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São Paulo’s Outdoor Advertising Ban (2016) (99percentinvisible.org)
185 points by anoncow 31 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 94 comments

Several comments from people who live there, all strongly condemning the measure for various unintended side-effects, all downvoted to oblivion.

Whether it’s encouraging graffiti, removing important light sources which the city did not pay to replace, destroying culturally significant displays, or promoting sterilized monotony in the surroundings, it seems there are several good reasons why outright banning of advertisements might not be the utopian vision some claim it to be.

Being surprised to learn about viewpoints which contradict the popular narrative is the best you can hope for from a comment section, if the critique is offered in good faith.

I think it is worth mentioning that in São Paulo people tend to use the word "grafite" for artful murals and drawings and "pixação" for the stuff that is seen as vandalism. (there are some grey areas but that is the jist of it)

One of those grey areas is that there's a large portion of people who do pixação that see their art as an art form.

As an aside, I remember a short Brazilian documentary on São Paulo's "reverse graffiti" (doing a drawing or mural by skillfully removing dirt from a dirty wall, so that the white spaces create an image) where the police detained the artist doing it, despite the fact he was literally cleaning the wall.

I could see homicide as an art form and it would still be wrong.

I fantasize about American cities doing this. Ads don't make Times Square attractive. They make it wretched. I'd love to see the transformation like the London's pictured in the article.

> the city would not only lose revenue from absent ads

The money would have mostly come from residents, with a bunch of it going to the advertisers, who advertise to increase profits, away from the city. I would see the city gain money.

I've seen plenty of billboards for soda and junk food, rarely if ever for broccoli. I imagine the change improved people's health and local farmers' lives.

The change made our lives worse, as due to lack of proper light, several streets became too dark and violence increased. And no, nothing change about the way we eat.

Lived in SP my whole life. I completely disagree with you.

Lack of proper light is unrelated from "outdoors" banning.

The change definitely made our lives better. But not in a utopian way of course. There were problems exposing dirty, broken, ugly walls that were never taken care of. Still, I believe, a net positive.

I don't understand the lighting issue. The city should have street lights for this. You were relying on business' advertising for safe lighting? What am I missing?

You're missing we live on a third world country where the government never solve basic issues like this.

That seems to be the real issue, then. Using this as an argument isn't valid when this option also exists.

That's the city's responsibility.

A responsibility they are apparently not taking seriously.

Still no reason to support ugly advertising.

Don't US cities already have laws around this?

In Australia I can't just stick a giant billboard in front of my house or shop without local government permission

Any signs need to be in keeping with the existing streetscape and usually kept to reasonable proportions

Santa Barbara does not have outdoor advertising such as billboards and has regulations on the size of business signage (approx 12 inches tall max).

I had always dreamed about a city without advertising, and couldn't wait to visit São Paulo. And when I did, I was completely shocked to discover... I hated it.

Until you experience a lack of advertising, it's hard to imagine quite how gray and boring and non-vibrant a city looks without it. Turns out billboards and panels full of dramatic movies and TV shows, beautiful smiling faces selling makeup and phones... actually add a lot of character to a city and make it feel like things are happening and going on.

Imagine if books no longer had graphic covers anymore, just all solid gray and beige and black covers, and you walked into a bookstore. It feels kind of like that.

If you're going to get rid of advertising, at a minimum you've got to replace it with something -- like a lot of murals, like murals everywhere. (The Bushwick neighborhood of NYC has some areas full of street art, which works pretty well.)

Go to my hometown, Assisi [0], which is roughly 2,400 years old. A village of ~5,000 people sitting on a hill. Home of Saint Francis of Assisi. Walk around. There's almost no advertising, and yet, it's so beautiful to walk there. It's how a city is supposed to be.

The fact is, Sao Paulo is a brutalist city, not a beautiful one. I suggest you don't confuse the two. Of course you hated Sao Paulo. It's skyscrapers, it's car-centric, it's ugly.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assisi

I mean, of course -- my comment really only applies to very large cities I think.

A historic village of 5,000 people is small and beautiful. Of course advertising would be out of place.

But the endless concrete jungle of São Paulo is obviously nothing like that. My only point was that advertising can give color and vibrancy... when there isn't any to begin with. It most certainly does not apply do Assisi. :)

I think the point is that if you were to scale Assisi up to ~20m, with a similar population density as Sao Paulo, it would still be ugly. It's a problem of population density.

