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Aesthetical effects of open-air media. © Copyright by Victor Aquino, 2001, 2006 WEA Books & Publishing Inc. Monroe, LA USA

All rights reserved. Inquires should be addressed directly to World Editions of America, Books & Publishing Inc, 94 Elm St, Monroe, Louisiana 71201 USA

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I

Several years ago, during a meeting of advertising agents, organized in Paris by SodECoM (Society of Communication Studies for the Market), I had occasion to meet several professionals from the United States, to discuss subjects related to the academic research situation in the area. It was curious observing their shock when I mentioned the case of visual pollution in our large urban centers. They were even more surprised the following day, when I took on the question at one of the official working committees. Naturally, this had not been a very sympathetic subject in publicity circles. It may well be because this very thing was responsible for the deterioration, not only of the “horizons,” but the entire urban space. There are hundreds (sometimes millions) of different visual elements on the same street, from the central zones to the peripheries of any city in the whole world.

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Until now, no large work on the subject has been undertaken. The effects of all this congestion at some moment will, for certain, give rise to some type of individual or collective reaction. One imagines that the reaction will not be very positive. It should have, at least, something to do with an unwanted excess. Just as Lampreia comments, emphasizing the question of quantifiable excesses in publicity, Yang e Linz also call attention to other aspects of the problem: relating to its content. However, even without debating the issue of content (which is, moreover, highly controversial), the simple mention of the problem of environmental saturation by large advertising messages, is already reason for active constraint. For a long time, it has been noticeable that among publicity professionals there subsists, beside the natural corporativism of those who practice the same activity, the sensation of a comfortable neutrality towards other problems, other than those most immediate and by implication directed at the efficiency and the practical effects of campaigns and advertisements. The constraint that discussion of this type usually generates in this professional environment, besides indicating that it is the clue to a certain “awareness problem,” serves also to point in the direction of a growing necessity to begin worrying about the subject. Since the rise of external media, which dates probably from the appearance of the

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first sale or first merchandise counter, up to its adoption as an instrument of promotion, signs, billboards, banners, posters, and an endless number of variations of those well-known “displays” that proliferate through the streets of the entire world. It has even arrived at the point that a commercial establishment is not even conceived without the necessary external designation. There will have been probably the anxiety of commercial competition that produced this longdistance dispute, in an informal competition to make oneself noticed among competitors. And competitors, it should be pointed out, that don't just express themselves at the level of similar merchandise. It is, above all, a “use” of appearances as a whole of all merchandise, services, brands, ideas, slogans, institutions (public or private), and so forth. Whoever observes today, through the access roads of the periphery to the enter of whatever large city of the world, perceives immediately that the signs, billboards, outdoor, lighted, and the mega displays are already incorporated into the scenery. This incorporation, however, represents an irregular and unplanned growth, in the whole of constructed elements, such as the large roads, avenues, streets, passages, viaducts, squares and monuments. Since they were not objects of a planned configuration and tend to increase with time, it is not difficult to see that more will be constructed soon in what could turn out to be a big and very serious problem.

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II

The problem itself speaks to the impact that the whole so-called open air media, or highway media, will end up producing environmentally. It cannot be predicted what the extent this infinite number of visual elements will have in the future. What is known, thanks to a few and superficial studies on the subject, suggests a certain spatial saturation, indicating that the governmental concern in some countries is already sufficient indication to have a clear idea that we are facing a very serious dilemma. It was at the beginning of the 80s, starting from a working group set up in the discipline of “Record Production”, at Editing Course in the Art and Communication School, University of Sao Paulo, that this problem began be discussed. The work group, set up originally to discuss questions relating to the excess of noise, normally caused by record stores, ended up coming up against, even if tangentially,

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also the question of urban visual saturation by the exaggerated posting of advertisements. At that time, while teacher of the aforementioned course, I ended up exchanging some ideas on the subject with one of the most famous brazilian professionals, professors and researchers in the field of advertising: Prof. Dr. Otto Scherb. Just a little before his death, the thenpresident of ESPM, Escola Superior de Propaganda e Marketing, (surely already the principal school on marketing, communication and advertising in Sao Paulo, Brazil), also was starting to be concerned with the same theme I was working. I told myself at the time that advertising agents, precisely because they are advertising employees, involved with urgent and immediate topics, have the tendency to be overly concerned with immediate interests, whose importance loses sense over the long term. Perhaps for that, some of their initiatives end up taking on a certain predatory tone. The opinion of the late professor, who, before dedicating himself to academic life, ended up earning a reputation as an executive in the advertising world, enough to be somewhat incisive. But it was understood that this was the reason for his proverbial weakness. Accustomed to hastily prioritizing ideas that went from what was really necessary, to what was dispensable, he did not tire in affirming that “to sell a product to washerwomen you shouldn't fail to announce it equally to the bishop.”

