Stripped But Not Naked: São Paulo, Brazil

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Those who have an eye for it can walk through cities and take note of architectural and landscape architectural details. Some people appreciate the feeling of place created by the local community and their touch of “home” on the environment. It’s not easy though. In a not so subtle manner, advertisement has taken over almost every second of our lives. They filter the media and have taken over the landscape, constantly bombarding the public. In the documentary “Greatest Movie Ever Sold” Morgan Spurlock explores the world of advertisement and the impacts on creative freedom and our daily actions. At one point he examines the impact advertisement has on our brains. It activates the section associated with addiction. Creepy.

Lately, some cities have recognized that there may be a safety issue with billboards lining highways. But what kind of an effect does all this advertisement have on our quality of life? How would businesses succeed without it?

Well folks, turns out, São Paulo, Brazil took the leap and they’re glad they did. In September 2006, the city’s mayor, Gilberto Kassab, passed the Clean City laws, which includes “visual pollution.” The 8,000 billboard sites blanketing the city pushed the mayor into action. “It is hard in a city of 11 million people to find enough equipment and personnel to determine what is and isn’t legal, so we decided to go all the way.” (

One year later, the city had finished its long overdue “bath”. It was “scrubbed of almost every type of outdoor advertising. ” Like muddy little kids being coerced to take a bath, there was some opposition. The kicking and screaming included accusations that the city would become dreary like Eastern Europe or communist countries. Big businesses (who always look out for their small business friends) were concerned that the small businesses wouldn’t be able to bear the burden of adhering to such a law, and that many people would lose their jobs. Some proposed the city’s money would be better spent removing more prominent eyesores, like the homeless or road conditions. (How anyone can just “remove” a homeless PERSON is something in itself). Clear

Channel Communications had just entered the Brazilian market before the “cleansing” began. Before the ban went into effect they tried their hardest to rile opposition among the public. They launched a campaign (on billboards and outdoor ads) with slogans such as “There’s a new movie on all the billboards – what billboards? Outdoor media is culture.”

Unfortunately for Clear Channel Communications (and other advertisement dependent businesses) the public supports the law on “visual pollution.” They eyes are drawn to the architecture of buildings and natural elements spotted through the city. Through surveys the city has found that 70 percent of its residents approve. (

So how are the businesses surviving if they can’t get their company out to the public? Now they have to rely on ‘word-of-mouth.’  With all the money they would be spending on advertisement, they are now using it to improve the quality of their products and costumer experience. That doesn’t sound to shabby to me.

On NPR’s “On the Media,“ Bob Garfield interviewed Vinicius Galvao, a reporter for a Brazil’s largest newspaper. Galvao talks about how the removal of the massive billboards has affected the city. What is it like walking through a city that has been stripped of what some may call the glamour of a major metropolitan (billboards, logos and bright lights)? Before, Galvao describes, “My reference was a big Panasonic billboard. But now my reference is an art deco building that was covered [by] this Panasonic. The city’s got a new language, a new identity.”

A veil has been lifted from the city, if you will. Now that everything isn’t covered with billboards people are becoming aware of parts of the city that need real help. “… In a lot of parts of the city we never realized there was a big shantytown. People were shocked because they never saw that before, just because there were a lot of billboards covering the area.”

The advertisement industry is very powerful, mainly because they have money. It has come to the point where they have gotten a hold of everything. Now, I’m not trying to bash all advertisement. I do appreciate a really clever commercial or well-designed poster layout, but the percentage of good advertising and pure crap is largely unbalanced. The urban environment is our home (that is if you live in an urban environment) and while we take pride in our potted plants, newly paved roads, pocket parks and exquisite architecture, we should also take pride in the urban landscape as a whole and not allow just anything or anyone to plaster their junk everywhere. I think that this step can lead to more public support to improve the rest of the city and it’s something that can’t be done half-ass, otherwise it won’t have an affect. Go big or go home.


São Paulo: The City That Said No To Advertising

São Paulo: A City Without Ads

‘Clean City’: São Paulo scrubbed of Outdoor Ads

Image Sources:

Guadalupe Makati City

Billboard Ban & Removal in Process

Ad-Free Truck



  1. I think your point of “go big or go home” is a good one. Maybe it could be better phrased as “go big or go nothing”. I am curious as to what occurred in neighboring municipalities after the city proper scrubbed the ads away. Take College Station for example. The city has placed a ban on billboard advertisements, mostly as a result of a restriction on signage height. But as soon as you cross into the sister city of Bryan, the high-flying advertisements pop up again in what almost seems like frequencies that compensate for lost opportunities a few miles away. Billboards have even begun to creep up in rural areas south of College Station, as if in anticipation for their condemnation up the road.

  2. Aren’t most free things like facebook made possible by ads? I don’t mind watching a commercial or getting a couple of ads pop up as long as I don’t have to pay for using a website or paying less to watch a show online. It’s saving me almost a hundred dollars a month to not have cable. But, I agree that It can get out of hand and one thing is having to deal with a couple ads on the web or on tv and another is having it everywhere you walk like the first picture in this post. That is ridiculous! It starts to make people’s home look cluttered and trashy. I think like everything in this world moderation is key.

  3. What about the underground advertisers? The Graf culture.

    I agree to abolishing all bill boards, but I’d like to think there is a forum for graphic designers (artist, or not) to express an idea, product or slogan. i believe it depends on the method and how well it it executed. What about David Carson?

    1. But as a city, how would you filter out the good designs/ideas form the bad. I think starting with a clean slate would be easier and after removing everything, the city got more support from the public. So, I think if they were to just start by weeding out really bad ones they wouldn’t have the means to fight the big companies.

      Also, I would think that there still is a forum for graphic designers (artist, in my opinion). It’s the bombardment of product placements that people are tired of but I think the expression of ideas and opinions is still important. When I think of too much advertisement, I think of NYC when a new movie comes out and they plaster a whole wall with the same poster. It’s too much and it’s ruining the aesthetics of the environment.

      And Arianna, even though you don’t notice/mind the advertisement, it’s affecting the chemistry of your brain! (Crazy!). So, if you’ve ever craved something for no particular reason, it’s probably because of advertisement. As far as facebook being free. I’m pretty sure it started out free and without ads. I think because of the number of social networking sites, the competition alone would make them continue to be free, because without volumes of people, they’re sites become pointless almost. And, maybe TV (even on the internet) should cost money, that way I’d watch less of it and be a healthier person 🙂

      Lastly, I want to note that this is a top-down approach. Who’s to say that a grassroots movement couldn’t yield the same results in a less extreme way?

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