SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Keywords:

  • billboard blight;
  • political geography;
  • government regulation;
  • advertising;
  • urban planning;
  • market forces;
  • Metro Manila;
  • Philippines

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Outdoor advertising as a spatio-political problem: research objectives
  5. Methodology, scope and limitations, significance of the study
  6. Review of related literature
  7. Content and ethics: good, bad, and just plain ugly
  8. Physical description and spatial context — the method to the madness
  9. Chain of responsibility: the whodunit of the big picture
  10. Policies-in-the-making and other legislative stabs in the dark
  11. Analysis and discussion
  12. Conclusions and looking ahead
  13. References
  14. Supporting Information

Abstract

Metropolitan Manila, a major Southeast-Asian conurbation, has become increasingly unsightly due to the poorly-regulated proliferation of billboards and other forms of outdoor advertising that threaten to distract, if not overwhelm, motorists, commuters and pedestrians. Field research however, reveals land use patterns in the seemingly wanton sprawl, as well as little-known stakeholders whose network drives the advertising industry. With the current lack of coordination between government agencies, the situation threatens to deteriorate, unless insights from political geography and urban planning can be used by policymakers to craft rules based on a holistic understanding of the key physical, economic and sociopolitical forces described in this study.

Résumé

La métropole de Manille, conurbation de premier plan du sud-est asiatique, s'enlaidit sans cesse par la prolifération quasiment non réglementée de panneaux d'affichage ou autres formes de publicité extérieure qui menacent de distraire, voire de submerger, automobilistes, voyageurs pendulaires et piétons. Les études sur le terrain mettent pourtant en évidence des schémas d'occupation des sols dans une expansion d'apparence irresponsable, ainsi que des acteurs peu connus dont le réseau dynamise le secteur publicitaire. Étant donnée l'absence actuelle de coordination entre organes gouvernementaux, la situation risque de s'aggraver, sauf si les décideurs politiques peuvent bénéficier de l'éclairage de la géographie politique et de l'urbanisme pour concevoir des règles fondées sur une compréhension holistique des principales forces physiques, économiques et sociopolitiques qui s'exercent et que décrit cette étude.

I charge you all with the pox! Can you resurrect the dead? One person was reportedly killed, and four others injured, at the corner of Estrella Street and Edsa Avenue in Makati during the height of typhoon Milenyo last Thursday.1 . . . It was force majeure . . . that toppled all those killer billboards. It was the finger of God pointing at crass materialism. It is time to put a stop to the worship of the golden calf of corporate greed, and to return to basic community values.2

(senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, cited in Mabasa, 2006)

Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Outdoor advertising as a spatio-political problem: research objectives
  5. Methodology, scope and limitations, significance of the study
  6. Review of related literature
  7. Content and ethics: good, bad, and just plain ugly
  8. Physical description and spatial context — the method to the madness
  9. Chain of responsibility: the whodunit of the big picture
  10. Policies-in-the-making and other legislative stabs in the dark
  11. Analysis and discussion
  12. Conclusions and looking ahead
  13. References
  14. Supporting Information

Metropolitan Manila is arguably one of the more visually displeasing metropolises in Southeast Asia, given its proliferation of outdoor advertising media, particularly billing boards (‘billboards’ hereafter). In this capital region of the Philippines, billboards were erected as painted wooden panels in commercial areas for the three decades following the end of the second world war. With the arrival of large-format printing technology in the late 1980s, they acquired more eye-catching surfaces made of realistic, high-resolution canvas fastened to steel skeletons, or were printed on all-weather adhesive for affixing to the sides of buildings. Soon, ever larger billboards began to multiply and cram the urban skyline. Today they jostle for commercial space along major thoroughfares like Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA — Metro Manila's original, 12-lane, north-south spine), Circumferential Road Five (C-5), the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) and the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX). Added to the clutter of façades, there are now a couple of electronic billboards on EDSA, and at least one changeable-message billboard on NLEX. Such rampant and unregulated festooning would have gone unchecked were it not for tragedies brought about by the monsoon season. Increasingly sporadic and violent typhoons have pummeled the National Capital Region, leading to the collapse of several billboards — with at least one recorded fatality (a taxi driver whose skull was crushed by a falling billboard scaffolding). The event in recent history that triggered societal uproar was the onslaught of typhoon Milenyo (international name: Xangsane) in September 2006, whose 165 km-per-hour winds toppled or irreversibly warped at least 40 billboards (Biazon, 2006), while one fell over elevated train tracks, and news footage recorded others that had crashed into adjacent houses and power lines. As a knee-jerk reaction by politicians, a moratorium on construction and usage of billboards was imposed just after the storm, and owners were ordered to remove mangled structures. Within six months, billboard advertising crept back into the landscape. Much of the scaffolding was reinforced over the years, so that the fury of another infamous typhoon, Ondoy (international name: Ketsana), in September 2009 damaged fewer structures, tearing apart only tarpaulin sheets that had been left unfurled. Thus, it seems that billboard mania is back with a vengeance, turning streets into claustrophobic canvasses of color, after collective memory and indignation have faded. The resolve to curtail billboard blight has met with stiff resistance, legal and extra-legal, by shrewd companies, so that once again, these structures dominate the skyline of Metro Manila's major thoroughfares, while policymakers and their academic advisers fail to understand the forces that must be tamed. This article seeks to document the physical manifestation of the problem and explore causal factors in an organized manner, so that a clearer picture of the stakeholder and regulatory environments emerge.

Outdoor advertising as a spatio-political problem: research objectives

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Outdoor advertising as a spatio-political problem: research objectives
  5. Methodology, scope and limitations, significance of the study
  6. Review of related literature
  7. Content and ethics: good, bad, and just plain ugly
  8. Physical description and spatial context — the method to the madness
  9. Chain of responsibility: the whodunit of the big picture
  10. Policies-in-the-making and other legislative stabs in the dark
  11. Analysis and discussion
  12. Conclusions and looking ahead
  13. References
  14. Supporting Information

Given that the Philippines has no existing laws that are specifically crafted to regulate outdoor advertising or to rationalize its intrusion into the landscape, this research deals with a basic urban problem, albeit one largely unexplored in the local literature. It asks: with a view towards deepening academic understanding of the use of space in globalizing cities, how does the interaction of state agents and concerned stakeholders with different political abilities affect the proliferation of billboards in Metropolitan Manila?

The study seeks to confirm the commonly held belief that there is an administrative lacuna, or a disjunction of various rules on land use and zoning, or even on media content, regarding the governing of billboard erection. It also explores the possibility that the problem lies not so much — or not only, in weakness or diffusion of political control per se, but in the coordination and management of government agencies themselves, as well as in the lack of a more democratic societal appropriation of urban space. In line with this, study objectives were limited to the following:

  • • 
    To establish a detailed written and photographic description of the ‘proliferation of billboards’ by noting their form and content along EDSA and C-5 — supplemented by field data from other major thoroughfares, when appropriate — in order to record for posterity this particular stage of urban development in Metro Manila;
  • • 
    To ascertain and validate stakeholders' motivations that drive the proliferation of these billboards and, if necessary, to discover new stakeholder-driven factors, framed against the overall context of the government's regulatory policy and metropolitan political geography; and
  • • 
    To provide a working critique, informed by research, of the affective dimensions and societal reaction to the content of billboards that may be used as a springboard for deeper investigation in that direction, or as an input to land use planning and public administration of outdoor media in the Philippines.

Methodology, scope and limitations, significance of the study

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Outdoor advertising as a spatio-political problem: research objectives
  5. Methodology, scope and limitations, significance of the study
  6. Review of related literature
  7. Content and ethics: good, bad, and just plain ugly
  8. Physical description and spatial context — the method to the madness
  9. Chain of responsibility: the whodunit of the big picture
  10. Policies-in-the-making and other legislative stabs in the dark
  11. Analysis and discussion
  12. Conclusions and looking ahead
  13. References
  14. Supporting Information

In order to count and inspect billboards, the study employed repetitive ambulatory and windscreen surveys of the two main highways that form the billboard-blighted spines of Metropolitan Manila, as well as the two highways exiting this National Capital Region. A visit was also made to Manila's older central business district, to find remnants of advertising from bygone eras. Field observations and photo-collages were compared against available cartographic data from both the world wide web and the author's own academic resources. The concentrations and dimensions of billboards were noted, with due attention to: (1) orientation to the carriageway; (2) structural elements such as method of fixing, materials and welding of frames; and (3) neighborhood and other notable elements of the urban milieu. Second, to validate field observations and to inquire into legal and policy aspects, representative government officials, advertising companies and knowledgeable experts were interviewed. Third, to compare existing realities and stakeholder perceptions to what is ‘on paper’, the researcher also conducted a survey and analysis of existing policies and pending legislation. The ultimate aim was to form an overview of the physical reality, the stakeholder dynamics and the policy environment.

