Outdoor Advertising Theory: Chicago 1942

by editor on August 31, 2011

This came to us via the great vintage blog “How to be a Retronaut”. Produced by the outdoor advertising industry in the 1940s.


Indianapolis International Airport has decided to remove "Chrysalis," a piece of art by James Wille Faust (right). Jan Martin (left) was the engineer who built the metal components for the artwork. / Michelle Pemberton / The Star

Some arts patrons are criticizing a decision by Indianapolis International Airport officials to remove a prominent, three-story sculptural painting from its terminal and replace it with a video screen that shows ads and art.

They see it as a sign that the airport’s commitment to public art is waning — especially coming on the heels of an announcement just weeks ago that a $1 million plan to erect a distinctive “IND” sculpture in front of the terminal is on indefinite hold.

The airport argues that the video display will have artistic value by showing digital art.

But some arts patrons said the move seems at odds with the special attention airport officials gave to public art when the terminal opened in 2008, saying it would serve as a “visual gateway” to Indianapolis culture.

“The strong commitment to public art is now just a move aimed at generating revenue,” said William Potter, an associate professor and director of foundation studies at the Herron School of Art. “To remove it from this space is to destroy it. It’s basically putting a billboard in place of a work of creative passion.”

Creative passion is exactly what the piece, titled “Chrysalis,” was to Indiana artist James Wille Faust, who spent years designing it specifically for that spot and who was told at the onset it would be on display at least a decade.

The airport’s website even called “Chrysalis” a permanent display. On Tuesday, however, airport spokesman Carlo Bertolini said the airport has always had the option of rotating pieces in and out and, in fact, is moving toward a system in which pieces will be brought in on loan.

The Indianapolis Museum of Art, which recently signed on as the airport’s art consultant, likely will help decide what pieces to display.

“The airport will become just a satellite museum to IMA,” said Martha Faust, wife and business manager to James Wille Faust. “It just seems to be undermining Indiana artists. Wille’s heart and soul went into that piece. It was a slap in the face.”

Martha Faust said a curator at IMA told her that other artists whose work is on display will soon be notified that their work is coming down as well.

Bertolini didn’t argue that other art pieces might be removed, calling it the “natural evolution” of art displays. But he said the electronic screen replacing Faust’s work would have artistic value with digital art from Indiana, national and international artists.

“We understand not everyone is going to agree,” he said. “Some people would say there is no place for art here. Others would say the entire place should be an art gallery with runways around it. We try to find the balance.”

The IMA, which notified Faust of his artwork’s removal, declined to comment on the decision, other than to say that it was made by the airport.

IMA board chairman Steve Russell said he had nothing to do with the decision. “The answer is I am not involved at all,” he said.

Mayor Greg Ballard was not aware of the decision until contacted by The Indianapolis Star.

“We were unaware of it,” said Paula Freund, Ballard’s spokeswoman. “We will follow up on it and look into it.”

The Fausts hope someone steps in.

“That’s our hope, that it stays. That’s our only hope,” Martha Faust said. “But we are not naive.”

After all, changing economic times have created the need for more revenue at the airport, which has seen a decline in passengers since 2008.

Even last month’s decision to halt plans for a colorful, 30-foot-tall piece of art at the airport’s entryway was blamed in part on economic concerns.

Whether the big screen replacing Faust’s work with ads will generate significant revenue remains to be seen. But it won’t hurt that the Super Bowl coming to Indianapolis in early 2012 will bring travelers from around the world. Advertisers will want to reach them.

Details on how big the screen will be and how much it will cost were not immediately available. Bertolini said that information will be disclosed in September.


James Porto’s photo illustration shown above was originally featured in an Adbusters blog post titled “What is Mental Environmentalism?”. It powerfully depicts the sensory overload we humans are faced with, as well as how companies compete for our eyeballs. This would also be a great illustration for the hazards of driver distraction. Does the driver look happy?

I also love this illustration Porto did for New York Magazine, titled “MTA Sellout.” How many corporate ‘sponsors’ can you find? Were any branding opportunities missed? If you said ‘passenger foreheads’, you’re a winner.


A Visual Essay on Urban Sign Pollution

by editor on June 24, 2011

This is the first in a series of Visual Essays by Scenic America; this one focuses on the threats to our cities posed by uncontrolled outdoor advertising and commercialism.


Trash in The Sky: West St. Paul Minnesota

by editor on June 24, 2011

The story of a neighborhood blighted by an 80 foot digital billboard and the outrage of average Americans fighting corporate interests and governmental hand washing. Neighbors coming together to become “Blightfighters.”

We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public about the need to reduce the blight associated with billboards. The ease with which billboards can appear, and the specious methods that billboard companies use to make sure that they aren’t removed, has encouraged the growth of more and more intrusive outdoor advertising (off-premise) structures. Billboards have become ever larger and more invasive with extensions and brighter lights in more prominent locations. There is now an increased urgency with the proliferation of digital billboards; brightly lit jumbotrons creating huge profits for billboard companies at the expense of our landscape. Several recent studies note significant highway safety issues related to the brightness and rapid image change of these Digbos, which distract motorists and can cause accidents. We invite you to join our cause and help us protect our scenic resources from further degradation.


