Ad menace?

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No doubt about it. The familiar pitch of "Your ad here" is more like "Your ad here . . . and here . . . and here." Advertisements are appearing everywhere nowadays--from video screens on the back of leather jackets to sidewalk graffiti.

The conventional billboard seems downright quaint alongside the endless variations on outdoor ads, from logos on automobiles to posters on trucks and river barges. According to author Jim Twitchell, quoted in these pages last week, chances are you're exposed to about 5,000 ads daily. Other estimates go as high as 16,000 marketing messages a day.

Now that's what we call clutter. Or ad creep, if you prefer. But the end of civilization as we know it? We think not.

Critics in last week's story on out-of-home ad clutter were concerned the proliferation of ads on every conceivable surface is a cultural blight that may even pose a threat to individuals' mental welfare. There are groups whose sole purpose is to raise consumer consciousness about the ad menace--often via marketing campaigns of their own.

There's no question there are limits of appropriateness for advertising. Stenciled graffiti on a place of worship is not effective guerrilla marketing--it's vandalism. And, by virtue of their attention-getting purpose, ads should not be permitted where they pose a public safety threat. Ads on traffic lights, for instance, should not be greenlighted.

But when it comes to establishing curbs for outdoor ads, that's what local zoning controls are for. And as the Highway Beautification Act of 1965 has shown, legislation can make a huge difference--since the act became law, there are 875,000 fewer signs along U.S. interstate highways.

Ironically, research by the Outdoor Advertising Association of America indicates 76% of Americans believe outdoor boards are informative. And a lot of people even seem to like them.

Just ask the neon-gazing hordes in New York's Times Square.

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