This article is limited to description of the phenomenon, revelation of the chain of stakeholder relationships, and analysis of the issues involved to augment the literature that informs studies on power relations in space or advertising regulation in the urbanizing Philippines. By taking a historical snapshot of both the external manifestations and the unseen socioeconomic dynamics of outdoor advertising, this study aims to be a valuable comparative resource for scholars studying the political geography and urban management of contested visual spaces in other Southeast Asian developing states. The study lends itself as well to the work of urban sociologists and semiologists who may use it as a springboard for studies that relate human group responses to patterns of symbolism and communication. Beyond this main readership of academics, the article may provide structured understanding for law-makers and urban planners, who may sooner or later find themselves called to regulate outdoor advertising, using the successes and shortcomings of Metro Manila as one basis for normative proposals. The formal study period was from September 2007 to May 2010, though historical observations have been included, especially the author's witnessing of destruction wrought by the 2006 and 2009 typhoons.

Review of related literature

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Outdoor advertising as a spatio-political problem: research objectives
  5. Methodology, scope and limitations, significance of the study
  6. Review of related literature
  7. Content and ethics: good, bad, and just plain ugly
  8. Physical description and spatial context — the method to the madness
  9. Chain of responsibility: the whodunit of the big picture
  10. Policies-in-the-making and other legislative stabs in the dark
  11. Analysis and discussion
  12. Conclusions and looking ahead
  13. References
  14. Supporting Information

Political geography of the billboard phenomenon: a metropolis of multiple claimants

There are multiple discourses in geographic literature on the control of spaces and their continuous transformation within urban landscapes. This is particularly salient in large cities, which serve as finite locations where global space finds its bases (Berner and Korff, 1995), causing characteristic changes that appear similar to hegemonic Westernization but are underlain by more discrete, indigenous dynamics. As a framework, political geography, like most modern political studies, has focused its efforts on understanding the exercise of power or the ability to get things done in relation to the state. But the state is not, of course, the only locus for exercising power, and therefore it follows that there are other possible political geographies beyond this traditional state-centrism (Taylor, 1999). On the one hand, therefore, one finds states as being ‘like the air we breathe’, as organizations that surround us, influence us and sustain the lives that we lead — often also lying beyond the limits of critical reflection (Jones et al., 2004). On the other hand, geographers and urban planners also draw on selected methods that show territories as spaces that are defended, contested, claimed, and claimed against the claims of others (Cox, 2002). These other players may include those who seek to capture the state or its subsidiaries by wielding economic influence, among other means. Such political claims are predicated on some sort of recognition; they often reflect more than just identities in space. They attempt to change the broader social, political and economic relationships that operate in society and in so doing manifest themselves in public spaces (Staeheli, 2008). Ultimately, the predominance of certain structures and symbols has something to do with our relationship to the material world, to which we must relate to survive. But that relationship is often socially mediated. It is in and through others that we appropriate and transform aspects of that material world into forms we can use. This brings us to the caveat of Latham and McCormack (2004), who argue that such grounding in more ‘concrete’ realities actually requires more expansive engagement with the immaterial. It is the ‘excessive potential’ of the immaterial that gives birth to the shape and substance of matter, thus reminding us that viewers' sentiments and perceptions could introduce both antecedent and reactive influences. This matter forms the cities through which citizens negotiate the movements of their lives, obtaining direction and misdirection from the various sensory cues of an urban fabric that is constantly being rewoven with politicized threads. In the urban centers of both developed and developing countries, profitable outdoor advertising control sooner or later emerges as part of the built-up environment, as one of the manifestations of this tug-of-war between diverse commercial lobbies, state regulators at various levels of government, and the average person-on-the-street staring at the billboards. These key groups will be discussed as the pillars upon which a unifying platform of political geography and urban planning rests.

The country context: weak urban governance versus strong markets

The Philippines has been described as a ‘weak state’ (Abueva, 1998; Kraft, 2003), not least because of its historic record of bureaucratic capture by oligarchic elites, private sector interests and — perhaps indirectly — by stronger occidental states, which have been able to delay, derail or reverse policies, judicial decisions and other activities directed towards redistribution of wealth and social justice in its struggling economy. As such, regulation that serves the general welfare may often be stymied by private-sector interests that can pay to get things done ‘their way’. The political geography of the country reflects this at multiple levels and dimensions, noticeable, for instance, in the ethno-linguistic sectors that characterize sub-national centers of power, as well as in the ownership of prime properties and business edifices by political families whose fortunes were amassed during the country's colonial periods and early years of independence. Indeed, any casual visitor to Metro Manila will readily observe the stark commercial influence that interpenetrates the urban fabric, which superficially appears as a riot of brands elbowing one another for a wider slice of skyline. An informative, multifaceted study by Berner (1997: 1, chapter 1) makes a critique of Metro Manila's façade, which ‘looks American, but only insofar as America itself has been diverse from the beginning’. Berner goes on to assert that globalization is not the global extension of one particular culture or society in the course of becoming as closely integrated as a national culture, but the selective transnationalization of diverse parts of cultures, which forms a sort of amalgamation in Metro Manila, where government decentralization has somewhat hindered more metro-wide efforts at management of an already fracturable urban space. The veneer in many cases is indeed Western, but the ownership belongs to landed families of local or Filipino-Chinese descent. Or, as another writer put it, urban spaces are a reflection of contemporary political economic conditions and sites through which identity politics, citizenship and alternative political agendas are articulated and struggled over (McCann, 2002). The result is overall degradation of visual amenity in the metropolis, which most voiceless, impoverished citizens bear as part of their daily life. Critics at both the national and local levels have cited a lack of ‘political will’ to implement much-needed legislation. Other related proofs of state vacillation include the two-decade long inability of the legislature to pass a comprehensive national land use legislation that would, among other things, unify disparate agencies handling land reform and regulation, title issuance and urban planning. To underscore the point, this article's author found abundant newspaper commentary on the problem, especially in 2006, but a dearth of refereed journal articles — save for one local piece by an architecture teacher (De Los Reyes and Santos, 2004) who did an inventory and landscape assessment of billboards along a stretch of EDSA, as part of an ongoing study, and only went so far as to affirm that the chaotic placement of the structures were indeed manifestations of dynamic industry.

One glaring example, on which this study focuses, is the proliferation of billboards as a manifestation of both the robustness and aggression of private commercial interests. There are several reasons cited by textbook and journal authors (Kelley and Jugenheimer, 2004; Taylor et al., 2006) why billboards seem to be advantageous as compared to other forms of media:

  • • 
    Potential placement of the advertisement close to the point of sale
  • • 
    High frequency of exposure to regular commuters
  • • 
    High reach
  • • 
    Twenty-four hour presence
  • • 
    Geographic flexibility for local advertisers
  • • 
    Economic efficiency in terms of low production costs and low cost per thousand exposures
  • • 
    Visual impact from advertisement size and message creativity
  • • 
    Brand awareness.

Disadvantages include:

  • • 
    The need to limit the number of words in the message
  • • 
    Short exposure to the advertisement
  • • 
    Low demographic selectivity
  • • 
    Measurement problems.

Moreover, it cannot be overemphasized that, like other developing cities, Metro Manila possesses the lion's share of population that can be exposed to outdoor media — with a conservative daytime estimate of some 12 million people packed into some 636 km2, well within reach of well-planned campaigns that maximize the above-mentioned advantages of billboards.

Global advertisers through local powerbrokers: commanding the ad invasion

The pervasiveness of what might be called billboard smog that overwhelms populous urban centers in the developing world should be appreciated against the backdrop of that seemingly inexorable march of consumerism, which perches on the shoulders of globalization's juggernauts — brands of Western provenance like Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Benetton, Mercedes-Benz, Nokia and Hewlett-Packard, to name a few, which compete for market space with local commodities. These products have achieved worldwide recognition to such a degree that their nature can often moderate local cultural influence (Fam and Grohs, 2007); that is, they resonate so familiarly in overseas markets as to negate country differences that would normally have to be considered by media planners who decide on language, aesthetics and story lines for typically soft-sell global positioning, versus more hard-sell local and foreign positioning strategies (Alden et al., 1999). Billboards stand at the front lines of this blitz, and have ‘for so long been the working-class grunt in the glittering media universe’ (Gunther, 1999: 150), because of their relatively inexpensive in-your-face physicality, which effectively shoots the magic bullets3 of advertising at millions of commuters (see Figure 1). Billboards persist even if their impact on a per-societal-segment basis is notoriously difficult to measure, as it is ‘possible to find out how many cars pass an advertisement at a particular location, but not the share of 18-to-34-year-old-males in those cars’ (Yin, 2003: 24). Neither is this type of advertising the medium with the highest recall, as radio advertisements have been recorded to have longer lag effects (Berkowitz et al., 2001), nor can it effectively reach far-flung citizens with low mobility. Yet billboards remain, because advertising in general is more profitable than other methods, such as promotional sales, especially for well-known brands that already command a lion's share of the international market (Jones, 1993). Metro Manila succumbs along with other major Asian cities, from as far West as Israel — whose fiercely nationalistic culture still finds itself ‘buying American’ (Avraham and First, 2003) to as far East as China, which includes historically-internationalized cities like Shanghai, where advertising started absorbing foreign influences as early as the 1930s with the proliferation of billboards, neon signs and movie advertisements (Xin and Belk, 2008), while at the same time ‘localizing’ the global by modifying it to adapt to indigenous ways of understanding, and to a social context where overt sexual appeals and strongly suggestive frontal body images are frowned upon by consumers (Tai, 1999; Chan et al., 2007). But the onslaught is by no means a random stampede of capitalists intent on informing and persuading bedazzled yokels, because an excess of products juxtaposed one against another falls prey to dilution theory: the message will drown in the clutter (Litman, 1999). Rather, advertising agencies like the WPP Group,4 commanding from their headquarters in New York or Tokyo, use local partners to match producers and consumers in global segments that integrate similar markets across continents more tightly than the target cities are linked to their own rural hinterlands (Leslie, 1995). Moreover, it must be added that Metro Manila's advertising gives equal, if not dominant share to local names, as even the international brands are marketed by subsidiaries or partner-companies with at least 60% Filipino shareholding — the ownership being a requirement of local laws (Republic Acts 7042 of 1991 and 8179 of 1996, on Foreign Investment).

