This morning on the way to work, I witnessed the latest stage in what seems like Glasgows unspoken attempt to fill all available public spaces with corporate messages. A billboard has been errected in the middle of our local station, – no big deal in itself, but it raises interesting questions about the line between legitimate and illegal communication in the civic realm. I personally don’t have a major problem with the proliferation of marketing messages but I do have a problem with the hypocrisy of a society that deems it acceptable for corporations to buy up public space for this purpose, while deeming it a social curse for any individuals to make their mark in the public realm. How can we criticise someone for tagging one end of a bus shelter when the other end is ‘tagged’ by KFC, insisting that “there’s no sub like a KFC sub.” Just because this message is behind perspex and incorporates an LCD screen in a desperate attempt to engage the increasingly disinterested consumer, why do we imbue it with any more value than the casual ‘Townhead Young Team’ logo scrawled in marker? The only distinction I can see is that somewhere along the line, money has changed hands for the ad, but not for the grafitti.
So if it is a question of legitimacy through ownership, who owns these spaces? I had been under the misapprehension that a bus stop was part of the public realm – in reality it is privately owned – the city council engage a private contractor, in this case â??jcdecauxâ??, to provide these bus stops and other fairly useless pieces of ‘street furniture’ in return for the advertising revenue they generate. We should have really guessed this – you only have to look at the stops to realise that the primary driver in the design isn’t ‘shelter’ – something that might have been useful given glasgow’s propensity for high winds and horizontal rain – rather the primary design driver is maximum visibility for the ad space, the construction being entirely glass and open on about a third of it’s exterior. On a more optimistic note, with â??audience permissionâ?? and user specific content more and more frequently discussed in advertising circles, perhaps we will see bus stops designed with the user in mind, and ad content (you can filter) delivered direct to your mobile device when you pass through.
Whether it’s projections, billboards, flyposting or grafitti, all these forms of urban communication help contribute a visual backdrop and level of noise to a vibrant city. Whether they are an effective means of communicating a specific message is another matter – as Advertisers of one sort or another, our strategy of ‘cutting through the clutter’ invariably just ups the ante, and we end up in a vicious circle of trying to shout louder than everyone else.
More on ‘rogue one’ and stencilling in Glasgow â??hereâ??