Advertising, When does it go too far?

15 Nov

We all know the reason for advertising but is there a line it shouldn’t cross? Is there a point where it becomes too obtrusive?

I came across an article in the Chicago Tribune: “First ads go up on Chicago River bridge houses” and my immediate reaction was that the bridge houses should not have advertising on them. It made me even more disappointed when I saw the photo.

New Bank of America advertisements on the Wabash Avenue bridge houses. (Chris Walker, Chicago Tribune)

This led me to think when is advertising acceptable and when does it go too far. I personally feel (and am backed up by a Tribune poll: 96% against the ads) that these ads are obtrusive. They are a method for the city to make money and according to the article the city is trying to sell ad space in many other locations including website, garbage cans, and pay boxes. To me all those locations would be good spots for advertising. So why are so many people offended by the ads on the bridges?

If you look back a few years you will see the same thing happen with a building called the Sears Tower, a few years before that a store called Marshall Field’s. The thing all these have in common that the trash cans and parking meters do not is they have become icons of a city. What really stands out though is how a place such as the Sears Tower or Wrigley Field are actually advertisements in themselves. Then there are areas like Times Square where it is required to have advertising signs on the buildings in the area. Advertising is about perception, it is about how you present the ad.

So I come to the conclusion that advertising is acceptable anywhere you want it but it must be done correctly or people will take offense. The ads on the bridge houses could have been done in a manner that matched the style of the gorgeous buildings but instead appear to be generic billboards slapped on the side. So I pose the question: In the age of ever-present advertising, how do we incorporate advertising into our buildings so that people will accept it?

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2 Responses to “Advertising, When does it go too far?”

  1. Mark November 17, 2011 at 7:05 AM #

    This truly is quite the disappointment for the world-class city of Chicago. Besides the lakefront with its trails, marinas,etc., and scattered parks, the Chicago river really is the only other "natural" feature or attraction in the city. It was my understanding that the city was starting an initiative towards cleaning up the river and making it even more of an attraction as well as including new programmatic elements and attractions along with it. Placing said billboards on the bridge houses, that I would 100% agree were not sensitive to their surroundings nor the public's perception of them, quite possibly may give the companies that these eyesores are advertising for a bad image in the public eye because of their invasion of the river and its current picturesque surroundings. If the ads must be displayed, the least the companies could do is put a little more consideration and sensitivity into what impact they would have on the city. And if matching the style or striving for a "blend-in" match scenario to the surrounding built style is asking for too much or if they think it would not catch enough attention, then don't put them there at all.

    • Ryan November 17, 2011 at 9:32 AM #

      This is a fantastic article and discussion about what it means to go too far or be insensitive to something. Or, also, the idea of needing to think beyond…

      I completely agree that these ads should not be placed on this bridge and really appreciate Aric and Mark's commentaries. I think one of the big things presented here is the insensitivity to city and natural landmarks. As stated by Mark, the city has been going to great lengths to project and improve the river, and they just reversed the trend by allowing hap-hazard advertising to occur. These were done insensitively, and more care should be taken toward these kinds of moves in the future. As Aric also stated, certain landmarks define a city, and advertising on these landmarks is completely different from advertising on trash cans and parking meters…as should be treated with more care.

      I think another big point here, however, is perception and success of these ads. In this case, it's clear that these ads have done nothing but hurt the cause, which means Bank of America just lost money and they city just made a fool of themselves…both had great intentions for themselves, but it's clear that they didn't think it through. More thought needs to go into marketing. With all the internet ads, banners, etc, people aren't paying attention to these things as much (until they make an uproar!). Consider bill boards along highways…there are so many today, that most people just ignore them, and they're complete eye sores (as are these BoA ads)! Companies spend a lot of money on these things, but for what?

      So, what are some innovative ways to market while being sensitive to your environments and actually getting bang for your buck?

      Catchy tunes, ridiculous commercials, unforgettable taglines, acting like a fool in public…these are some examples, but what are others?

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