image

Figure 1. Beer advertisement targeting ‘real men’ greets visitor arrivals near the international airport (photo by author, edited to remove cables obscuring model's face)

Download figure to PowerPoint

The government: finding measures to temper consumerism

On the other side of the battlefield stands government, whose role is to set policy, then to regulate activities in territorial space, in order to serve and protect the public interest. Commercial speech, as manifested through billboards, falls within the purview of offices tasked to guide everything from proper placement to acceptable content of outdoor advertising. And just how may billboards be regulated? A glance at the experience of more developed countries would be instructive for local lawmakers, as there is much to emulate, or to eschew, if one pauses to study what one writer refers to as ‘the jurisprudence of visual clutter’ (Calo, 2005). One may start from the state prerogative that was clearly affirmed in the classic Euclid v. Ambler case of 1926, wherein the US Supreme Court upheld that zoning authority, which later included zone specifications for billboards, was a legitimate exercise of police power, subject to due process. Billboards, however, steadily gained ground in that country until 1964, when Lady Bird Johnson led a campaign for tough federal billboard controls which culminated in the passage of the 1965 Highway Beautification Act, a law that affirmed past incentives and added a punitive dimension by reducing federal aid for highways in states that did not comply with mandated outdoor advertising regulations (Laible, 1997; O'Connel, 2001). Surprisingly, another article points out that policymakers' thinking has evolved so that in this century, it is no longer unusual for judicial decisions to cite aesthetics as a justification for the use of police power, with health and public morals as a close second (Floyd, 2006). After the 1930s, the tide of judicial sentiment began to reverse, until aesthetic considerations have become acceptable justifications, if only because the rulings cite associated evils of billboards, such as fire hazard, refuge for criminals and truants, sites for immoral acts, obstruction of light and air, and ruin of vistas in rural locations (Cullingworth, 1991). This gradual about-face, though lauded by anti-billboard activists, has unfortunately created the potential for more legal hair-splitting, as illustrated by the debate between ‘content neutral’ justifications such as scenic beauty and traffic concerns, and ‘value’ justifications that enshrine spiritual and physical desires of the community (Menthe, 2010).

Furthermore, it should be mentioned that one important thread in the literature is the wrangling over the messages of billboards, a dispute which revolves around the US Constitution's First Amendment.5Burt (2006) summarizes some landmark cases that have resulted in perspicacious case law: in Metromedia Inc. v. City of San Diego (decided, July 2, 1981), it was decided that non-commercial advertisements should be afforded comparable protection and could not be summarily prohibited from sites or circumstances where commercial speech had been allowed. Nevertheless, because the physical, non-communicative aspect of billboards was not subject to the requirements of the First Amendment, governments could have a ‘legitimate interest in controlling [that] aspect of the medium’. It was also said that prohibition of signs would be allowable if confined to a limited area of special interest, such as a historical neighborhood. Moreover, this 1981 case established that a lawful distinction could be made between on-premise and off-premise signs, the latter being open to prohibition. In City Council v. Taxpayers of Vincent (decided, May 15, 1984), it was upheld that government could prohibit the posting of signs in public places, as this did not imply infringement on the citizens' rights to post elsewhere, with equal or better effect. These examples bring to the fore at least two types of government regulation that are germane to this study on billboards: (1) content-based regulation, which is aimed at regulating a particular type of speech; and (2) content-neutrality laws, which allow government to restrict speech based on its non-communicative aspects (i.e. time, manner and place of execution). In general, policymakers should, or would tend to think along these lines, when considering the impact of billboards on the urban landscape and inhabitants.

The pattern above suggests that similar deliberation could unfold in the Philippines, which has adopted many legal traditions from its former colonizer. Legality and governance become important considerations. Recommendations of this study, therefore, cannot stand on arguments for urban renewal and city design literature alone, as classic appeals to, say Kevin Lynch's legibility and imageability (1960) or Sharon Zukin's map of ‘visual delights’ (1995) fall on the deaf ears of advertisers and billboard providers, not to mention modestly-salaried officials whose perspective is limited to augmenting tax revenues, and as they say in neighboring Indonesia, to making coffee-money.6 Put bluntly, acts of graft have a significant, though hard-to-measure effect on spatial regulation, with such corruption being a persistent obstacle to good governance in the Philippines (ADB, 2007). This occurs at the local level, where townsfolk will readily relate that in many municipalities, insistent private developers can ignore any number of property use restrictions if they grease the palms of the underpaid clerk at the front window, or offer a fatter bribe that will be shared by a cabal snaking all the way up to a politician's office.

In this subsection on legal perspectives, a final note should be made about the much-touted concept of ‘self-regulation’. Individuals, and presumably by extension, corporations, are known to behave themselves because:

  • • 
    They want the esteem of others;
  • • 
    They fear losing markets/their company;
  • • 
    They are threatened by the law; and/or
  • • 
    They want to lessen uncertainty about their rival's behavior, assuming therefore some reciprocation if they ‘stick to the rules’ in a social setting (Streeck and Schmitter, 1985).

Regulation becomes particularly desirable — and cheaper, when industry insiders undertake to assist the state in disciplining themselves based on a fine understanding of the nuances (Boddewyn, 1989) of, say, work protocols and power relationships. Advertising, as a highly visible activity, lends itself well to self-regulation, although it has been criticized for the relatively small proportion of cases sanctioned in comparison to the vast amount of media that must be screened daily, for the meager exposure of advertising standards in various countries, as well as for delayed regulatory decisions and mild penalties (Boddewyn, 1989). Another caveat here is the possibility of state capture by private interests, though according to public administration literature such collusion or corruption is often short-lived, given the multiplicity of checks and balances in modern bureaucracies (Frederickson and Smith, 2003).

The person on the street: commuting through a geography of bombardment

A third, necessary perspective to discuss is that of the pedestrian-on-the-ground, the woman-behind-the-wheel, or the hapless rush-hour commuter — each one daily navigating his or her way through an urban milieu that has slowly degenerated from a ‘city of things’ to a ‘city of signs’, as one critic puts it (Geyh, 2006). The geography of billboards responds to the phenomenon of increasing individual mobility, particularly in places where the number of adult drivers has boomed, such as in the US where frequent road users already reached 100 miles per week in the last decade (Edmonson, 1998). Though latest records are not yet available to the public, similar increases may be inferred in the Philippines, where an estimated 1.67 million vehicles were registered7 as of 2008, up from 1.5 million in 2006, for Metro Manila alone. Studies of the visual perception of the roadway gain relevance in the face of such reported increases, as it has been found that skilled drivers depend more on looking in the distance with central vision for directional information, and they use peripheral vision, rather than central vision, to tell them where they are with respect to the lane. They use their central vision more to cope with unexpected events and for directional information (Washington State Department of Transportation, 1992). Billboards take advantage of these drivers' natural scanning-eye behavior by attempting to appropriate as much of the scenery as possible that presents itself to commuters on the road. The result, if weakly controlled or totally unregulated, is the visual chaos that riddles urban landscapes and obscures natural views beside highways. This deprives the average citizen of the opportunity to enjoy scenery, and for the more optically-sensitive, causes a certain mental chagrin that has engendered the larger societal discourse on how urban space is appropriated by people (McCann, 2002), especially if the claims to the city's places are dominated by commercial interests, sometimes with political undergirding.

Billboard blight, among other urban excesses, causes people to ask how the urban built environment has shaped or stifled participation and meaningful communication between citizens. The result is a call for stiffer regulation, or better urban planning and design. In regard to this point, standard approaches to design tend to oversimplify, when there might rather be greater attention paid to the experiential human dimension of a landscape. That is, one does not simply define ‘scenic beauty’ versus ‘visual blight’ but rather considers the multisensory, deeply sensual impacts of the cityscape on the citizen (Dakin, 2003). Alternatively, displeased citizens may simply take civil action against the spill of outdoor advertising, as in one case, where local groups expressed willingness to pay to remove billboards, particularly those that obscured their mountain views (Groothuis et al., 2007). This last option however, becomes an unattainable luxury for poorer and less-empowered urban dwellers in developing countries, who often have neither recourse nor recompense, save for the unlikely possibility of opting out by migrating to places that have not (yet) been inundated by outdoor advertising.

