Sao Paulo ad ban makes marketers more creative

Lucy Handley is Marketing Week’s deputy features editor and has also worked in advertising agencies so can bring a unique perspective to client-agency relationships when writing on this topic.

Brazil’s biggest city banned outdoor ads in 2006 but a relaxation in graffiti rules means that advertiser GE is appearing on the city’s streets.

Just imagine your nearest UK city with no billboard advertising, no ads on the train, nothing on taxis and no clever creative that arguably makes waiting for a bus more fun.

Brazilian city Sao Paulo banned all outdoor ads six years ago. But what is interesting for now is that the city is allowing graffiti art – and the US conglomerate and Olympic sponsor GE has taken advantage of this.

It has commissioned three huge graffiti murals which appear on the sides of tall buildings, artworks that try to get across what it is that GE does – whether that be in energy, technology or infrastructure. GE’s logo appears on them, but it is really the murals themselves that are eye catching and they don’t look like advertising.

GE street art Sao Paulo

I love that the company has been imaginative enough, with agency Almap BBDO, to find a loophole that allows it to put its branding on the city’s streets. Clever, because the murals stand out way more than they would if billboards were allowed down the streets of Sao Paulo and the move is unexpected coming from such a giant company as GE.

It shows that marketing can become more creative when constrained by rules, just as Paddy Power was during the Olympics with its ‘official London sponsor’ posters of an egg-and-spoon competition in a place called London that just happened to be in Paris.

GE close up

So is it a shame that Brazil’s largest city doesn’t allow outdoor advertising? The industry has been making what it does much more exciting than just putting giant images on billboards on the M4 flyover.

Take the interactive bus stop poster that appeared in London earlier this year by children’s charity Plan UK. The full ad was not visible by men, only women, using image recognition technology. The point was that women and girls across the world are denied certain things, while men aren’t.

I think that done well, posters can add something to a city, in the same way that graffiti can. There is room for both.

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