All signs are negative for Brazilian billboards.
In 2006, the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo banned all billboards, neon signs and electronic panels as part of the "Clean City" law, and now it looks like Rio de Janeiro may be following suit. Together, the cities represent about 50 percent of total advertising spending in Brazil, although outdoor advertising is less than 1 percent of that amount.
The debate over outdoor advertising may spill from Brazilian borders, threatening a fast-growing, $30 billion global industry. In Argentina's capital city, the mayor of Buenos Aires has been researching legislation that would ban outdoor advertising.
At issue is the idea that billboards, many of which are illegal in Brazil, clutter the cityscape with visual pollution.
"Things that push back, restrict or restrain outdoor advertising are good," Robert Weissman, managing director of Commercial Alert tells Advertising Age. "They make the public landscape more enjoyable, less cluttered and essentially more public in nature."
However, experience hasn't necessarily shown that banning billboards can clean up a city—even as outdoor advertising companies are forced to shut their doors. In Sao Paulo, billboard advertising has dropped 90 percent since the ban went into place, says Marco Munoz, commercial director of Clear Channel, which owns billboard companies in Sao Paulo.
If Rio's proposed ban goes through, Advertising Age reports that 126 companies with more than 1,200 employees would be affected. Overall, as a number of Brazilian cities consider bans of their own, Clear Channel's Brazilian President Emilio Medina estimates that outdoor advertising has dropped by half across the country.
"People get lost in the city," Medina told Advertising Age. "Hospitals can't hang signs outside so people can see it from far away! Of course there were absurd panels, but with some control, things could have become more organized. Tourists don't find out about theater plays or shopping malls that are promoting big shows.... And has the city become really cleaner? No, the city remains dirty."
In the United States, billboards are already banned in Vermont, Maine, Hawaii and Alaska, and local legislators in Austin, Texas, and San Francisco have proposed bans at various points. But advertising experts in the United States don't believe a national ban would be possible in this country.
"There are very well-defined laws in the United States on capitalism and on small business about what a government can and can't do in terms of taking property and business," says Stephen Freitas, chief marketing officer of the Outdoor Advertising Association of America. "I don't think it's applicable."
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