Aug 152011
Sao Paulo has removed nearly all outdoor advertising already at the end of 2006

It has been over four years now that one of the biggest cities in the western world has banned any form of outdoor advertising: Sao Paulo de Brazil. Billboards, outdoor video screens and ads on buses and taxis as well as pamphlets have become illegal and were eliminated fast.

It is both remarkable and ironic that a city with tremendous pollution, poverty issues and the largest consumer market in South America has taken such a radical pioneering step away from the unsustainable consumerism much of todays world  adheres to.

How a supposedly right-wing mayor, Gilberto Kassab, who (in his own words) is not principally against advertising, succeeded  in pushing this unusual law against the financial interests of media and other corporations, is told in the 10 min video below. The video includes interviews and footage of the not so timid mayor.
Here is a little hint for those too busy to watch it: Mayor Kassab “sold” his ambitious project as “visual pollution”  and won the hearts of the people of Sao Paulo who love seeing their city ad free.

Interestingly he did not seem to be very concerned about the population consuming too much. However, “protect yourself from what you are going to want ”  is part of the rather meaningful lyrics of a hypnotic Brazilian song called “Propaganda” by the band Nacao Zumbi. The band’s singer and songwriter,  Sao Paulo based Jorge du Peixe, is also interviewed by David Evan Harris.

Here is an excerpt of an article by Tony de Marco at

A city stripped of advertising. No Posters. No flyers. No ads on buses. No ads on trains. No Adshels, no 48-sheets, no nothing. It sounds like an Adbusters editorial: an activist’s dream. But in São Paulo, Brazil, the dream has become a reality.

In September last year, the city’s populist right-wing mayor, Gilberto Kassab, passed the so-called Clean City laws. Fed up with the “visual pollution” caused by the city’s 8,000 billboard sites, many of them erected illegally, Kassab proposed a law banning all outdoor advertising. The skyscraper-sized hoardings that lined the city’s streets would be wiped away at a stroke. And it was not just billboards that attracted his wrath: all forms of outdoor advertising were to be prohibited, including ads on taxis, on buses – even shopfronts were to be restricted, their signs limited to 1.5 metres for every 10 metres of frontage. “It is hard in a city of 11 million people to find enough equipment and personnel to determine what is and isn’t legal,” reasoned Kassab, “so we have decided to go all the way.”

visual pollution - outdoor advertising has been removed in Sao Paulo already in 2007

Dec 2006;Sao Paulo already without most outdoor advertisements / visual pollution. The citizens love it. Photo:J. Olsson…………….             

The law was hailed by writer Roberto Pompeu de Toledo as “a rare victory of the public interest over private, of order over disorder, aesthetics over ugliness, of cleanliness over trash… For once, all that is accustomed to coming out on top in Brazil has lost.”

Border, the Brazilian Association of Advertisers, was up in arms over the move. In a statement released on 2 October, the date on which law PL 379/06 was formally approved by the city council, Border called the new laws “unreal, ineffective and fascist”. It pointed to the tens of thousands of small businesses that would have to bear the burden of altering their shop fronts under regulations “unknown in their virulence in any other city in the world”. A prediction of US$133 million in lost advertising revenue for the city surfaced in the press, while the São Paulo outdoor media owners’ association, Sepex, warned that 20,000 people would lose their jobs.

Others predicted that the city would look even worse with the ads removed, a bland concrete jungle replacing the chaos of the present. North Korea and communist Eastern Europe were cited as indicative of what was to come.

“I think this city will become a sadder, duller place,” Dalton Silvano, the only city councillor to vote against the laws and (not entirely coincidentally) an ad executive, was quoted as saying in the International Herald Tribune. “Advertising is both an art form and, when you’re in your car, or alone on foot, a form of entertainment that helps relieve solitude and boredom,” he claimed.

[The video (90 seconds) below shows pictures of the city before and after the removal of advertising billboards]

There was also much questioning of whether there weren’t, in fact, far greater eyesores in the city – such as the thousands of homeless people, the poor condition of the roads and the notorious favelas: wouldn’t Kassab’s time be better spent removing these problems than persecuting taxi drivers and shop owners? Legal challenges followed while, in an almost comical scenario, advertising executives followed marches by the city’s students and its bin men by driving their cars up and down in front of city hall in protest.

Nevertheless, the council pressed ahead. “What we are aiming for is a complete change of culture,” its president Roberto Tripoli said. “Yes, some people are going to have to pay a price but things were out of hand and the population has made it clear that it wants this.”

Originally, the law was to be introduced last autumn with immediate effect but it was first delayed until December and then finally introduced in January 2007 with a 90-day compliance period, supposedly giving everyone time to take down any posters or signs that did not meet the new regulations or face a fine of up to US$4,500 per day. Throughout that period, the city’s workmen were busy dismantling around 100 sites per day, occasionally supervised personally by Kassab, a man with an obvious eye for a photo opportunity.

In theory, 1 April was the first day of São Paulo’s re-birth as a Clean City. So what does it feel like?

“I can’t tell you what it’s like to live in a city without ads yet,” says Gustavo Piqueira, who runs the studio Rex Design in São Paulo, “because in a lot of places they still haven’t been removed. In Brazil, every time that some new law comes in, everybody waits a little to see if it will really be applied and seriously controlled, or if it’s just something to fill the newspapers for a week or two.”

Sao Paulo with empty advertising billboards

Sao Paulo: empty advertising billboards. Photo:Tony de Marco


In a lot of places, Piqueira says, this has led to the removal of posters but not the structures on which they were displayed. “It’s a kind of ‘billboard cemetery’. I guess they’re waiting to see if the law will really last. If the mayor keeps the law for a year or so, people will start to remove them and the city will, finally, start to look better.”

Photographer and typographer Tony de Marco has been out documenting this strange hiatus in a sequence of images published on Flickr and used to illustrate this piece. The city, he says, is starting to feel more “serene”.

Continue to read the full article here.

For more photographs see Tony de Marco’s Flickr set at

Update 31.December 2013: A friend of mine who just visited Sao Paolo reports that outdoor advertising is now the same as in other cities. If anyone has more information how and when this happened please send me some info at: (replace “spam” with “jason”).


Notes & references:
A video showing outdoor advertising at Time Square New York is here


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