Five years after Sao Paulo passed the Clean City Law banning outdoor advertising as visual pollution, a loophole is emerging in the form of art with a small advertiser's logo.
That's what GE and Sao Paulo agency Almap BBDO are doing with the GE Gallery. Three colorful graffiti-like panels have been painted on Sao Paulo buildings over the last week, and this week a small GE logo will be added and a social-media campaign unleashed.
"The city has improved a lot because there was a lot of visual pollution before the law," said Marcello Serpa, partner and creative director at Sao Paulo agency Almap BBDO. "But Sao Paulo is a gray city. It's not like Rio de Janeiro, the most beautiful city in the world. So we tried to use buildings as billboards on a huge scale, to give the city some color and bring art to the people, and to use it as a tool to subtly talk about GE products."
Almap spotted an opportunity when the Sao Paulo mayor's office made it known that the city would be open to graffiti art projects that would beautify the city. So far this year, more than 50 such projects have been approved, although GE is believed to be the first advertiser behind one.
"It's a very new approach to bring content to the city with an art gallery in the public space," Mr. Serpa said.
The first three GE Gallery panels are each about 120 feet high, and represent, somewhat abstractly, three areas GE operates in: energy, health and transportation. Almap BBDO and GE chose three artists or small groups -- Rui Amaral, Estudio Colletivo and Mulheres Barbadas -- who are known for street art and graphic design. Their projects were approved by the mayor's office, and painted on privately-owned buildings in high-traffic areas whose owners agreed to rent their wall space. The painted panels are expected to stay up for about a year.
The panels were painted last week, but with a small space left empty at the bottom that will be filled in this week with the GE logo, revealing who is behind the project.
This week the social-media and ad-supported portion of the campaign kicks in, using the much longer Portuguese version of GE's global "Imagination at work" slogan, which translates back into English as "If you can imagine it, it can be done." The hub will be GE's Facebook page, where people can tour the project and see the location of the panels on an interactive map of Sao Paulo. In September, GE will add an augmented reality version of the panel with the theme transportation.
In the next phase, Facebook users will get to vote on which two of four artists should get to paint the next two panels, which will be about water and aviation, two other GE areas of operation.
Mr. Serpa said he hopes other brands will jump in and create their own art projects in Sao Paulo.
GE may not be turning other cities into art galleries.
"It makes a lot of sense in Sao Paulo since we have no billboards at all," Mr. Serpa said. "I don't know if it would have such impact in a city crowded with billboards shouting at everyone."