Content and ethics: good, bad, and just plain ugly

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Outdoor advertising as a spatio-political problem: research objectives
  5. Methodology, scope and limitations, significance of the study
  6. Review of related literature
  7. Content and ethics: good, bad, and just plain ugly
  8. Physical description and spatial context — the method to the madness
  9. Chain of responsibility: the whodunit of the big picture
  10. Policies-in-the-making and other legislative stabs in the dark
  11. Analysis and discussion
  12. Conclusions and looking ahead
  13. References
  14. Supporting Information

Lastly, one cannot claim to have discussed the billboard phenomenon comprehensively without mentioning the issue of appropriate content, and the resultant polemics of advertising ethics. Notwithstanding the reality that ‘advertising ethics’ has been dismissed by pundits and has been labeled ‘the ultimate oxymoron’, this topic remains a towering lightning rod of controversy (Beltramini, 2003) discussed in voluminous commentary. This is probably because there exist many facets to the debate on what constitutes appropriate content and the manner by which it is delivered. To quote from Gostin (in Vladeck et al., 2004: 32):

Advertising by its nature takes a biased point of view. It therefore does not purport to provide grounded information relevant to a person's health or well-being. In fact, advertising can encourage the viewer to engage in high-risk behavior, such as smoke cigarettes, drink excessively, or eat a diet of high-fat foods.

This places the burden of proving falsity of claims on regulators and consumers. Related ethical issues include the question of whether advertising messages are disguised — that is, their sponsorship and intent has been deceptively obscured, or whether they are obtrusive, meaning their ostensible content pales in comparison to more salient, intruding features which push other messages (Nebenzahl and Jaffe, 1998). In all cases, the intention is to protect the viewing, often unsuspecting, public from harm. This harm can be defined as: (1) the violation of autonomy by control or manipulation, such as by appealing to unconscious desires through implicit or subliminal messages; (2) invasion of privacy, such as piped-in advertisements and screaming posters foisted upon jam-packed passengers in intra-city trains or (3) violation of the right to know, such as when messages are sponsored secretly by political partisans (ibid.).

Whom shall we blame for advertising content?

One must identify how the proponents of advertising fit into this. A seminal article by Drumwright and Murphy (2004) expounds on two common faults of decision makers who work in advertising firms: moral myopia and moral muteness. The first refers to failure or unwillingness to perceive advertising's ethical dimensions due to shortsighted understanding of its indelicate impact on society. This affliction can be based on the belief: (1) that consumers are discerning enough (collectively, maybe) to spot and reject bad content; (2) that society asks for advertising in the first place, so has only itself to blame; (3) that what is legal is moral, more or less; or (4) that censorship curtails freedom of speech guarantees of the law. Moreover, advertising agents may have fallen into the trap of ‘going native’ by being so steeped in their employer's or client's culture so as to lose critical objectivity, or may have simply yielded to ostrich syndrome: ignorance is bliss, so let's not look around. All this goes on in an environment where many advertising executives think that their company's ethical standards are high enough, which in the long term sometimes condones a dearth of moral imagination. In such cases, sloppy screening or outright insensitivity on the part of the agency speak to the wider issue of corporate social responsibility (CSR), which could have ensured that company policies would guide the manner of doing business, that external initiatives would contribute to the community in which the company operates, and that beneficial impacts would accrue to society. Ideally, advertising agencies can and should develop corporate cultures that encourage ethical sensitivity, which in turn fuels better CSR programs and responsible media usage (Drumwright and Murphy, 2009).

In closing this review, a final qualifying detail should be added about advertising ethics in a predominantly Roman Catholic country like the Philippines. The Pontifical Council's monograph on Ethics in Advertising (1997) is expected to exert some influence here, especially through its exhortations to truthfulness, upholding of human dignity, and social responsibility, in contrast to the machinations of the ‘unholy trinity’ of advertisers, agencies and media gone awry (Murphy, 1998). It spells out both the political, economic, cultural and moral benefits and harms of advertising, and remains a useful reference for local practitioners, given disparate practices or beliefs brought about by globalization's forces in developing countries.

Physical description and spatial context — the method to the madness

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Outdoor advertising as a spatio-political problem: research objectives
  5. Methodology, scope and limitations, significance of the study
  6. Review of related literature
  7. Content and ethics: good, bad, and just plain ugly
  8. Physical description and spatial context — the method to the madness
  9. Chain of responsibility: the whodunit of the big picture
  10. Policies-in-the-making and other legislative stabs in the dark
  11. Analysis and discussion
  12. Conclusions and looking ahead
  13. References
  14. Supporting Information

There are an estimated 8,000 billboards within the 636 km2 that make up Metro Manila, according to the Outdoor Advertising Association of the Philippines (De Los Reyes and Santos, 2004), though it is interesting to note how one political commentary narrated that the association's past president, C. Llave, claimed after the 2006 storm: ‘The population of billboards in Metro Manila is 2,500. Less than 40 fell. If we talk percentages, that's still a good number’ (Biazon, 2006). Faced with anywhere from 4 to 12 billboards per km2 of metropolitan expanse, one may ask, ‘is there really a problem?’ For who can say whether authorities have allowed, or failed to prohibit, one billboard too many? The figures from the windscreen survey and close ocular inspection seem to indicate that there is a cornucopia of billboards. Along EDSA, billboard sizes run the whole gamut of dimensions from the inconspicuous on-premise sign of 2 m by 4 m (6 ft x 12 ft), to the most prominent off-premise location: the mega-billboard that until recently, covered the entire hillside of the Guadalupe crossing, a billboard-wall consisting of three towering frames approximately 50 m tall by 60 m wide, or altogether nearly 8 stories high and about 5 bus lengths across, overlooking the banks of the Pasig river. The same pattern can be observed along C-5, where common sizes of billboards range from 10 m by 16.6 m (30 ft x 50 ft) to 20 m by 33.3 m (60 ft x 100 ft) or with lengths and widths interchanged.

As for measures of proliferation, the average density of billboards along the length of EDSA is estimated at 14.67 per linear km,8 with a peak density of at least 33 billboards per km (or 17 on the northbound side, and 16 on the southbound side) at the Guadalupe crossing. This is the site most coveted by commercial giants, whose advertisements cast their obtrusive dimensions over the riparian traverse. Similar densities occur some 6 km farther north at the Quezon Avenue interchange, with 26 per linear km. Along C-5, average density is estimated at 5.8 per linear km, with peak density of at least 29 billboards per km (20 on the northbound side, 9 on the southbound side). It should be emphasized that these counts do not include the oversized store signs parallel to the highway nor countless bus stop posters, banners, hanging signs and other advertising fixtures that exacerbate the colorful havoc.

In the highways leading out of the National Capital region, billboards become infrequent within 8–10 km of the political boundaries of Metro Manila. The patterns of NLEX and SLEX differ markedly. In the north, where rice fields begin some 30 km after entering the tollway, billboards become more uniform, ranging from 10 m by 13.33 m (30 ft x 40 ft) to 13.33 m by 20 m (40 ft x 60 ft). In the south, where sugarcane fields and pasture have relented to new town development only in the last decade, there is a diversity of the latest billboards, but with densities of no more than 4 to 5 per km beyond Metro Manila. Finally, if one were to survey the metropolis from core to periphery, one would notice that smaller, building-mounted billboards still abound, along with a few wood-mounted placards, some hand-painted, in the recesses of Manila's old coastal neighborhoods and university belt. In short, billboards have indeed grown sturdier, as they follow the expansion of the metropolis and highways that form younger rings of urban growth.

Typical billboard locations

Though billboards appear ubiquitous to the untrained observer (Figure 2), field observations revealed that billboard placements in Metro Manila tend to conglomerate around areas with certain terrain features (see Figure 3 and Table 1), and therefore may be subjected to spatial policy restrictions. Like plaque choking an artery, billboards always line high-volume thoroughfares, such as the 12-lane EDSA, whose daily traffic just exceeds 316,000 vehicles per day, particularly during the 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. rush hours (Land Transportation Office, 2010). More than this, the best location found for billboards is along valley or mountain slopes, as in the case of the Guadalupe bridge, whose steep banks are choked with the largest advertisements in the metropolis. Billboards also tend to crowd busy traffic interchanges surrounded by multiple private lots on elevated or rolling terrain, such as along C-5 near the Bagong Ilog barangay,9 and along natural or artificial cityscapes that provide passing motorists with broad and unusual vistas. By contrast, one is unlikely to find billboards in or along flatter, walkable residential neighborhoods, along military reserves, or in dense, informal settlements.

image

Figure 2. More billboards — note the cosmetic surgery ad, with the Caucasian-looking model beside the McDonald's ad (photo by author, July 2011)

Download figure to PowerPoint

image

Figure 3. Spectrum of common outdoor advertising locations

Download figure to PowerPoint

Table 1. Indicative prices for billboards in Metro Manila (samples, circa 2006–10)
LocationDimensions Height x WidthMonthly Rental*Other Notable Features
FeetMetersPHPUS $
  • *

    US $1.00 = PHP 45

  • Source: Outdoor Advertising Association of the Philippines: http://www.oaap.org.ph (accessed 26 May 2010)