It's a problem of poverty & investment - Vienna or Zurich are not that drastically sparser than Sao Paulo & are for the most part beautiful cities.

Maybe that just means that we need to design more beautiful cities that better integrate art and nature, rather than the facsimile of it by way of advertising and sensory overload. These ads are the city equivalent of restaurants/pubs turning on loud music for ‘ambiance’ while unintentionally ruining the experience. After a while everyone just accepts that is the norm, and then people wind up staying at home (or retreating to suburbs) thinking its the whole act of going out that is unpleasant, when it’s really just a bad pattern that was settled upon.

My sense is a city - and people - needs time to adapt to these changes, like when the volume is turned down suddenly and the restaurant takes on an entirely different vibe. It’s at least a few minutes of some adjustment of lighting and people adapting with more hushed voices for a new ambiance to stabilize.

Come visit Hawaii some time. It's one of 4 states that have banned billboards (Alaska, Maine and Vermont are the others), and it's wonderful. No incessant, demanding, constant bombardment of stupid messages for products you're not interested in. Bear in mind that even if you think you're ignoring them and not seeing them, they're still very likely to be having a subconscious impact on you.

It really says a lot about how we're conditioned that people would even actually miss advertising billboards when they're not there.

Just a counterpoint here - I spent 2 weeks in Sao Paulo and loved it. Never found it aesthetically unpleasing. Many areas look just as modern as NYC (where I lived prior to this) - but cleaner and less crowded. And they have some neighborhoods with a lot of beautiful street art. My only disappointment was the Little Tokyo - not much there, and marked only by fake looking street lanterns.

I didn't even know they had banned outdoor advertising until I read this article. I certainly never thought "you know what, this city needs more outdoor advertising." Readers - if you've never visited Sao Paulo, please don't take these negative accounts to heart and go see it for yourself.

I think São Paulo is a city that takes time to discover. The only people who like it are those who've lived there long enough to be very familiar with it...since it obviously lacks the "postcard" sights of Rio.

I lived in both cities and I loved Rio, despite its problems. I found SP to be quite boring, grey and overcrowded (save for select places like Liberdade, Ibirapuera, the former Portuguese Language Museum, Serra da Cantareira, etc), yet I always thought that if I had lived there much longer, I could have grown to really like it. There's a feeling that something pulses under the surface and you can only experience it via serendipity, word of mouth and curiosity, if that makes sense.

When I lived in Poland before the wall came down it was just like that: gray. Then a Texaco gas station opened in the middle of Poznan, a tiny little slice of the West. A friend of mine remarked that she really hoped that the world would not change like that because it was so much color it was hard on the senses.

Nuance is hard to observe in the face of being shouted at, both views have their fans and both have a point.

Some cities would improve without advertising, others would show how bleak and gray they really are.

I remember when people were so conditioned on Web banner ads that even non commercial sites added graphics in the same place and size because otherwise it felt wrong. I see sugar and sweeteners added to anything edible in certain countries because the populations pallet is conditioned to expect it. I remember a time where teens were so used to low bandwidth overcompressed music downloads they actually started to feel that was the way music was supposed to sound and preferred it over the original recording...

Thanks, but no thanks.

SP was not exactly beautiful before. Most impact on landscape was not from banning models on ads, but logos and name in front of street shops.

The places you saw in SP that were boring and grey were probably boring and grey when it had ads too. But with big boards with shop names in it.

Advertisements have side effects, such as bringing lightning or hiding ugliness.

Don't confuse the side effect for the desired effect: if advertisers found out how to make ads cheaper workout reducing their effectiveness, but at the expense of secondary effects, they would.

From your description, it sounds as if the city is ugly and that advertisements cover that up.

That's not a reason to long for advertisements, that is a reason to long for a nicer city.

It sounds like they removed both ads AND business signs attached to the actual businesses. I can understand doing the former, but for the latter, those signs are actually useful.

The law carves out an exception for business signage (which it calls "indicative signage")

But severely restricted its size, which I think was the better part of the change.

Discerning between the two cases is arbitrary.

Good, you should hate it. Don't put cosmetics on it, fix the underlying true uglyness: Lack of plants, too many cars, bad architecture etc.

> I had always dreamed about a city without advertising, and couldn't wait to visit São Paulo.

Go to Lao. One of the nice feelings after crossing the border from Thailand is that you slowly realize that this visual thrash is gone.

I'm surprised by all the naysayers popping up in this comment thread. Back when I still lived in São Paulo I remember that the Cidade Limpa law was extremely, almost universally popular.

