A couple of summers ago, I was interning at a now defunct media company. Part of my intern duties were to research other media/ad tech companies (much, much less fun than it sounds), and I started noticing how profitable advertisement is and how much space it really takes up.
One pioneering company I looked into, JCDecaux, got its start by partnering with cities. The company pays for the construction of bus stops, billboards, and street furniture in exchange for the right to advertise on those structures. JCDecaux also operates public bike rental systems in many cities across Europe, including Paris’s system of over 20,000 bikes.
From the city’s point of view this could be a win-win situation: the city doesn’t have to build or maintain those public resources, and both the city and the advertising company get to profit off of ad revenue. As a resident or visitor of a city though, I feel that advertisements aren’t such an easy decision. Sure, some advertisements are artistic or interesting. They are a sign of prosperity for the company and the city. Would Times Square or Shibuya be as awe-inspiring were it not for the ads?
Ultimately though, I feel like ads are waves of thought that faceless men in suits are trying to infiltrate my brain with. How would we decide what to buy if no one is telling us? Was Drake right when he sang money over everything?
Grenoble, a small city in France, decided to find out. They have actually banned outdoor advertisements and decided to replace them with trees and a space for local cultural and social groups. I think that is pretty awesome and shows what some shifting of values and budgets can do.
Would you want to see the same thing happen where you live? Or do you like looking at ads? Is there something else you would rather see? Photos of baby animals? The ACLU trolling Trump? Let us know below.
Photos by Nicolas Damiens