I.Along Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA)     
 Cubao Main Avenue55 x 4516.764 x 13.716375,0008,333Northbound view, 8 metal halide lights
 Mandaluyong Eastgate Building60 x 7018.288 x 21.336385,0008,556Northbound view, 8 metal halide lights
 Guadalupe Seminary40 x 10012.192 x 30.48375,0008,333Northbound view, 16 metal halide lights
 SOGO Hotel, EDSA30 x 609.144 x 18.288195,0004,333Southbound view, 8 metal halide lights
 Dela Merced Building, Shaw Boulevard60 x 5018.288 x 15.24375,0008,333Southbound view, 8 metal halide lights
II.Along Circumferential Road 5 (C5)     
 C5 Bagong Ilong Flyover60 x 40 (with 3 panels)18.288 x 12.192265,000 (each panel)5,889Northbound view, 8 metal halide lights
III.Along North Luzon Expressway     
 Balintawak Cloverleaf60 x 5018.288 x 15.24255,0005,667Northbound view, 4 metal halide lights
IV.Along South Luzon Expressway     
 Shell Magallanes Station20 x 406.096 x 12.192195,0004,333Southbound view, 8 metal halide lights
 Sucat, before Alabang interchange105 x 5032.004 x 15.24490,00010,889Southbound view, 18 metal halide lights
 Between Bicutan and Sucat40 x 5012.192 x 15.24235,0005,222Southbound view, 10 metal halide lights
 Bayanan, after Alabang Interchange40 x 6012.192 x 18.288195,0004,333Southbound view, 8 metal halide lights
 East Service Road50 x 5015.24 x 15.24295,0006,556Northbound view, 10 metal halide lights

The billboards typically consist of steel trusses welded together to form cross-braced lattices bolted to horizontal and vertical I-bars and anchored to concrete footings — if free standing — or bolted to the façades and parapets of buildings, if mounted on such structures (Figure 4). In some cases, especially after the 2006 typhoon, steel plates have been welded onto intersecting corners to provide surfaces for shielding and fastening trusses and struts.

image

Figure 4. Billboard collage — note the advertising ‘skin’ on the factory grain silos (photo by author, May 2009)

Download figure to PowerPoint

Commentary on content

Although it deserves an entirely separate study by itself, the issue of billboard content must be touched on briefly, if only because it is the distasteful image that causes citizens to decry billboard blight in the first place. The occasional hullabaloo is very telling in so far as it reminds billboard propagators of the normally non-vocal moral majority who become disaffected by taboo, threat to life and limb, or typographical error. The perceived abuse of space and the ruin of once-picturesque neighborhoods and panoramas by billboard blight has a way of bringing to boil latent sentiments, and compels people who can do something about it to call authorities to account. In such cases, society-at-large sheds the role of victim, and begins to exercise power in the form of letters-to-the-editor, lawsuits, or vandalism of the offending advertisement itself.

Though content varies considerably, one notices a predominance of food, vitamins, and apparel or beauty products among the billboards surveyed, as opposed to a scarcity of advertisements selling more utilitarian items like tools and furniture, or abstract items like insurance and education. Most appear to target younger, upwardly-mobile buyers, and feature muscular male models, voluptuous female media personalities, or groups of happy children (Figure 5). Colors tend to be loud and bright, or contrast dark or bland backgrounds against the glow of the person endorsing the product — seldom the product by itself. The more controversial billboard advertisements in recent popular memory were the Napoleon Brandy advertisement in 2004 that depicted a bottle and the phrase (translated from Tagalog): ‘Have you tasted a 15-year old?’— referring of course, ambiguously, to the ageing of the liquor. This raised an outcry among women's groups, and was soon torn down despite restraining orders by the courts, most notoriously in Manila under the direction of then mayor and former police chief, Alfredo Lim.10 The author remembers in the early 2000s that there used to be a huge billboard in Guadalupe, above the banks of the Pasig River, advertising ‘Trust Condoms Strawberry Flavor’, which earned the ire of conservative groups. More current, a 2009 billboard along the Bagong Ilog flyover in Pasig showed a woman clad in full-body lingerie proffering the Bliss Ice personal lubricant. Early in 2010, a billboard along SLEX for Glutathione, a skin whitener, featured a homosexual man and his partner blurred in the background, with the caption: ‘I feel whiter and gay each day’. These latter two again were soon the subject of criticism by concerned citizens.11 Apparently, in Philippine culture, where conservative Catholicism mixes with more liberal attitudes and values, there is bound to be a continuing wrangling over the bounds of decency, as local and traditional preferences come into conflict with global and occasionally libertine suggestions — especially when media censors, led by an agency called the Advertising Standards Council, fail to screen material thoroughly, or fail to anticipate how an advertisement might incense sensitive and powerful sectors of the public.

image

Figure 5. Photographs of storm damage 5 years ago — such damage caused billboard blight to enter policy debates. The frames shows a typical billboard structure today — note the reinforced plates where the intersecting beams are welded together (photos above and below used with the permission of Mr Sidney Snoeck; photo collage and central photos are the original works of the author)

Download figure to PowerPoint

Other abuses of outdoor advertising

Billboards and similar advertising add to confusion for pedestrians and motorists, particularly when they resemble public signs, or in a few cases, when local governments or national agencies have allowed private entities to ‘ride on’ commercial advertisements on public signage, in exchange for funding the cost of manufacturing such street signs or waiting sheds, for example. Proponents of legislation have also cited the use of adhesive-type signs to cover entire building faces, thus obstructing light and ventilation, and have been observed to partially or wholly block standpipes, fire exits, and narrow pedestrian and vehicular passages. Such land-utilization conflicts are to be expected, since many parts of Metro Manila were the result of unplanned expansion, and billboards have become the latest visible additions to the mélange.

Chain of responsibility: the whodunit of the big picture

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Outdoor advertising as a spatio-political problem: research objectives
  5. Methodology, scope and limitations, significance of the study
  6. Review of related literature
  7. Content and ethics: good, bad, and just plain ugly
  8. Physical description and spatial context — the method to the madness
  9. Chain of responsibility: the whodunit of the big picture
  10. Policies-in-the-making and other legislative stabs in the dark
  11. Analysis and discussion
  12. Conclusions and looking ahead
  13. References
  14. Supporting Information

One of the challenges of moving from academic comprehension to real-life balancing of interests in space is the act of pinpointing who should be responsible for billboards, especially when the public demands a culprit for harm done to persons, property or environmental amenity. Behind the physical manifestations of capitalism, the researcher discovered the web of human and organizational relationships that is driven by the substantial profits to be had. These profits could be formal, informal, illicit or unethical. Perspectives from public and private stakeholders — advertising industry and government, highlight the interrelationships behind billboards, as well as how difficult it may become to capture a scapegoat in this network.

The dynamics of the market players

When tracing the exchange of economic value that fuels billboardization, one should start literally ‘on the ground’ with the owner of a parcel of land adjacent to a highway, or usually no farther than half a kilometer from the middle of the road. At bottom, the erection of a billboard is a real estate transaction, with the lessor collecting monthly rental for the use of the billboard footprint on his land — a far more profitable and lower-maintenance operation than renting out a residence. An interview with a former advertising executive, who has gone freelance since 2005, and who comes from a family whose fortune has been derived from billboards since the 1970s, explains the low-risk–high-return surrounding this type of land use:

Ad-Man: Why go into this? The answer is simple. More profit.

Author: But can they realize profits immediately? Are they that certain?

Ad-Man: Yes, because they usually have a client beforehand. It's like this, let's say it costs . . . about PHP 3.5 million [to invest and put up your own billboard12]. This is OK, even given the PHP 4.5 million [about US $100,000] that the billboard operator spends. He invests to earn PHP 150,000 [about US $3,333, for the larger billboards] a month from the advertiser. Compare that to a house in Urdaneta Village,13 built for PHP 60 million, in order to earn the same amount. The profits are very good. Like [sic] my mom before, during the typhoon season when some of our billboards fell, she said “I don't want to be in this business anymore!”. But I told her, “the billboard is only PHP 100,000 and how much are you charging rent — PHP 15,000? Look at my aunt, she builds apartments, it costs her PHP 2.5 million to build one apartment unit, and she rents it out for the same amount”.

Author: Do you have some idea of the profits that you can make per month? 10%, 20%? Is it really that fat?

Ad-Man: I'd say about 30%. But there are risks also. These include risks like vacancy. So you pay the PHP 40,000 [monthly rent to the lot owner in Metro Manila, or US $890]. So the one who really stands to win here is the landowner. The landowner is always sure to get a return every month. I'm a consultant to an advertising agency, and my role is not to set up billboards, but you'd be surprised at the number of callers who call me every month offering their buildings (interview with freelance advertising executive and entrepreneur, 10 March 2010).

Given the lure of low-risk profit for landowners, the author could not help but detect several layers of irony in the fact that the owner of the land in Guadalupe district upon which the largest billboard in Metro Manila has stood is none other the Roman Catholic Archdiocese, which, from 1996, was embroiled in a decade-long legal tussle with its lessee over supposed shortfalls in payment due (Limitless Potentials, Inc. v. Honorable Renato G. Quilala, 2006). Given a population sensitized by Christian teaching against risqué images, and which historically revolted against its colonizers precisely because of land-grabbing by the clergy, the brisk business of this sectarian landowner has not gone unnoticed by government regulators.