It was.

I worked in advertisement and still can't ignore how terrible the city was with rampant billboards. Attempting to regulate it was not having any effect thanks to easy ways the law could be circumvented by the rich and (legally) powerful.

Banning them outright was a breath of fresh air.

It was and, generically speaking, "no one" thinks twice that it was not a good law all these years after it.

But HN attracts a lot of contrariam thinking people. Which is a good thing I think, even if in this matter I am with the majority

A shining example showing that the flood of advertising is not unstoppable. Some US states have also limited it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billboard#Laws_limiting_billbo...

Hopefully more will follow.

Paulista here. This clean city law or wathever is translated into destroyed our beautiful Japanese neighborhood (“Bairro da Liberdade”). Besides we are in dire need of economic freedom therefore this is just another hassle among 1000 regulations we have to follow to open up a simple bakery or emporium.

I’d rather have our cheerful city back than this trashy version of dusty “there was a banner here 2 years ago” marks all over the place.

Paulistano here too, and nikkei (so pretty much every weekend went to liberdade and sao joaquim).

I find it easier to walk around Sao Paulo now. And Liberdade is still a special place with the asian lanterns in the lamp posts, the Bradesco building, and there are stores with Noren and signs.

Only difference is that the signs are now proportional to the store facade.

And we still have grafitti that helps to keep the city interesting, as well as our Portuguese stone pavement and other little things that make Sao Paulo beautiful even without all the billboards and ads.

> beautiful even without all the billboards and ads.

Rarely do I hear the absence of ads framed as a challenge to beauty. So rarely, it only happened twice - your post, and the post you replied to.

people often think that what they're used to is beautiful. If you lived somewhere your whole life and all of a sudden it changed drastically, it's pretty easy to see how the old way could be thought of as beauty.

Fair enough. There are probably some that liked the other way. I find Tokyo city centre amazing with all the ads/signs/etc.

Paulista too. _"Destroyed"_ is a term totally out of proportion here. You might have a subjective vision that the neighborhood got uglier with the ban (I completely disagree); but it is still a vibrant and touristic neighborhood to this day.

> destroyed our beautiful Japanese neighborhood


Though even if what you say is true, it must be balanced by the many more neighborhoods destroyed by ads.

I conjure an image of Chinatown / Japantown sections of a large city, where the signage is a huge part of what sets the area apart, and a very significant cultural display.

I think in a way, it's a little sad that over-zealous advertising is seen as a cultural 'feature' to be cherished.

In my opinion not allowing the business to even have their name on their building is a step too far. Removing the billboards sticking out perpendicular to the road looks much better, but this picture that doesn't even have the name of the store on it seems awful [1]. It would be interesting to see numbers for how this affected businesses, especially if those businesses tended to be ones that relied on advertising (food especially).

Forcing people to give directions like "look for the big green building next to the blue building" doesn't seem like a positive to me.

[1] https://99percentinvisible.org/app/uploads/2016/04/signage-b...

Here is the current location image from Google Maps:


They have some window signage and have added back a much more reasonably sized sign with their business name.

Wider shot:


Business signs are still allowed. The only thing the law does to them is stipulate how big they can be.

For storefronts less than 10m, there can be a single sign of at most 1.5m².

For storefronts from 10m to 100m, there can be a single sign of up to 4m².

For storefronts above 100m, there can be two signs, each up to 10m², placed at least 40m apart.

It seems that this law is a good idea executed with an unwarranted degree of severity. I've never in my life heard someone complain that shop signs are too big (it's the small ones that block the street that people hate). The advertising that should be banned is that which provides little value except to the advertisers, such as billboards.

Limiting the shop signs was a good thing too. Those big boxy signs were very ugly. Not only did they block the buildinv facade but they wre built out of cheap materials that would fade with time.


Before the law, every shop needed their sign to be as big as possible to stand out in the mess. Now that all the signs are smaller it is not a probkem anymore.

If certain businesses were impacted, where did the demand get displaced to? With restaurants, was it to other restaurants that were more visible or were people more likely to eat at home? If some of the demand for other goods or services, not being a necessity of life as food is, simply vanished, is that a bad thing? Perhaps GDP goes down but efficiency goes up? And what effect does this have on the happiness of the population? These aren't meant to be leading or rhetorical but are interesting to ponder.

In that image, the storefronts are still clearly identified with names and logos.

Do tell, from that picture alone, not looking at the one on the left, what the name of the now green building is, or the building with the red overhang.