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When the council of the Department of Public Relations, Advertising and Tourism of Art and Communication School deliberated, at the beginning of the 90s, setting up a single large line of research in its undergraduate and graduate courses, the necessity presented itself to reopen discussions on the subject. The line of research that then was chosen, was contemplating Quality of Life and Communicational Opulence as priority of academic concerns both in Advertising and Public Relations. The large evidence of necessity for academic concern in this area, is that it combines the study of the techniques of persuasion with ethical arguments and the aesthetics of advertising, consists in the expectations of the audience, in front of the function of the advertisement, regardless what category. People become used to living with advertising in their day-to-day life, without questioning very much its efficiency or its real necessity. More than sufficient reason to produce at least one investigation: all this spectacle of colors, forms, and ideas would not be failing to further the true ends of a process that is just to sell products, ideas, or services? If the answer is yes, we will be running into another problem, regarding the redundancy of this type of communication. Redundancy that, in the words of Bohrer, “everything that exceeds in propaganda, besides being useless, gets in the way.”

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If, on the other hand, the answer is no, the problem is still greater. This is because the principal objective of the advertisement, that is announcing products, ideas, or services, would be running into the question of environmental invasion, compromising excessively the whole of planned urban elements, and producing an unnecessary visual excess. In this sense, the formation of a specific work group was sought in the Advertising course of Art and Communication School, at University of Sao Paulo, with the intention of studying the subject. There remains not the least doubt of what it says in respect to communicational opulence, in light of a problem that surely affects quality of life.

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III

The greatest difficulty, since the beginning, has been with the formulation of an adequate research methodology. The environmentalization of the study was sought, by stages, in three different universes, to know: the center of the city of Sao Paulo, four municipalities of the so-called “Greater Sao Paulo” (area that corresponds to the metropolitan region of the capital), an finally a study comparing the data of the two initial phases and three other Brazilian capitals (Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte and Salvador). The objective of the proposed division is to obtain, by means of the systematized map, a panorama of indiscriminate exploration (or not) of the spaces of open-air media. In an papere published in 1989, Fair considered worrisome the impact of advertising media in third world countries, exactly “for associating promotional exuberance with a false idea of development”. Almost always the use of open-air media is related, through the characteristics that are

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its own, to an exaggerated eloquence of the advertising argument. And with this argument, as can be perceived, evolved the physical and spatial dimensions of billboards. So quickly was the initial universe defined, other problems precluded the realization of the research. That of the formulation of an individual system for the data collection. In the specific case of the initial step, we opted for material collection by means of photographic images. That is: selected the block, (composed by a square area formed by the perimeter of four streets, or avenues, that intersect) document the whole space with photos. From those, subsequently, emerged what would be unalienable to local commerce, and that which simply would be serving as display for affixing advertisements, in a disorganized and occasional way. Following a year of continued research, more than two thousand photos were obtained, proportioning an initial calculation of some parameters to know what would be normal and what, beyond being excessive, would occasion some type of harm to the urban environment. For example, there is already existing legislation that has no other finality other than taxation. The so-called “CADAN” of Sao Paulo City Hall, serves only as registry for the collection of a tax on the use of external advertisement, regardless of origin, nature, or concern with explicitly aesthetic or visual aspects.

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There are about four million external advertisements that fit into the aforementioned “CADAN”. By means of the photographs obtained in the course of the initial phase of this study, a projection could already be foreseen that could swing to, at least, double this number. It is important to point out that even there it is even having an unmeasured impact: the registry does not even serve the purpose of enforcing the law, which is simply to tax open-air displays. Worse than this is admitting, by the evidence, that a much greater problem persists. Such a problem, as it was supposed since the beginning of the study, speaks directly to the compromising of visual spaces, chiefly by the cluttering of signs, billboards, banners, lettering, and advertisements of whatever type. All of them, more and more, add new elements, congesting not only the physical urban area, like the very capacity of perception of audiences that remain exposed to its occurrence. Gade, already at the beginning of the 80s, coincided with the opinion of another, much earlier, work, on the adaptations of the consumer to the stimulation of propaganda. The author that preceded him in this area, Dunn, still today is held as a “classic” on the subject, principally, for being preoccupied with the question of “excess” at a time in which this had not come to present the same problem. The study on open air media, proposed in a third world country, ended up being itself considered redundant. This is because one could not escape the merely quantitative aspect of this study. Even so, the evidence to which the excesses are harmful cannot be overlooked.

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Eldersved & Dodge, studying, way back in 1954, the case of mailed media, was already a warning for the inconveniences of this practice today that is so common amongst us. And, in a way, it was already foreseeing a brutal transformation of postal services into an instrument of “unloading” this avalanche of current-day promotional materials. It would not be found strange, therefore, if open air media ends up turning into a giant conglomeration of scrap iron. Because the simple accumulation of non-reusable promotional material, already detected by the photographic revelations of the current study, indicates that not long from now we will be facing another, more serious problem, that of also contributing similar pollution to the physical deterioration of urban spaces.

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IV

The aforementioned study produced u n t i l n o w e n o u g h o f a s u g g e s t i ve i n d i c a t i o n , i n r e s p e c t t o t h e f o rm s o f u s e o f o p e n a i r m e d i a . T h e r e i s t o c o n s i d e r, f i r s t o f a l l , that it is divided into three large wholes: (a) designations of commercial establishments, of services, or of i n s t i t u t i o n s o f a n y n a t u r e ; ( b ) supported designations , or integrated pieces of advertising campaigns or permanent promotional programs; (c) fortuitous designations of businesses of any nature. So, the cited classification should be made clear, in the sense of not only facilitating understanding on the part of users, as a future regulation, with the intention of correcting the anomaly. The designations of commercial, service, or institutional establishments or any nature, correspond to a hundred of forms and models of advertisements. These, regardless of the dimension, include signs, billboards, lighted signs (in the most

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varied styles) and other types of external expression, integrating themselves to the architectural whole of the establishment. Almost always (and this is demonstrated in more than one hundred photographs) they modify the physiognomy of construction. Principally, if this was an old building and was sheltering a retail shop in a traditional point of the city. The supportable designations, or integrated pieces of publicity campaigns or permanent promotional campaigns, integrate the large outdoor “family,” giant signboards, painted murals on the sides of buildings, mega lighted signs, and superstructures destined to the promotion of parts, while part of publicity campaigns. Besides not constituting elements of the great mass of rubble, the respective spaces are objects of permanent administration, yet in this way the large system of available signs for the almost twenty businesses of the outdoor sector in Sao Paulo doesn't maintain a process of continuous use of these spaces, giving rise to innumerable points of literal abandonment, sometimes during weeks or months. The fortuitous designations of business of any nature go from posters announcing a new circus in town, construction in progress, parcels of land and buildings for sale or to rent, all the way up to traditional “electoral propaganda” (produced by political parties or, individually, by the candidates themselves), such as fortuitous advertisements of

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maes-de-santo (Candomble priestesses), craft fairs and so forth. There is not the least doubt one is dealing with an extensive and complex whole of advertising materials. It must be remembered, however, that the members of the first group are those that alter the least, taking a long time to change, to be replaced, or undergo maintenance; for this reason, the latter aspect best translates into the appearance of definitive incorporation of artificial elements to “urban horizons.” Those of the second group, even though they alternate with some frequency, are those that provoke most concern, in the creation of dizzying accumulation and of indiscriminate increase. Precisely for dealing with a whole that aggregates the principle interest of publicity, this second whose greatest difficulty will be representing it in a research in-depth. The third group, finally, had been responsible for the enormous clutter of, let us say, expired material. Once their useful life passes, or the effects of their use cease, almost all of them are abandoned. It always falls on the public street sweepers, when access permits, to pull them from where they find them. This initial observation, made almost one year after the beginning of the study, certainly points in one direction: this is a subject that should be taken on and, necessarily, interest scholars in the material. Aside from this, it would be difficult for anyone else

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to expound on the theme. Both from the data of the first stage and those that are beginning to be outlined in the second, arises a dramatic observation: the disorders produced by open air media go way beyond the mere discharacterization of planned urban spaces. Certainly, the side of the spectator, the point of view of occasional audiences, regardless of the specific group of pieces that make up that media, reflect another fact that deserves accurate reflection, because, after all, it deals with a subject that involves advertising with environmental questions and, precisely because of this, with the quality of life in the cities. This fact speaks to the passive state in which the spectator always finds himself. No matter how critical he is as to the size of the advertisement that he is seeing, in the words of Corrillon, “difficultly will he support what is behind the respective content, to the point of denying it interiorly, contradicting the logical and expected function of advertising.”

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V

The process of publicity, in the words of Wlliamson, “has something stimulating in it” that always tends towards one side “the spectacle of which is announced advertised”. It could possibly be on this side of spectacle, that involves the urban spectator in the entanglement of the supports of open air media. A state that could be described in the words of Van Esch as “torpor, absence, abandon, and total disconnection with what constitutes politically advertisement.” Or, who knows, “a relationship of passive complicity with the immeasurable social malevolence of advertising,” as Soares seeks in proposing a “critical reading of advertising.” While the reaches of these evils are not known, it certainly merits continuing the study of the subject. It remains, however, the idea that large audiences, probably enraptured by the forms, lights, colors, and expressive contents, resign themselves to

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the frequency and the proximity of this media. In this way they make it as if it were an integral part of their lives without ever questioning it and without (which is worse) evaluating the compromise (at least environmental) occasioned by the accumulation and its significant growth in the milieu in which they live. So, as Berger supposes, “the dream, the daydream, and the fantasy comprised by the complex of advertising content,” would have an anesthetic function on the audience, “pushing in another direction, far from what consists the making of advertising”. Although this study is not dealing with the persuasive aspects of advertising, or the conditions in which it is produced, one cannot avoid observing, finally, that the supposed environmental damages tend to become aggravated in the absence of an active and questioning position on the part of audiences. Only beginning from this position, can one manage to avoid the fact that that indiscriminate and uncontrolled use of open air media brings a deterioration, even greater than that which has already taken place, of visual spaces. Certainly, that deterioration will contribute in a significant way to aggravating environmental conditions, principally in large urban centers.

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