To continue, other advertising agents interviewed gave similar explanations of the chain of organizational relationships that drive the industry, involving at least three to five private players. After the site owner comes the private billboard operator, who does not usually own the parcel of land, but who is an expert at scouting for prime sites and haggling with lot owners for the lease of the land — and implicitly, the airspace. As corroborated by another media practitioner-cum-architect, it is the seasoned billboard operator who absorbs front-end risk, as he invests say, as little as half a million pesos, to erect a 10 m by 16.6 m (30 ft x 50 ft) billboard. Steel and cement are purchased from large hardware stores and industrial outlets, while the design specifications are provided by a licensed structural engineer. Contractual labor is easily found in the form of crews headed by a civil engineer or an entrepreneur with substantial building experience. In some cases, the work is done through a simple, informal contract signed between the billboard operator and the head engineer, while the laborers simply get a daily wage, with no formal safeguards like performance bonds, social security or even safety equipment/apparel. Added to this, the author would estimate no more than another half million pesos for permits, electrical connections and fixtures, and other sundry items — possibly including some ‘grease money’ of a few thousand pesos before offering the structure for onward lease to advertising agencies. Thus far, to give the reader an idea of the economic value of such expenditures in Philippines, the total amount spent of a million pesos could buy a modest automobile, or pay the salary of a public university teacher for the next five years! And yet such an investment represents but a small risk for the intrepid billboard operator, not to mention the high-stakes investors who have shelled out upwards of PHP 2 million to erect electronic billboards with light-emitting diode (LED) displays, that now flash in at least five spots along the highways studied.

Once the billboard is standing, the operator peddles the site to any number of prospective agencies and their clients. From the advertiser's end, the commercial client, say a company that sells jeans, hires the former to implement an effective value-for-money media campaign. Billboards of course, as affirmed by the literature, provide this low-cost, ‘shot-gun’ solution, because of their relatively high visibility, long exposure time (not usually less than 3 months), and wide reach if placed in densely-populated regions. Also from the client's point of view, a 30-day billboard rental would be cheap compared to say, a 30-second spot in a leading television channel, which costs at least PHP 250,000 [US $5,555].

It should also be noted however, that advertising agencies were not always in the picture. When, in the 1980s, billboards were hand-painted onto wooden scaffolds and rented for a paltry PHP 3,000 a month [about US $100], clients had to negotiate directly with billboard operators, or even lot owners. But as the first informant concluded, ‘it makes more sense now’ for advertising agencies to jump into the arena and use billboards, because of two factors: (1) technology has allowed these steel behemoths cloaked in digital-printed fabric to easily fetch PHP 1.8 million a year [US $40,000]; and (2) population growth has increased the likelihood of returns-on-exposure to clients who advertise in Metro Manila.

In addition to the triumvirate of profit-seekers (site owner, billboard operator and advertising agency), two more players have joined the scene: the media supplier, and the freelance agent. It is the media supplier's responsibility to provide media options (e.g. print, television, radio) to advertising agencies that handle large, complex portfolios and prefer to outsource the task of media placement. Media suppliers also provide billboards, which are now part of a relatively new rubric called ‘Out-of-Home’ or OOH media. More specifically, it is the media supplier or the advertising agency that determines the deployment of the advertising across a defined urban space. This is done by competing for prime locations owned by a variety of small landowners. Another key informant, an architect who used to be the country manager for an outdoor media management group (i.e. a company specializing strictly in OOH) affirmed the attractiveness and utility of billboards in bridging seasonal slumps, this time from the client's point-of-view:

When you say advertising, that is the income that generates the sales, but at the same time it is also the strategy to implement during hard times. So on low season and recessions, the only way to go is marketing and advertising. And we've had a lot of those. The result was an advent of billboards and media, although the quality and the technology came a little bit afterwards. But the idea of all these outdoor concepts that we got from other countries, was there. The implementation guidelines and restrictions were not. So we copied — that's the Filipino way sometimes; we wanted what was new. Whoever's new, we follow. That's also the advertising motto: you have to be new, even if it's most often copied. The important thing is that you were the first (interview with architect, ad-firm consultant and entrepreneur, 25 February 2007).

As for the freelance agent, the first interviewee (the ‘Ad-Man’ cited above) fits this profile because he plays the role of middleman by matching prospective lot owners with advertising agencies or media suppliers. Styling himself as a ‘market maven’, he revealed to the author that he tucks in a spread (i.e. adds a surcharge) on the lease quotation of the lot owner, while possibly even getting some perks, if not formal commissions, from the advertising agencies where he used to work. He admitted that it was probable that some advertising agency staff may be doing the same thing on the side, which of course is unethical as it introduces conflict of interest between the employer and employee.

Ergo, the chain of players continues to grow longer, as the profits from the outdoor advertising industry keep attracting all kinds of agents (see Figure 6). From an economic policy and planning perspective, this is excellent, as more money changes hands. But from a spatial planning and public safety perspective, this growing concatenation of stakeholders challenges state agents who must face the tangible reality: haphazard proliferation of billboards backed by multiple entities with undefined accountabilities. Many of these latter have become wealthy, to some extent, with a few belligerent enough to sue against the actions of clueless and cash-strapped government regulators. Moreover, not all of those in the billboard business are members of the Outdoor Advertising Association of the Philippines (OAAP), a formal alliance of companies founded in 1964 that ostensibly ‘self-regulates’ its members, and is quick to point out to government that non-affiliated independent operators are the ones who deserve closer monitoring.

image

Figure 6. Seven larger-than-life men in their underwear provide a daily eyeful to the spectators (ladies?) across the river (photo by author, July 2011)

Download figure to PowerPoint

Relating these political and economic aspects that shape the corridors of Metro Manila, reminds the reader of Marx, who expounded that capitalism, despite its ostensible advantages, is characterized by societal tension. The physical manifestations of the manufacturing of commodities from raw materials reflect the competitiveness of enterprises in the keen contests for space between market players. Because the billboard itself appears only towards the end of the production process, it can obscure the various transactions, alliances, or ruptures of long chains of agents, as well as webs of client-and-advertisement-provider relationships, which together exert influence to have their way with the metropolitan landscape. Rather than seeking power for its own sake, it appears that the players in the network are animated primarily by the generous profits to be had, which translate into economic wherewithal, that may — or may not — then be transformed into political might of a crude sort. This power has been used legally (e.g. to pay for lobbyists or image-makers) or illegally (e.g. to distribute bribes or monopolize market information), against the state.

The iron cage of bureaucracy remains plastered: how the state tackles billboard glut

Textbooks that tie together space and political dynamics sensibly begin with a discussion of the state's interests in, and ability to appropriate, space. As territorial strategies are always exercises of power (Cox, 2002), the state and its subsidiaries become most effective when they bestow benefits and mete out sanctions within a clearly delimited, preferably compact realm. The state also concerns itself with constructing and maintaining symbols and edifices that legitimize its power, as in the examples of Napoleonic France, Nazi Germany and the present-day United States, which made artful use of Greek and Roman classical architecture in Paris, Munich and Washington DC respectively, to establish tangible linkages to the fountainheads of Western civilization. Because the practicalities of governance require it, the realm is subdivided into local territorial units, in which the dynamics of power accretion, sharing, brokering and monopolization come into play, framed by laws, and, usually, a land administration system.

There are at least three levels of government directly concerned with the proliferation of billboards: national, metropolitan and local. At the national level, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), is the government office mandated to enforce construction standards, as embodied in the National Building Code of 1977 (Presidential Decree 1096). Although the law had not foreseen the 1990s' technological innovations and more violent storms, possibly provoked by global warming, it did spell out restrictions on allowable abutments of structures beyond property lines as well as underground extensions like footings.14 Since October 2007 moreover, the DPWH has promulgated additional rules and regulations on signboards pursuant to Administrative Order 160 of 2006.15 These latest guidelines included stipulations such as:

  • • 
    Distinction between on-premise and off-premise signs;
  • • 
    Minimum setback of 5 m from the front of the property line and 2 m from the other sides;
  • • 
    Allowable size of new signs from 6 m by 8 m to 15 m by 15 m only;
  • • 
    Minimum distance between signs of 100 m;
  • • 
    Prohibition of bright lights that may affect traffic;
  • • 
    Mandatory annual inspection by DPWH for a fee; and
  • • 
    Insurance against damages required of the billboard provider of at least PHP 100,000.

Armed with these, the DPWH has taken the lead in enforcing billboard regulation. One surprising aspect about the interview (22 February 2010) with the head of office in charge of enforcement was his hard-line stance that billboards are illegal: ‘Billboards are not permitted [by the law]. That's the point . . . Only business signs are allowed. See where they are erected. In front yards. But these legal easements should be left free for utilities later on’. And when asked about the reality of newer advertising forms, such as electronic billboards, he simply insisted, despite the presence of the above mentioned progressive regulations from his office: ‘They shouldn't exist. It's an invention coming from Malaysia, or from other developed countries. They're bound to fail . . . Why not just go to television? You can capture more viewers’. Clearly, then, there were some rather fixed ideas about billboards from that government agency perspective, despite the visible reality outside.