I agree. Having the name on the building makes sense. Maybe restrict it to ground level or something similar.

I live in São Paulo. This initiative was and still is terrible, as propaganda not only works as... propaganda, but also as sources of light during nights.

Several streets became way too dark, and violence increased. Also, our Paulista Avenue used to look a bit like Times Square, but now it's just a dead street as the others.

All of this just because a politician got mad after seeing a outdoor featuring a couple in underwear (it was a panties ad).

maybe that was an easily avoidable problem to plan for, but i would humbly suggest that maybe a solution would be to install public lighting instead of return the advertisements in order to get proper lighting?

just to be clear, i’m not arguing for or against advertising in the open, just replying to the first point

Your message is full of allegations without citations and is one of the most intellectually dishonest comments I've seen in the subject.

Lights do not stop crime in the way you're saying. I've been robbed twice in well lit locations. And a tiny percentage of those billboards were lit. This whole point sounds like reaching at straws without any logic behind it.

Avenida Paulista never looked like Times Square. Thankfully, because Times Square is a halogen light hellscape only tourists can stand and for little amounts of time at that. Paulista looks great, and dare I say better than it could have ever looked had it had huge billboards blocking the little sky one can see.

This was NOT a politician decision on a whim. Come on. That makes me doubt you've ever lived in São Paulo. This debate was raging for years and only came to fruition after the inability of regulation to have any effect on rampant illegal advertising covering more and more of the sky.

> Your message is full of allegations without citations and is one of the most intellectually dishonest comments I've seen in the subject.

> I've been robbed twice in well lit locations. And a tiny percentage of those billboards were lit. This whole point sounds like reaching at straws without any logic behind it.

The irony of this comment is something I hope the author themselves recognizes.

"Lights do not stop crime"

I'll pretend I didn't read this, because you're simply against EVERY SINGLE study about this.

"This was NOT a politician decision on a whim."

Oh, let's forgot the rage Jose Serra had with that underwear outdoor and proposing the law approved during Kassab's administration.

"This debate was raging for years and only came to fruition after the inability of regulation to have any effect on rampant illegal advertising covering more and more of the sky."

No, there was a debate about OUTDOORS, not about the size of a store logo or shit like that.

And that was SO SERIOUS, that BANKS and GAS STATIONS never had to reduce their ads.

So, the little grocery store with a neon is a problem, a huge gas station with the Shell branding is not?

All the huge banks agencies with their big logos and colors are not a problem, the little pharmacy is?

> This debate was raging for years

This is the problem I have with this law and others like it: that outdoor advertising is seen as an important issue worthy of debate, in a country where half of the population doesn't have access to flush toilets. Brazilian political and bureaucratic elites (of every ideological disposition) seem to think that this is Norway.

Hong Kong is famous for its high density of neon business signs. Incidentally, Hong Kong used to be poorer than Brazil not too long ago, and now boasts one of the highest per capita GDPs in the world. I'm not saying that outdoor advertising brings economic prosperity, just that they seem to have picked the right priorities.

I’m not sure I favor this. Clean buildings can look nice, but they also look a bit sterile.

I’m for removing the T bar signs. Imagine Tokyo without the signs and neon.

There has to be a workable medium where there is some signage without it becoming obtrusive and garish.

What are T bar signs? A Google Images search yields equivocal results.

Sorry outdoor billboards typically mounted on T bar structures.

I live in Sao Paulo and the outdoor ban law now is being "ignored" since it seems not to be enforced anymore. Also, commercial buildings have found loopholes, like leaving huge outdoors and Digital Signage a little behind glass windows to say it is "inside the store".

Fun fact: the city of Krakow banned any signboards protruding perpendicular to the walls back in 1892 [1]. Although the ban has never been formally lifted, it got forgotten after 1918. Now the entire city including the old town is cluttered with them.

[1] https://jbc.bj.uj.edu.pl/dlibra/publication/136678/edition/1... — page 20 (26).

There's a problem that maybe is related to this law, but the article haven't said anything about it. The increase of flyer distribution around the city. In the last years basically everywhere you go someone will stop you to give some flyers, paper that usually people will just throw in the streets and increase the pollution.

From the pictures, it seems like this ban lead to people removing signage from buildings entirely, which I think is pretty inconvenient. When I'm walking down the street, it is helpful to know what stores I am walking past, and have some information about them (ex. the phone number on Ribnits in the before picture).

