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Monday, January 9, 2012

Advertising space, advertising face

The one thing that always catches me off guard as soon as I step foot in Lebanon is the overabundance of advertising..
There is one aspect of Beirut that never fails to shock me every time I visit. Forget about the traffic jams, how utterly rude people become as soon as they get behind the wheel of a car, the honking, the blatant disrespect of the law, the rise of the superficial culture, I could go on forever.. All of these, although granted make up the bulk of the inspiration for my rants, I'm used to. I'm not saying I could live with it all, but somehow in my head it has become part of what I expect to see when I go to Lebanon.

The one thing however that always catches me off guard as soon as I step foot in Lebanon is the overabundance of advertising. Billboards have taken up so much space in this country, we might as well start advocating for the use of beautiful scenery in billboard ads, because let's face it while we're driving, we only have two things in sight: Other cars, and billboards. In fact, sometimes billboards are so ill-placed in Lebanon that they end up blocking our view of incoming cars on intersections and bridge ramps.

Every inch on building facades with a view on the highway has been sold for advertising money. The entire space of our roadsides has been taken up by billboards. It's not even unusual anymore to see the same ad repeated twenty times in a row on the highway; I guess they want to make sure you have the time to read what it says in case you're speeding.

Then of course come the larger than life lingerie ads, somehow strategically placed at busy, or sometimes even dangerous intersections. I don't mind the show of skin, but whose idea was it to bombard us with the view of twenty-foot long breasts on our way to work every day ? In fact, how bad is the state of advertisement in Lebanon that we have to resort to blowing up our ads to such a large scale in the first place ? What did they think, we won't get the message until there's nothing else for us to see anymore ? Or is it that in their minds they have the illusion that Lebanon is inching closer every day to looking like Times Square ?

There is a silver lining to this story though. Growing up, I remember how Lebanon's image always used to be "Lebnen el Akhdar" (translation: Green Lebanon), the "Oasis of the Arab countries". Then we started polluting and destroying our environment, and we were all too corrupt to put an end to it, and before we all knew it, and although nobody really said it, we turned our country into "Lebnen el Rmedeh" (translation: Grey Lebanon), a concrete forest of sorts, and a polluted one at that. Luckily for us, we have a thriving advertising market, that is more than willing to step in where our environmental and planning policies have failed, and bring back some colors to our dear old country, fake as it may be.

In November of last year, Lebanon's interior ministry announced that it would be enforcing the dismantling of all illegal billboards in the country, and according to Gino's blog, the work is already in progress. I'm not sure how big a portion of the existing billboards that decision will affect, but two things are for sure: First, it's a step in the right direction for controlling the amount of advertising in Lebanon. Second, that might mean we would have to look at how ugly our city really is when there are no billboards for it to masquerade behind.

A few days ago I read an article about a law that the mayor of Sao Paolo passed back in 2006 banning all billboards, posters and bus ads in the city, labeling them as "visual pollution". Needless to say, the ban was heavily opposed by business owners, claiming it would pull them under. Regardless, the law passed and looking back now, it was a success on many levels. You can read all about it here. Today, Sao Paolo could be a model for many cities to follow, so why not Beirut ? We could do with a little less visual pollution, among other things.. couldn't we ?

Recommended Media:
A Happy, Flourishing City With No Advertising: The story of the ban that changed Sao Paolo.
Beirut Drive-By Shooting, for a thorough collection of Beirut billboards and ads
Gino's Blog: Bye Bye illegal billboards

[image courtesy of Fluffy]


January 9, 2012 at 8:49 AM Sareen

Honestly, I'm amazed how men can drive in Lebanon with all those billboards of semi-nude chicks. So I have to congratulate you if you make it to work without an accident!

January 9, 2012 at 2:25 PM Ask Fluffy

@sareen: I think that's more of a comment about how frustrated men in Lebanon are ;)

January 11, 2012 at 7:01 PM ritakml

I can imagine what a decision like Sao Paolo can do in Lebanon :)
Today, a presenter on TV warned viewers from falling advertising poles...

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