“Man is at his vilest when he erects a billboard” – David Ogilvy
In 2007, the city of São Paulo passed a law to remove all advertising from its streets.
I was called ‘Lei Cidade Limpa’ or the ‘Clean City Law’.
It saw over 15,000 billboards and 300,000 business signs removed.
If signs weren’t removed, businesses would be fined.
Bus, taxi, and poster advertisements had to go as well.
Even handing out pamphlets on the street was prohibited.
The move to ban ads in this giant metropolis was controversial.
Partly because of the impact it would have on the local economy.
But some also argued that a lack of ads would lead to less lighting and therefore more dangerous streets.
Clear Channel Outdoor even sued the city, claiming the ban was unconstitutional.
But in the end, a law was passed.
Businesses could either comply. Or they could pay the price.
While the law cleaned up the largest city in Brazil.
It also revealed some hidden surprises.
As it turned out, advertisements were quite literally covering up problems within the city.
By removing billboards, they revealed favelas that no-one knew existed.
By removing facade-spanning ads, they revealed immigrants living in poor conditions inside the factories in which they worked.
But it also revealed a city the residents didn’t know existed.
One filled with beautiful architecture and Art Deco structures.
One David Ogilvy would have been happy to see.