I think a better middle ground is to ban advertising that is not related to the structure the ad is on - that would get rid of a lot of the clutter created by billboards and third-party ads on things like bus stops, while still allowing stores to advertise themselves and what they do to people walking by.

The streets without all those signs look much more pleasant

A good number of old cultural signs were destroyed in the process specially in Bairro da Liberdade where Asian migration happened. All those beautiful neon kanji signs were removed. As someone who lives in São Paulo for decades I say that the city is uglier than ever.

Assuming one might feel safe enough to walk on them.

Because of loss of light from the signs?

By the same token sign removal should open up the street potentially making it feel safer.

Not loss of light. Just extra violence due to economic/social upheaval I'd say.

Slightly OT - but https://99percentinvisible.org/ is a really great podcast series.

I believe the notional theme is 'design' (and good design being 99% invisible) - but it's a wonderful mish-mash of stuff that's always interesting, all covered by the exceptional dulcet tones of "Roman Mars"

i forgot sao paulo was the city with no advertising until after i visited..

but the most vivid memory i had in sao paulo was when we were in the subway and as we're exiting the subway my friend had his phone stolen while his hand was in his pocket touching his phone. my friend was upset and had to take time out of our vacation to call his banks and cancel his cards, etc.. but i was actually pretty impressed how they pulled it off (definitely a gang, and most likely everyone around us was in on it). the city seemed fine otherwise.

actually the other memory i had while in sao paulo/brazil was lots of people wanting to take pictures with four asian dudes? anyone in brazil shed light on this? i know there is a big japanese community in brazil so i'm curious what their curiosity was with us.

How do you find the store or restaurant you’re looking for?

Look at the business signage, rather than dig for it through all the advertising plastered around? Or use maps...

The pictures in the article show the business sings were removed as far as I can tell.

I thought that too, but going by the comments here it appears business signage is fine within the rules set

To put this in context: together with the advertising clutter, a lot of artistic graffitis were taken down in the process.

If there's one thing you can be assured of, it's that removed graffiti will be replaced by new graffiti. Only through prolonged removal each time it reappears do the new attempts stop (or at least get reduced to a trickle).

All of Hawaii does not allow any outdoor advertising. And I think it is wonderful.

City Of Los Angeles has regulations on different aspects billboards. BUT, city has no idea idea how many even exist.

I grew up in Poland, which experienced explosive capitalism during the 90s and with it a surge of banners, billboards and ads.

Most of them done on the cheap and in bad taste - optimised to draw attention.

Fortunately at least in some cities regulations followed and most of that clutter was removed during the first years of the XXI century.

Only bad second order effect I experienced are people employed to lure you into some places like strip clubs etc.

My take is that banners should be allowed as long as there's a style guide issued by the city which they would have to follow.

Italy is doing great in this regard - the worst I saw there were outdoor photo prints of menus which aren't nearly as bad as large posters in safety-vest yellow I saw back home.



Or, option three, put something there that looks nice.

> put something there that looks nice

The comment you are replying to suggested just that, unless you mean your definition of nice and not theirs.

I think the point of the comment you're responding to is you can put nice things in buildings without them being gigantic advertising. I mean, you can still have beautiful, happy people on walls without it being an advertisement for Coca Cola. And you can size it appropriately.

You'll get downvoted but it's true. Anyone who thinks a city is better off without the visual pollution of billboards and LED signs has obviously never been to downtown Sao Paulo.

I'm from a city that for a long time had minimal billboards, and had to watch it become uglier as they proliferated. I don't think I'm alone.

Colorful paint is on display in the photos.

By now that paint has probably peeled off and is covered with ugly graffiti.

This is how it actually looks like: https://img.jovempan.uol.com.br/uploads/2017/04/2021588876-p...

So what, repaint it.

Do you think advertising is going to fix that?

This topic is already dead, but you asked a direct question so I'll bite.

Many of the old buildings in downtown Sao Paulo used to have ads on their sides. Renting space for ads provided extra income for these buildings that was sometimes used for renovations. People who live in these buildings are usually not that well off to begin with (some of these buildings are known as "vertical slums"), and there's little incentive to repaint when people know that graffiti will be back before the new paint has even finished drying. I live in downtown Sao Paulo and have seen it happen several times.

By the way, fines for business owners who put out signs outside the law's strict specifications are way, way heftier than fines for graffiti, which usually goes unpunished anyway.

TLDR: yes, I really see advertising as the lesser evil in this case.

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