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Grenoble Outdoor Advertising

After being outlawed by Grenoble, what does the future hold for outdoor advertising?

By Tim Lindsay

November 27, 2014 | 5 min read

This week Grenoble became the first city in Europe to officially say ‘non’ to outdoor advertising, announcing plans to cancel its contract with JCDecaux and remove all of the city’s 326 advertising hoardings and billboards by April next year.

Grenoble is to become Europe's first ad-free city

In its place? 50 trees, as part of a campaign promise from the recently elected Green Party in the region, with the remaining spaces offered to local social and cultural groups.

"The municipality is taking the choice of freeing public space in Grenoble from advertising to develop areas for public expression," said mayor Eric Piolle of the Green Party.

Grenoble isn’t the first city to make this move. In 2006 Sao Paulo – one of the largest cities in the world – passed the ‘clean city’ law, which led to 15,000 billboards being removed in a year. Despite fears that it would cost the city hundreds of millions in lost revenue, reducing the landscape to grey, concrete jungle, it gave the city new life and its still ‘clean’ to this day.

Now, before we get ahead of ourselves, very few are predicting a slow death for outdoor advertising. While it is lumped in with the catchall label of ‘traditional’ advertising, it’s far from stagnant. At D&AD, we see first-hand the peaks, troughs and trends of advertising and design, both in terms of quality and quantity of work entered. And outdoor is absolutely thriving on both counts.

Last year alone saw some fantastic creative projects. There was the brilliant ‘Magic of Flying’ from OgilvyOne Worldwide, where the ‘magic’ of the end product was only topped by the remarkable data wizardry that was going on behind the scenes. We had the powerful ‘Life Signs’ from Ogilvy Buenos Aires that turned wrecked cars into speed warnings. And DDB Stockholm found a unique way to encourage Norwegians to cross the border and take advantage of a cheaper Big Mac in Sweden.

The wonderful thing about outdoor advertising is that it has evolved into so much more than ‘just a poster’. Advertisers can blend context and form with technology and innovation to produce something genuinely special, a real moment of inspiration.

It’s probably little coincidence that on the same day on the other side of the world, Google was unveiling the first ever ad on the gigantic new digital billboard overlooking Times Square. Costing an estimated $2.5m a month and the size of a football field, it’s already the Superbowl of outdoor advertising. With 300,000 people passing it a day, brands will no doubt be queuing up to take centre stage on an already iconic New York landmark.

To compare the glitz of Times Square to the picturesque, Alps-bordering city of Grenoble is, admittedly, a bit chalk and cheese. But it’s an interesting comparison nonetheless. The hyper-commerciality of Times Square or our own Piccadilly Circus is part of the city’s allure: bright lights and big brands. Yet for a quiet countryside city, run by a Green party mayor, not so much.

Now, it is significant that Grenoble has outlawed outdoor advertising. Consumers are fatigued by a glut of messaging. It reminds us there is a desire for many to opt out from the noise. I would go so far as say we should expect more cities and towns to follow suit in the near future.

But, (for once), I think agencies are beginning to get ahead of the curve. Within outdoor, each year we’re seeing real disruption and creativity. Previously one of the most complained-about mediums for advertising, it’s increasingly a real force for good. A platform to entertain and inform, whether through tactical posters, real-time digital media or innovative interactive installations.

The transfer of power from brand to consumer in the social media, internet-powered age has introduced a layer of accountability and responsibility that brands can’t shy away from. What’s happening in Grenoble and previously in Sao Paulo is an example of this, a public backlash against brand intrusion. But in outdoor, advertisers are taking the opportunity to aim higher than the mean, take some risks and flex their creative muscles. After a great 2014, I can’t wait to see what innovation is coming our way next year.

Tim Lindsay is chief executive of D&AD. He can be found on Twitter @timothylindsay

Grenoble Outdoor Advertising

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