Proceeding to the metropolitan level, one finds another organization: the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA). This entity shares the spotlight with — or snatches it from — the DPWH. Created by law in 1995, MMDA gained a reputation for ‘getting the job done’ as it ploughed through protesting private owners and local politicians to enforce traffic, waste management and urban renewal, among other mandates, in Metro Manila. The MMDA has been dismantling billboards based on its public safety mandate, as explained by one of its general managers:

Our concern is not outdoor advertising per se, but what we're saying in general is that no one can put up anything from one part of the road right-of-way to the other part . . . whether these are vendors, the encroachments of big companies or big buildings, or of informal settlers. Our main concern is that the right of way should be clear of any obstruction, and also clear of any visual clutter — which pertains to another MMDA ordinance that says that advertisements can be considered visual clutter, for public safety. So for that reason, we remove walls, we remove stones, we remove anything that's not meant to be on the sidewalk. In the process, some of them happen to be advertisements (interview, 25 February 2010).

The MMDA has been known to mobilize wrecking crews in 24 hours, thereafter slapping billboard owners with hefty fines for ruinous structures. However, the MMDA was ordered by the Philippine Supreme Court to cease and desist in 2005, as it lost in a case (MMDA v. Trackworks Rail Transit Advertising) to take down signs overhanging the streets and rails of the Metro Rail Transit (MRT). The MRT has been under management contract by a conglomerate that won the case on grounds of the right to recover investment. Since then, MMDA has deferred billboard removal along national roads to DPWH, except in cases of imminent danger to the public.

Finally comes the local government unit (LGU), which is usually the first — and last — stop for billboard operators who must seek locational clearances in order to construct. Ideally, such locational clearances are based on zoning ordinances, which in turn are based on comprehensive land use plans (CLUPs). In reality however, CLUPs are not always professionally prepared, or fail to give a nod to such concerns as urban design and zoning for aesthetic purposes. Instead of being incorporated into the land use and the zoning ordinance, the legislative councils of the 17 LGUs that compose Metro Manila sometimes reactively draw up ordinances to control outdoor advertising.

Another important policy issue for resolution between local governments and DPWH is the provenance of building officials — the crucial local officer who inspects and approves building plans and certain permits. Local governments, empowered since 1991 by the Local Government Code, assert the mayor's right to appoint the building official, while the DPWH asserts that it holds the prerogative to train and appoint the official, as the law allows it to ‘designate’ such an office when the exigencies of the service so demand. Policy and reality still tend to favor the local government's mandate, though the proliferation of substandard billboards in the past decade has shown that such building officials may be inexperienced or corruptible.

Policies-in-the-making and other legislative stabs in the dark

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Outdoor advertising as a spatio-political problem: research objectives
  5. Methodology, scope and limitations, significance of the study
  6. Review of related literature
  7. Content and ethics: good, bad, and just plain ugly
  8. Physical description and spatial context — the method to the madness
  9. Chain of responsibility: the whodunit of the big picture
  10. Policies-in-the-making and other legislative stabs in the dark
  11. Analysis and discussion
  12. Conclusions and looking ahead
  13. References
  14. Supporting Information

To their credit, lawmakers and their academic consultants have not taken this sitting down, as there have been at least three Senate Bills (SB number 2482 revising number 1714 of the thirteenth Congress, and SB 1429 of the fourteenth Congress),16 that have evolved into the proposed ‘Anti-Billboard Blight Act’. Initial drafts were sketchy, somewhat punitive, and specified maximum areas of 300 ft2 (27.87 m2) and heights not exceeding 50 ft (15.24 m). The latest versions use the official metric system, specifying a minimum area of 7.5 m2 (80.72 ft2) with no side less than 1 m, and a maximum area of 225 m2, consistent with the latest DPWH guidelines. Interestingly, the bills spell out relatively new concepts in the Philippines, such as ‘air rights’, defined as the right to use airspace above the road-right-of-way, view corridors, and rights-of-way for utilities and waterways. The proposed law also requires membership of billboard entities in professional associations of ‘billboard constructors’.

Complementing these laws were attempts at regulation direct from the Executive Branch of government, such as the earlier mentioned guidelines of DPWH, and Administrative Orders 160 and 160A of 2006 from the Office of the President (OP), which directed the DPWH to dismantle hazardous billboards and provided the legal grounds to do so. It should also be mentioned that on the advertiser's side, the OAAP Code of Ethics gives lip service to complying with government regulations, and even specifies a standard billboard size of 12 ft by 24 ft (4 m x 6 m). It must be remembered, however, that all such legal pronouncements were issued to the public after the 2006 storm had devastated the metropolis; hence were reactive, rather than proactive attempts at policymaking, and, at the time, uninformed by more deliberate cogitation and comprehension of underlying causes of ‘billboardization’. It remains to be seen whether the bills will become laws, and whether they will be adequate in taming the market forces that drive outdoor advertising. Clearly, some thought also has to be given to policies concerning the newer forms of OOH advertisements.

Analysis and discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Outdoor advertising as a spatio-political problem: research objectives
  5. Methodology, scope and limitations, significance of the study
  6. Review of related literature
  7. Content and ethics: good, bad, and just plain ugly
  8. Physical description and spatial context — the method to the madness
  9. Chain of responsibility: the whodunit of the big picture
  10. Policies-in-the-making and other legislative stabs in the dark
  11. Analysis and discussion
  12. Conclusions and looking ahead
  13. References
  14. Supporting Information

Spatial-political and affective-symbolic readings

The resulting spatial configurations brought about by billboards in Metro Manila reinforce the assertion that state political power, embodied by the MMDA and local governments, continues to be incapacitated — or overruled by — private sector interests. This latter is particularly evident in the well-maintained Makati area, whose prime locations are owned by the Ayala Group of companies, such that the relatively few billboards that exist are strictly the correct size, securely-fastened, and predictably positioned in the shopping areas, but under the watchful eyes of private sector managers. More to the point, the findings continue to echo the writing of Berner and Korff (1991) who noted over a decade ago that the Philippine urban elite have been accustomed to rentier, rather than capitalist profits, and have not invested in manufacturing to the same extent that the elite has done in more progressive countries. The billboard industry underscores the point, as it consists essentially of multiple rent contracts: from lot leasing to advertising space leasing. Notwithstanding private-sector steering in that particular city, the author has communicated with enough planning officials of Makati City Hall who have been formally educated, to realize that they produce plans that have begun to pay closer attention to urban design and control of billboard blight.

When one gets down to the details, however, the use of space and the power struggles that result in place-making or ‘place-unmaking’ require a more nuanced admission that indeed, the state, if only haltingly, is coming into its own as an effective regulator of public space — at least in so far as placement and structural standards for billboards are concerned. Since 2002, the MMDA has continued its daily operations to ensure public safety throughout the metropolis.17 There is, however, a territoriality issue, however unuttered, with a less vigorous player, the DPWH, whose officials could legitimately impose more restrictions on what gets built along national highways, instead of refusing to recognize that private sector interests have in fact erected their placards and electronic billboards with impunity. That is not to say, however, that private interests, be they large media companies or small entrepreneurs, are willfully wresting power from the state. Rather, these latter are typical market players; they are opportunists who will leverage their connections, in the absence of firm regulation. And the weakest link in this political geography, it appears, lies in the assortment of local governments that must yield to, or parry against, their investors and tax-paying locators. Since most of Metro Manila's city-level legislatures have not passed any exclusive billboard regulation, and because their zoning ordinances do not typically contain such pronouncements, they are likely to allow billboards, subject only to Building Code standards, leaving MMDA or DPWH to foot the bill after the structure has risen. Moreover, it should be added here that there is no apparent ‘cause-oriented’ group driving any persistent call for regulation of outdoor advertising. Instead, there appears to be a growing consciousness in civil society that state instrumentalities need to become more accountable and efficient, as evidenced by the extensive coverage of this issue by television and radio news reports and investigative journalism programs, which were largely unheard of up to the end of the Marcos years in the 1980s. This expansion of the public eye has been enabled to a large extent by advances in technology that make real-time transmission of government's shortcomings visible to the watchdog public. Increased telecommunications ability has, therefore, allowed citizens, from any social class, to anonymously phone-in or text-in (SMS messages via mobile phones) their disenchantment with any aspect of urban life, billboards being only one of the many causes of apprehension. Media then takes the cue to ambush-interview government officials and academic experts, in order to spin out the debates that ironically enliven the industry of which outdoor advertising itself is a part.

The result is built-up terrain that provides an alternative reading of Metro Manila's political landscape: in the prime visual corridors a more democratic sort of commercial competition arises, as lot owners, brokers, media providers and advertising agencies enter into short- or long-term contracts, and form profitable, multi-location partnerships, while the state's subsidiaries muddle forward, and civil society looks on. Unlike in the halls of Congress, or in remote provinces, there seem to be no enduring political blocs or messages here — the nature of the industry ensures that: different companies must always offer the latest item in the current jargon of the target buyers. And sooner or later, some of these entities test if they can get away legally with a radical protrusion or an outrageous image on the latest billboards, social or political sentiment notwithstanding.

