Monday, February 19, 2007

Bugger the Billboards

Auckland City’s attempt to control advertising signs and billboards around the city deserves a cheer. There aren’t too many bouquet’s for the move in the media, with the political right working itself into a self-righteous slather in defence of the right of the advertising industry to invade our public space, and the Herald running one of its small-minded campaigns in defence of those noble nation builders of the outdoor advertising industry.

The Councillors who have proposed the by-law changes have primarily justified the move on the basis of improving visual amenity in the city. Quaint Edwardian facades clearly lose something of their gentle charm with Dan Carter’s crotch competing for attention next door. While there is definitely some merit to this argument, my main reason for supporting the by-law has more to do with the right of citizens to go about their business in public space, without the constant and aggressive mental intrusion of advertising.

The purpose of advertising (as distinct from store signage that identifies where a shop is and promotes it generally) is to influence your mental processes and convince you to buy something, that presumably you would otherwise not. We are driven (in part) by this advertising to believe that consuming more and more will make us happier, when in fact the evidence continues to mount that mindless commodity fetishism is a self-perpetuating cycle by which we become disappointed by the failure of new products to truly satisfy us, yet convinced that the only solution is to buy more (think – “140 000 troops won’t do it, I’ll try 20 000 more").

I object thoroughly to the advertising industry’s role in this cycle, and am increasingly sickened by the quasi-scientific approach taken by professional marketers to scientifically target messages to certain people in an attempt to create a pavlovian impulse to buy.

Sickened as I am, I can live with it in spaces that we have some control over. We can chose to change the channel when the ads come on (or not turn the TV on at all), we can decide not to buy 250 page glossy magazines that devote 165 pages to advertising, pop up settings can be changed on our browsers, and spam filters installed.

However, when the advertising industry moves into our public spaces such as streetscapes as billboards and signage increasingly have (and semi-public spaces like buses), we lose that control. Every person has an equal right to be in these spaces, and in my view to be there without being mentally pestered at every turn. I have no doubt that the constant pressure to buy created by the advertising industry at every juncture of the day is a contributor to feelings of stress, anxiety, and inadequacy in our society.

Why should we tolerate this in our public spaces? Pestering people to buy more crap is not a fundamental human right.

Brian Rudman also very helpfully points out that the by-law is unlikely to actually affect the business of genuine local traders.

My hope is that the hearings process will result in a by-law that remains firm on the key tenets of the proposal, while allowing some sensible compromise and refinement on the rules governing store signage. You can join me in submitting here.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your experience

Gerrit said...

Most billboards are not in public space but are on privately owned buildings or land. They are visible from public spaces but not in public space. A small but I think significant point because we then get into the area of telling people what they can and cannot do with their private property.

Secondly you are going to have to spell out the differentiation between signage and advertising.

Is the roof signage on Newmarket businesses visible from the Newmarket viaduct signage or advertising?

Interesting that the council does not like signage to interupt public viewing spaces but is quite happy to have developers block that marvelous view from the Newmarket viaduct to the Harbour with ugly boxes of apartments. (god i'm cynical)

A view that was to be preserved at all cost when Westfield wanted to build a shopping complex on the old AEPB site.

I for one would be sad to see the billboards go. Every day drive past the Tui's one on the Ellerlie Squash Centre at Penrose. Always makes me smile.

Gerrit said...

Had a good look at the billboard to signage ration on my drive from South Auckland to the Shore this morning. 95% I would clasify as signage (signs with just a business name - no advert).

Unless you are going to regulate sign size to building ratio you nothing will change and this action is nothing but a storm in a tea cup.

I guess next they will target what colour you may have on a buiding? And then how long before you need council permission to paint your house the colour of your choice?

All this is pyramid building, you need staff to police the bylaw, computers and database softare, a car to drive around, supervisors to make sure it is done correctly, etc. Taking up ever increasing taxes for the tax payer.

if the council are hell bent (and quite rightly so) on preserving the vista in public spaces then reject the cube designs off so many new buildings. Only pass designs that have architectural pleasnt form, colour and function.

Surely we have more important worries then signage and billboards?

Such as the destruction of the vistas in rural Waikato with the erection of mega power pylons?

stef said...

I would prefer that someone did something about the tagging, which IMHO, is a far bigger problem than public displays of Dan Carter's crotch.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, those billboards that are up off the ground suspended from rooftops must really get in your way when you are flying to the moon with the rest of the bats.

Rob Davies said...

Speaking as someone with two family members working deep undercover in the advertising industry, it's fantastic (and maybe a little quaint?) to see others feverishly engaged in defending the rights of the poor advertising executive.

If Dan Carter's crotch could talk he'd want Auckland City Council to grow some balls of their own and impose tighter planning regulations on the city's CBD. There are fantastic examples of creative design sprinkled around the city, and it's a real pity the eyesores around them absorb so much of their energy.

But we all know Dan Carter's crotch can't talk...right?

Anonymous said...

And the Policy has nothing to do with billboards hammering labour at the last election? Well the Council is to late now, THEY are going to get hammered themselves this time. And good job,what an inefficient bunch of useless etc

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