No billboards, no outdoor advertising? What next?

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Posted on 3rd Jan 2012 by Scott Goodson in Blog

Can you imagine a city without billboards, business signs or posters? An urban landscape with absolutely no advertising displayed anywhere?

Seems impossible doesn’t it but that’s exactly what happened in São Paulo, Brazil five years ago when mayor Gilberto Kassab passed a ‘Clean City Law’, banning all visual pollution, i.e. outdoor advertising.

Although most residents welcomed the crackdown, which would help to restore the natural beauty of their city, businesses were uneasy about the move, saying it would surely ruin them.

You can see their point when tens of thousands of ads were immediately removed from the streets, destroying any al fresco advertising opportunities whatsoever. Well, certainly in terms of splashing logos, billboards and branding on anything and everything.

But did this ‘ad ban’ cause widespread panic and suffering to local firms? Interestingly, it didn’t. Instead, it actually encouraged many companies to reassess their advertising campaigns and find new and improved ways to reach customers. It forced them to stop and think, inventing smart new ways to promote their products and services on the streets without covering up the beautiful architecture of the city.

That’s when many stumbled across movement marketing. They realized that in order to reach customers they had to freshen up their act. They had to tap into a culture or common theme. Something that would spark people’s interest and create an emotional connection.

Many launched their own public stunts or viral campaigns on the streets. Others embraced social media and began to interact directly with their local customers.

Guerilla marketing became the norm as brands fought for attention to get their marketing messages out there. And do you know what! It worked. The messages started to get through, like never before.

Which leads on to the next revelation… Firms realized that they’d never even questioned whether billboards actually worked. They’d never stopped to consider if outdoor advertising was bringing a good return on investment.

Once upon a time it did. Back in the old days when there weren’t so many brands around, competing for our attention. But today is a different story. Today, most Americans see around 4,000 ads per day and with that much visual bombardment, it’s a wonder if any message gets through.

So the ban taught businesses a valuable lesson. They realized that bombarding people with meaningless visual mess was never going to make an impact. They learnt that one-way advertising doesn’t work anymore. They now understand that interaction is the key to winning customer loyalty and tapping into people’s emotions, loves and interests.

Can you imagine your own city without endless commercials, clogging up the horizon? It’s entirely possible. São Paulo has done it and is living proof that there’s more to advertising than billboards.

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