Cityscapes embrace a certain sort of dazzle, including taped-up trams and multicolured illuminated advertisements. The quantity of adverts illustrates the total number of services and the city’s scale of activity. They’re also part of the everyday aesthetics representing a fundamental part of all cityscapes – but everything can nevertheless be done well or poorly, elegantly or without any sense of style.
When there’s an abundance of advertising, it no longer gets noticed. Advertisements and posters on buses and trams turn them into tape-covered moving commercials – a flow of images with low entertainment value that may even irritate viewers.
In Helsinki’s Kalevankatu street, there is a 37 square metre billboard, where each advert rotates 8,500 times a week. Media sales reps claim that the message reaches a million people a week. Hopefully marketing decision-makers don’t swallow this. One could also claim that in a week, one million people turn their gaze elsewhere. It does have attention value, of course.
Moving ads have become a form of visual contamination which could be prohibited entirely. It’s been estimated that it would be a significantly better key resource for advertising as well as profitable for business if the City of Helsinki were to become an advertising ‘free zone’ – that internationally famous and rare little town where no advertising exists at all. A peaceful, safe, clear, beautiful, relaxing venue.
Sao Paulo – Brazil’s largest city – has already managed without advertisements for close to ten years. There was an aspiration behind the ban to cleanse the city of rubbish and excessive stimuli, as well as to intervene in visual contamination. Curtailing outdoor advertising increased active participation in commerce. When the big adverts disappeared, small signs took on new value. Underneath the flood of commercial advertising, buildings, information placards, rest stops, street names, people, shop windows and the logos of enterprises came into view.
The amount of advertising can be an indicator of success in a capitalist world, but it may also be a measure of despair. Or one of uncertainty. Some want a sea of advertising similar to Times Square or Broadway, but this sort of wistfulness is closer to being pitiful.
Helsinki could take a bold step forward and start with prohibiting moving advertising displays entirely and dedicating the sides of vehicles and walls of construction sites for advertising cultural events instead.
The regulation and control of advertising sites could be targeted at healing the cityscape, improving the enjoyment of street dwellers and residents and, through this, at boosting business for shops as well.