Banning billboard advertising, Here’s why you should.

Campaigner Charlotte Gage says that the outdoor adverts you see on billboards and bus stops should all be removed.

“These ads are in the public space without any consultation about what is shown on them,” she says. “Plus they cause light pollution, and the ads are for things people can’t afford, or don’t need.”

Ms Gage is the network director of UK pressure group Adfree Cities, who wants outdoor corporate advertising to be completely banned. This includes the sides of buses, and on the London Underground and other rail and metro systems.

If you think this is a fanciful aim, think again, as it is evident in a few other places around the world.

Charlotte Gage says that outdoor advertising is a form of polution (Image Credit: Charlotte Gage)

As far back as 2006, the giant Brazilian city of Sao Paulo, the largest in the southern hemisphere, banned all forms of outdoor advertising. 

Under the so-called Clean City Law, more than 15,000 billboards were subsequently removed, plus 300,000 store signs that were considered to be too large.

The French city of Grenoble followed suit in 2014. Its Assistant Mayor Lucile Lheureux explained at the time that the advertising firms wanted to upgrade their billboards to digital screens and “we don’t want our city’s children bombarded with animated advertising on TV screens in the street”.

More recently, Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, banned some outdoor adverts last year – those for petrol and diesel-fuelled cars and air travel

The advertising industry says the sector is regulated and plays an important role (Image Credit: Getty Images)

And this March, Bristol City Council banned outdoor adverts for gambling firms, junk food, alcohol and payday loans, that only affects advertising spaces of its own, including bus shelters and billboards.

Norwich City Council is exploring a similar move after councilors last year voted in favor.

Ms Gage stated that while there are “ethical issues with junk food ads, pay day loans and high-carbon products [in particular], people would rather see community ads and art rather than have multi-billion dollar companies putting logos and images everywhere”.

She adds: “We’re not saying people shouldn’t own cars or eat burgers, but we know there’s a direct correlation between seeing ads and purchasing these products.”

The campaign also wants to see the removal of adverts from the sides of buses (Image Credit: Getty Images)

Resistance to such “sight pollution” is growing in the UK Ms Gage adds.  

Set up in 2020, Adfree Cities now supports a network of eight community groups across the country – all of them which are against outdoor corporate advertising.

These include Adblock Bristol, which claims to have successfully campaigned against a number of proposed outdoor advertising sites being given planning permission in the city.

Unsurprisingly, the outdoor advertising industry, which calls its sector Out of Home (OOH), strongly defends itself.

Tim Lumb, from the trade body Outsmart, points out that adverts “contribute a significant amount of money every year to the transport authorities and local councils through rent and business rates”.

He adds: “In a free society businesses have the right to advertise their wares, and individual citizens are not the helpless, brainless automatons that Adfree Cities considers them to be.

Some cities have banned car advertisements (Image Credit: Getty Images)

“Individuals make free and informed decisions about their spending choices, and pursue whatever they consider to be their ‘good life’, safe in the knowledge that advertising in the UK, including OOH, is appropriately regulated to ensure it is legal, decent, honest and truthful.”

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for another trade organisation, the Advertising Association, says that “all advertising plays a crucial role in brand competition, drives product innovation, and fuels economic growth”.

However, there are anti-advertising groups that are resorting to direct action, such as covering over billboards and other outdoor adverts. 

These include some membership groups of Adfree Cities, including Adblock Lambeth in London and Adblock Norwich.

Campaigners from Adblock Lambeth have covered over outdoor adverts (Image Credit: Camille Aboudaram)

Brandalism, a collective of activists, is another such organisation.

They have a particular target on adverts promoting cars, airlines and energy firms, such as putting up fake billboard posters of cars stuck in traffic jams,or altering legitimate posters to call for the banning of fossil fuels.

“We want to question the legitimacy of corporate outdoor adverting and draw attention to the impact they can have on social issues, mental health, wellbeing, the climate, and the communication of public space,” says Brandalism’s Tona Merriman, who is using a pseudonym.

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“There’s a growing popularity of people using the tactic of ad hacking, and altering commercial ads posters, or putting satirical ads over them. We see [what we do] as a right of reply to corporate messaging. If they are allowed to get the message out, the public has a right to reply to those ads.”

Mr Lumb says that Brandalism’s approach is “essentially vandalism and illegal, not to mention a public safety issue. And the reposting and occasional repair costs of Brandalism run into thousands of pounds each year.”

Brandalism has put up fake adds, such as this one (Image Credit: Brandalism)

Still, some experts concur with the fact that banning outdoor adverts may be a good idea, such as Dr Nathan Critchlow, research fellow at Institute for Social Marketing and Health at the University of Stirling.

“There is consistent evidence that exposure to marketing for unhealthy commodities – for example advertising for alcohol or food and drinks high in fat, salt, or sugar – is associated with consumption, including among children and young people,” he says.

He points to the impact of Transport for London’s ban on such adverts since 2019 across its entire network of tube and overground trains, buses and trams. A study last month found that the policy had prevented almost 100,000 obesity cases.

Ms Gage says that instead of big adverts, “we’d rather see community arts, murals, local projects, and renewed green spaces”.

Source: BBC News

Image Credit: GoodMockups

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