one message, and that is to watch Cities of the Underground on Sundays at 9pm.

And what would a city feel like with one ubiquitous advertisement, covering all the myriad outdoor advertising locations, floating across our periphery?

Note: This should not be taken lightly. With the advent of digital billboards, digital phone kiosks, digital taxi toppers, digital urban panels, and digital bus exteriors, we gain the ability to tune all of these disparate outdoor advertisements to the same advertisement all at once. Recent inventions used by Titan Outdoor already allow them to change exterior bus ads as they roam around from one different neighborhood to another. It's not hard to imagine entire areas being dominated by certain specific advertisements at different times of day according to the usage. Or maybe ads on bus shelters, taxi toppers, and bus exteriors all changing to the same ad as they come in proximity to each other, thus creating nests of advertising where one would be hard pressed to escape the message...Cities of the Underground, Sundays at 9pm...

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