Brazil Outlaws Billboards, Calling Them "Visual Pollution"

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In 2007, the world's fourth-largest metropolis and Brazil's most important city, São Paulo, became the first city outside of the communist world to put into effect a radical, near-complete ban on outdoor advertising.

Known on one hand for being the country's slick commercial capital and on the other for its extreme gang violence and crushing poverty, São Paulo's "Lei Cidade Limpa" or Clean City Law was an unexpected success, owing largely to the singular determination of the city's conservative mayor, Gilberto Kassab.

As the driving force behind the measure, mayor Kassab quelled the rebellion from the advertising industry with the help of key allies amongst the city's elite. On many occasions, Kassab made the point that he has nothing against advertising in and of itself, but rather with its excess. He explained, "The Clean City Law came from a necessity to combat pollution ... pollution of water, sound, air, and the visual. We decided that we should start combating pollution with the most conspicuous sector -- visual pollution."

Since then, billboards, outdoor video screens and ads on buses have been eliminated at breakneck speed. Even pamphleteering in public spaces has been made illegal, and strict new regulations have drastically reduced the allowable size of storefront signage. Nearly $8 million in fines were issued to cleanse São Paulo of the blight on its landscape.

One sore loser in the battle was Clear Channel Communications. Having recently entered the Brazilian market, the corporation was purchasing a Brazilian subsidiary as well as the rights to a large share of the city's billboard market. Weeks before the ban took effect, Clear Channel launched a counter-campaign in support of outdoor ads, with desperate slogans that failed to resonate with the masses: "There's a new movie on all the billboards -- what billboards? Outdoor media is culture."

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