When I was in Brazil in 2006, there was a lot of discussion among Brazilians over São Paulo mayor Gilberto Kassab’s decision to remove all billboards and public advertisements from the streets and buildings in the city, Brazil’s largest (with more than 20 million people). Kassab’s reasoning was that the visual pollution from all of the signs, neon lights, etc., was making the city uglier. A lot of people in Rio thought it was a good idea, saying that advertising in the city had gotten well out of hand, and when I went to São Paulo, I was inclined to agree. That said, the move had its naysayers, who insisted that, by removing the billboards and other public ads, businesses in São Paulo would suffer greatly.
Well, it appears the naysayers were wrong.
[M]ost citizens and some advertising entities report being quite pleased with the now billboard-less city. A survey this year found that a 70 percent of residents say the Clean City Law has been “beneficial.” “São Paulo’s a very vertical city,” Vinicius Galvao, a journalist, said in an interview with NPR. “That makes it very frenetic. You couldn’t even realize the architecture of the old buildings, because they were just covered with billboards and logos and propaganda. And there was no criteria.”
Where businesses are concerned, it turns out some advertisers are actually thankful for the ban, as it’s forced them to reevaluate and improve. “Companies had to find their own ways to promote products and brands on the streets,” Lalai Luna, co-founder of ad agency Remix,told the Financial Times last year. “São Paulo started having a lot more guerilla marketing [unconventional strategies, such as public stunts and viral campaigns] and it gave a lot of power to online and social media campaigns as a new way to interact with people.”
This seems like a win for everybody. Companies and businesses are still doing well. The advertising agencies have found ways to survive. And the built landscape of São Paulo is visible once again. I think this latter point is particularly important; I’d regularly heard how great the city was, but upon visiting it, I was somewhat underwhelmed, in no small part because, unlike Rio, São Paulo city somehow felt identity-less (Liberdade notwithstanding), like it was wrapped up entirely in consumerism and had little else that culturally or geographically distinguished it. The billboards and advertisements played no small part in adding to that feeling. Thus, five years on, this move seems to have been massively successful, and seems to be something other massive metropolises throughout the world may want to pursue.