A city permit for a sign half this size was to identify 'Black Bottle' tavern, but the restaurant and KNL advertising firm instead hung this Widmer banner. The city had it taken down.

This article is excerpted from Crosscut, Seattle’s independent political and news website. Originally published June 15, 2011.

The city is plastered with billboard-like “wallscapes” that break the law or stretch it in creative ways. After last year’s Russell Investments skyscraper-sign controversy, the broader ordinance is coming under review.

By Eric Scigliano

For a few weeks last fall, the biggest political dustup in town was over a sign — the 10-foot-tall illuminated logo that Russell Investments wanted to hang atop its new downtown tower. To get Russell to move from Tacoma, Mayor Nickels’ administration and City Council President Richard Conlin had offered to change the city’s sign code, which doesn’t allow signs more than 65 feet above ground, and let Russell brand its piece of the city skyline.

But design, architecture, and good-government types turned out in force, complaining that Russell’s logo would also deface that skyline and open the door to every other big, vain office-tower tenant that wanted to stake a claim. And, because a sky-scraping logo invisible from the street would be all about branding, it would subvert the basic principle of Seattle’s sign code: that signs are for helping people find businesses and find out what’s available inside. They’re not a general advertising medium.

This Montana tourism ad, one of the largest signs in Seattle, qualified as an 'on-premise' sign after Clear Channel offered to include a tag for the Amcan travel agency, which has an office inside the building.

The Cyclops Cafe sells Stella Artois beer, qualifying this banner as an on-premise sign, even though such signs are meant to help people locate businesses.

The supermarket around the corner does sell Stella, though this alley sign bears little visual connection to the store.

This Tabasco sign lures drivers along adjacent I-5, even though the store inside this building doesn't sell the hot sauce and its owners didn't recognize the brand name.

Is this an on-premise sign? After ad company Icon was ordered to remove this wallscape from its own building, it began offering Starbucks drink vouchers from its third-floor office.

All that was too much for the Seattle Design Commission, which recommended denying Russell’s request, and for the City Council, which decided to table the proposal and take a wider look at the city’s sign code. When councilmembers eventually do that, they’ll see that the threat of a few tower-topping corporate logos is the least sign of trouble in this town. Down at street level, they’ll find what even one local outdoor-advertising operator calls “the Wild West”: a free-for-all of ever bigger and bolder advertising signs, plastering buildings from chic Belltown to gritty SoDo.
(continued at Crosscut.com)

Eric Scigliano is a Seattle-based writer whose books include Puget Sound, Love, War, and Circuses (aka Seeing the Elephant), Michelangelo’s Mountain, and, with Curtis E. Ebbesmeyer, Flotsametrics. He can be reached in care of editor@crosscut.com.


A Revolution in Rapid City

by editor on June 24, 2011


Billboard Wars continue in Rapid City, South Dakota. A successful citizens’ initiative in 2011 led by people who were tired of billboard proliferation their beautiful community. With new digital billboard technology, billboard companies are trying to hoodwink local officials into digitally “upgrading” their “Trash in the Sky.” Many local officials go along without the full knowledge of what a can of worms they are opening.


We’ve been hearing the “gamification” bandied about lately. Gamification is the use of game play mechanics for non-game applications. It strives to encourage users to engage in desired behaviors in connection with the applications. Gamification works by making technology more engaging, and by encouraging desired behaviors, taking advantage of humans’ psychological predisposition to engage in gaming. The technique can encourage people to perform chores that they ordinarily consider boring, such as completing surveys, shopping, or reading web sites. Here’s an example of gamification combined with an interactive billboard. Winners get a free McDonald’s dessert. Remember the experiments Pavlov did on dogs? Pavlov would have loved this one. Guess who’s the dog?

Here’s the story as told on the Ooh-TV website. “McDonald’s Sweden has just finished its Pick N’ Play operation. The concept was simple — it allowed passers-by with a Smartphone to play Pong on a giant screen in Stockholm. Winners got a free dessert.

Anyone close to the screen could log on to a specially created web-site and play. There was no need to download any application. The player chose the dessert that he wanted to win and started to play, using the telephone as a joystick. If he was not knocked out after 30 seconds, he received a coupon on his phone enabling him to collect his prize at a nearby McDonald’s. The campaign was created by DDB Stockholm.”

Pavlov and his dog.


This famous clip from the 2002 film Minority Report shows a future of talking digital billboards that speak directly to individual consumers, less than 10 years later, this science fiction is science fact.


Award-winning Typo-Animation by Studio Smack  gives a clear impression of the enormous amount of visual stimuli that plague us every day. Due to the immense scale of the visual bombardment, the commercial effectiveness has become utterly dubious. What happens to architecture when the amount of visual information defines our understanding of our physical space? I wish I hadn’t watched this before bedtime.