Sao Paulo's Ingenious Move for Return of Banned Billboards

By Published on .

Credit: wsfurlan/iStock

Outdoor advertising is creeping back into one of the world's biggest cities after a decade of being banned.

In 2007, São Paulo's then-mayor shocked marketers and ad agencies by making illegal everything from billboards to large store signs in the Brazilian city of 21 million people. At the time, São Paulo had been overrun by huge billboards, and previous efforts to work with the ad industry to curb their proliferation largely failed, leading to the drastic "Cidade Limpa" ("Clean City") law in 2007 that transformed the urban landscape.

Now, a pro-business mayor, João Doria, wants to auction off rights to bring some back in return for ad dollars for public works. The city has just opened bids for 32 LED panels, one for each of 32 bridges on the ring road that is a major traffic artery encircling the city, reports Meio & Mensagem, Ad Age's editorial partner in Brazil. In return, the winner is responsible for painting, cleaning, lighting, installing cameras and otherwise maintaining the bridges, which the city estimates will cost about $95 million total during the 36-month contract. The city specifies that the LED panels be 13-feet wide and about 17-feet high, and that 50 percent of that space can be used for advertising messages. The rest must be devoted to information such as the time and traffic news.

There have already been a few small steps toward reintroducing out-of-home ads on a limited basis. Several years ago, media company Otima won a contract to maintain 5,000 bus shelters in return for ad space on the shelters. And outdoor giant JCDecaux maintains the big outdoor clocks on São Paulo streets.

Doria has made it clear he'd like to relax the Clean City rules, and has suggested projects like new public bathrooms that outdoor ads at those sites could fund. In fact, the city may be the biggest offender of the current rules: Earlier this year, São Paulo had to remove its own signs promoting companies that had supported a city beautification program after local journalists wrote about the move.

In the absence of outdoor ads in São Paulo, the huge metropolis offers an inviting canvas to a few creative marketers, usually under the guise of graffiti. Converse and The Community invited people to donate their own shadows so some of Brazil's best graffiti artists could turn the outlines of their bodies into colorful pieces of street art. The murals were plastered across São Paulo two years ago and spread on Twitter and Instagram after the agency reached an agreement with the city to allow the murals for a month. The "Donate Your Shadow" campaign was a big winner at international award shows.

Another marketer, GE, also used art to open a loophole allowing a small logo on graffiti projects that would beautify the city. GE and São Paulo agency Almap BBDO created the GE Gallery five years ago, painting three colorful, graffiti-like panels 120 feet high on São Paulo buildings in high traffic areas. A week later, a small GE logo was added and a social media campaign unleashed. The panels represented, somewhat abstractly, three areas GE operates in: energy, health and transportation.

At the time, Almap BBDO partner and Creative Director Marcello Serpa told Ad Age that the law had gotten rid of the visual pollution caused by too many billboards, but left the city gray. "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," he said.

It's unclear how far São Paulo will go in bringing back outdoor advertising, but Doria told Brazilian media earlier this year, "Don't tell me the law can't be changed. I'll make it flexible. It's the duty of the state ... to act with the population in mind."

Most Popular
In this article: