In billboard-less city, can businesses survive?

In the world's seventh largest city, outdoor advertising is banned. Five years after the law was put in place, how are residents and businesses reacting?

Imagine if next year, while watching the Times Square ball drop, you could enjoy the scene without the mashup of billboards that clamor for your attention while you ring in in the New Year.

If the ball dropped in São Paulo, Brazil that would be a reality.

In 2006, São Paulo's mayor, Gilberto Kassab, passed the "Clean City Law" to ban all outdoor advertising from the city, everything from billboards on buildings to advertisements on buses, and restrictions on storefront advertising.

Needless to say, the business community wasn't happy with the law. Despite the concerns, the city eliminated 15,000 billboards. Five years later, how does the city feel about its "visual pollution" law?  GOOD reports:

Five years later, have all the businesses in São Paulo gone under? Hardly. In fact, most citizens and some advertising entities report being quite pleased with the now billboard-less city. A survey this year found that a 70 percent of residents say the Clean City Law has been "beneficial." ...

Where businesses are concerned, it turns out some advertisers are actually thankful for the ban, as it's forced them to reevaluate and improve. "Companies had to find their own ways to promote products and brands on the streets," Lalai Luna, co-founder of ad agency Remix, told the Financial Times last year. "São Paulo started having a lot more guerilla marketing [unconventional strategies, such as public stunts and viral campaigns] and it gave a lot of power to online and social media campaigns as a new way to interact with people."

A clutter of ads in big cities has never made sense to me. In places like Times Square, for example, advertisements are so schizophrenic that they seem more like a colorful collage of magazine cut-outs than a way to get your attention. Focusing on online advertising, social media, and finding innovative ways to reach clientele seems like a better use of resources than a loud billboard in the middle of a busy strip (everyone's looking at their phone anyway).

It's no small feat that the world's seventh largest city was able to successfully enact an advertisement ban. With both residents and businesses happy with the results don't be surprised to see other cities emulating São Paulo.

Photos: murilocardoso and tirafotos via Flickr

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