Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Billboards, Farewell

I suppose it is official, now that it’s been announced: the City of Houston has struck a deal with Clear Channel Outdoor to make 831 outdoor boards “disappear” before the end of 2008. Another source indicates that Clear Channel Outdoor has 4,500 facings in Houston, so it’ll lose 18% or so of its displays. (Is my math right?)

Everyone that could be reached before press time is elated: Mayor Bill White, Ed Wulfe of Scenic Houston, Mack Fowler of the Quality of Life Coalition. Clear Channel Outdoor lawyers, however, could not be reached for comment. Clearing out the “visual pollution” of billboards is part of a renewed national trend.

Elation is no doubt a relative thing. Clear Channel Outdoor is the world’s largest outdoor advertising company: “In the United States, the company operates just under 200,000 advertising displays.” This makes the boards it will remove from the Houston area a drop in its national bucket. In any case, there’s been a deal cut and the company gets some profitable arrangements for its trouble, as you can read from the article.

The deal just affects the Clear Channel Outdoor boards – don’t you be thinking that outdoor advertising’s going to vanish from the city. There are other owners and operators like CBS Outdoor, SignAd, Reliant Media…the deal doesn’t have anything to say about these hoardings.

If you’re a true believer in the evils of outdoor signage, history is against you. Billboards (UK: hoardings) have been around for centuries. There’s a marvelous engraving of “Modern Advertising: A Railways Station” in A History of Advertising that shows outdoor ads for everything from sherry to insurance policies of Ede’s Patent American Eye Liquid – “Every Disease of the Eye Cured.”

That same book indicated that the growth of advertising in general “has been attended by an almost entire revulsion of mode.” That’s in 1874, mind you. I suppose the anti-billboard crowd is filled with such revulsion.

Now I am against your general overall ugly city look. As Houston (especially under Mayor White) becomes greener and more attractive, taking down 800 or so billboards may be a help.

However, here’s my self-confessed that’s-how-I-make-my-living aspect.

A great billboard is a thing of beauty – often a visual delight, like the one above created for Adidas for the 2006 World Cup. Anita Bath blogged last year, “Due to the abundance of bad roadside ads, I typically admire cool, funny, or just amazingly creative billboards while driving.”

Me, too. Because, in print, you just don’t get many opportunities to make people laugh or cry or buy when they’re driving past your message at 60 miles per hour.

Bye-bye, billboards.

1 comment:

trancepass said...

831 boards to remove? that's too much! If i were one of the advertisers, and I still had 2 or 3 years contract, i would definitely ask real compensation. Money back!

anyway, i understand most goverment in any state face the similar problem. How to manage outdoor billboards, nicely. To many billboard will make a town look ugly.

case in my city, Denpasar, Bali. The goverment enjoys income from advertising, but seems they are not able to control the advertisers. Sometimes, too crowd in one location nad some sites are empty. Too bad.