on billboards: são paulo, rio de janeiro, salvador de bahia

As the bus drove into Rio, it hit me- full on in my face in several metres of printed plastic mounted on metal stilts- that I was no longer in São Paulo. There were billboards all over.

And then I was glad for Cidade Limpa, the law that made it illegal to mount billboards or other outdoor signs above certain size specifications. Not only does it allow you to admire São Paulo’s architecture and how Paulistanos imprint their city- in graffiti and pixação– but it also makes for interesting and creative alternatives to outdoor advertising.

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While I was here last, I took note of some of these techniques. It was election season and the different electoral candidates were busy campaigning. I saw small printed leaflets (whether these are a better option or not I am not sure); on our first exploratory visit we met a group of women campaigners in T-shirts, singing songs and carrying banners all with the face of their preferred candidate – and they were getting paid for this. I have also seen ‘human signage’ i.e. people standing at street corners and along avenues with signs and banners, advertising rooms or apartments to rent as I travelled around the city. Road shows on cut-out lorries with music and dancing are useful if you’re advertising a product as well.

I wondered at some point if there was a connection between an increased use of banners for advertising after the law came into effect and the fact that it is one of the prime materials that O Grupo Brasilianas, a women’s solidarity economy group in Brasilândia, uses in their bag-making.

But I don’t miss the billboards in all the other cities I have been in. Especially not those prevalent in Nairobi during election season- some billboards so huge you wonder how those areas aren’t blackspots as some drivers pause to stare at them; and why anyone would spend that much money to print that huge piece of plastic- and then where that huge piece of plastic goes afterward. From beginning to end, the billboards become eyesores, and perhaps other sores as well. So I’m glad that Cidade Limpa exists- it was an amazing idea.

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