Mutedly, a third layer of meaning arises, when one asks, what more do billboards actually do? Beyond advertising certain products, services or lifestyles, the aggregation of billboards presents a shifting, tacit layer of icons and enticements that pander to the tastes of a certain societal segment, while simultaneously engendering new cohorts of like-minded petite bourgeoisie individuals who can understand English (Figure 7). This advertising can be alarmingly microcosmic in a National Capital Region that contains less than 15% of the national population, but remains the physical core of sovereign might for the steering of development. In all likelihood, the landless, brown-skinned farmer's daughter from an average family of five who arrives in Metro Manila to earn a monthly wage of PHP 9,000 [US $200] as a factory laborer cannot help but gaze daily at the parade of billboards without aspiring unhappily to become a bejeweled, white-skinned belle who drives her own Sports Utility Vehicle to a gated subdivision-cum-golf course, with her vitamin-perked kids in tow — assuming she can comprehend the slogans in English on the billboard. Indeed, it is precisely the blue-collar worker who becomes the captive viewer-of- advertisements as she rides the jeepney,18 bus or tricycle (the majority of all daily trips nationwide use these modes), probably more than the private driver behind-the-wheel. Although this kind of exposure takes place in other countries, it may obscure a particularly insidious form of enthrallment in developing states like the Philippines, whose economies offer fewer commodities and opportunities to typically young and meagerly-educated populations that are vulnerable to all manner of ‘hard-sell’ consumerism — in a word, temptation. Conspicuously absent from the whole superficiality of the phenomenon are indigenous messages and nationalistic advocacies — though local brand equivalents share space in equal measure with international trademarks, they are nevertheless just that: cheaper alternatives that perpetuate similar messages about what makes up la dolce vita, without explicitly stating to whom this good life pertains.

image

Figure 7. Lengthening of the chain that links the stakeholders to billboard blight

Download figure to PowerPoint

This last point speaks to the whole issue of how the metropolitan landscape presents itself as a geography of intersecting aspirations and dreams, where billboards play a dual role. First, they become, at least chimerically, the contemporary axis around which roads, edifices, vehicles and pedestrian movements culminate in an expression of material aspiration, even if dominated by the more powerful in society. Second, they are, along with other forms of outdoor advertising, the economic means for realizing such aspirations. That such desires are tragically circumscribed by the self-serving elite, or equally permitted by an uncritical public, requires a separate full treatment. However, it will perhaps suffice to counter that billboards compete against a lot of other media, including advertising on the world wide web, so that the public often has multiple viewpoints to choose from. At the same time, independent thinking can never be quite suppressed under the barrage of consumerism, particularly so in urban areas, where intellectuals have time and again begun debates regarding the proper role of advertising, as part of a wider discourse on media in Philippine society.

Practical aspects

If the political geography of the metropolis opens up to accept government-led solutions to the deplorable status quo, and assuming that the state will improve its ability to enforce policies and recently-proposed laws, then the future metropolis is likely to retain its plethora of billboards — albeit pared down to a uniform range of sizes, spaced evenly, and less likely to contain offensive content. Moreover, streets and sidewalks would remain clear, and property setbacks respected. But this is only the most unimaginative, compliant scenario.

More ideally, policies for billboard regulation can and should integrate locational-cum-physical aspects, economic motives, administrative efficiency, and social responsiveness. For the locational concern, present regulations do not yet emphasize the logical link between the land use plan, zoning, ordinance and billboards. A skillfully prepared land use plan could easily assert police power permitting or prohibiting billboards in certain sites. In addition to this, there are design considerations that need not revolve solely around questions of optimum dimensions, composition or lighting. Rather, billboards may be proscribed totally along promenades and stretches of highway in favor of superior natural views, or, may be allowed to explode in all shapes, sizes and colors within designated commercial display areas, subject to safety and decency limitations.

On the physical level, engineering and maintenance specifications need review, especially for an archipelago where storms spawned in the Pacific Ocean make first landfall. The DPWH guidelines specify that billboard cladding must be automatically rolled down and secured during storm signal number 2 (60–100 kph winds, to hit in 24 hours), exposing only the steel skeleton to gusts and rain. Yet according to records of the local weather bureau annual typhoons from as far back as 2003 to the present have unleashed peak winds exceeding 185 kph (storm signal 4, the highest in the country). This necessitates an upgrade of billboards' omnidirectional resilience against 240 kph winds, according to the officer interviewed, in addition to bearing capacity for lateral and dead loads on the entire structure. Another pending amendment to the proposed laws is to make the structures resistant to earthquakes up to Richter 7. But such reinforcement increases construction and maintenance costs, and is no guarantee against toppling, come next year's tropical cyclones or tremors. In the interest of public safety, therefore, it appears better for billboards dimensions to adhere to measurements and locations (e.g. away from natural or artificial wind tunnels) that are safe-for-contingency.

Second, current policy does not speak to the hidden chain of interests that spur the industry. Options for this include progressive taxation of certain stakeholders: advertising agencies at one end, as well as landowners at the other. As for billboard operators, it appears that they already assume the lion's share of risk and front-end expenses, so that tightening regulation on them may collapse the network, or force operators to band together or resort to informal transactions — both undesirable for the economy. Thus, officials should be careful to control, rather than break the weakest link among these profiteers, if they wish society to share in the profits through taxation and licensing imposed on the right players.

Third, the different levels of government remain out of sync in the approval, inspection and demolition of billboards. From a public administration perspective, efficiency and coordination are lacking, and can only be achieved when areas of control issues are resolved within the bureaucracy.

Lastly, there is a need for more citizen-responsive screening, and addressing less tangible issues like aesthetics and democratic decisions about how the landscape should be shaped. Because this is a whole issue outside the scope of this article, it would be adequate to suggest that content problems can be addressed if mechanisms are put in place for seeking citizens' views both before display and post-exposure.

Conclusions and looking ahead

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Outdoor advertising as a spatio-political problem: research objectives
  5. Methodology, scope and limitations, significance of the study
  6. Review of related literature
  7. Content and ethics: good, bad, and just plain ugly
  8. Physical description and spatial context — the method to the madness
  9. Chain of responsibility: the whodunit of the big picture
  10. Policies-in-the-making and other legislative stabs in the dark
  11. Analysis and discussion
  12. Conclusions and looking ahead
  13. References
  14. Supporting Information

On a more abstract, but no less far-reaching level, the rash of billboards in Metro Manila stands literally as a testimony to the characteristic political geography of this capital, where favored economic interests command the layered spaces through which citizens on foot pass their workaday lives. Billboards silently decry the naked power of market capitalism, which in the Philippines is frequently in the hands of the wealthy, and the oligarchies of rentiers who may wield enough power to temporarily thwart bureaucratic regulation. The landscape and the citizens are thus bedeviled by texts and pictures that employ youth, sexuality and sensual icons of modern living to sell products that feed a network of businesses and reflect the tastes of relatively few Filipinos. Rather than enjoy the widest array of options for realistic living, the citizens born, bred and mired in such a reality may actually see fewer tangible urban possibilities, while they are encouraged to chase after products, services and models beyond their means or basic values. Ergo, the recommendations for stronger government intervention in the preceding section carry an implicit admission that the political landscape must first make possible impartial and forceful regulation, combined with less resistance from elites who have hidden stakes in the market. This is not impossible in the Philippines, but has been accomplished only when enough power holders and brokers realign and ally with one another to cause a revolutionary upheaval, where the status quo is usually maintained in a never-ending game of tit-for-tat between economic elites.

Progress and pressure for good governance can be pushed, however, from mirror networks of civil society groups and the influential Roman Catholic Church, whose lobbies are sometimes forceful enough to check excesses in the more ‘civilized’ urban areas. What matters, then, is often the building of networks of critical mass, rare multi-sectoral alignments for ostensibly noble causes and the sudden formation of alliances that open windows for formal enforcers to step in and clean up the landscape — enabled by funding and legal mandate. As mentioned earlier, government agencies are starting, ever so slowly, to reinvent themselves, so that the stereotypical corruptible and shoddy pencil-pushing bureaucrat or desk-cop is slowly being replaced by no-nonsense civil servants who are able to repel philistine impositions, or at least stand their ground longer against questionable political manipulation. Whether the state's agents endure or are again circumvented is a question that often depends on how enlightened their political patrons have become; these latter who may perhaps see a greater advantage in the development of formal governance in the long run. Or then again, may not.

All is not lost, however, as counter-forces are constantly pushing for stiffer controls, more decent advertising and spatial planning that is open to more diverse, native and appropriate expressions. Simultaneously, governments should prioritize and rationalize more vocal participation by individuals and citizens' groups by providing venues and opportunities for various sectors to thrash out the proper role and place of billboards in the Philippines of tomorrow. In the near future, these dynamics of ‘pro et contra, in rem’ will be worth subsequent research, just as the next stage in the evolution of outdoor advertising devices will merit comparative description and critique.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Outdoor advertising as a spatio-political problem: research objectives
  5. Methodology, scope and limitations, significance of the study
  6. Review of related literature
  7. Content and ethics: good, bad, and just plain ugly
  8. Physical description and spatial context — the method to the madness
  9. Chain of responsibility: the whodunit of the big picture
  10. Policies-in-the-making and other legislative stabs in the dark
  11. Analysis and discussion
  12. Conclusions and looking ahead
  13. References
  14. Supporting Information
  • Abueva, J.V. (1998) Assessing the Philippine nation-state and building scenarios for its future development. In J.V. Abueva, R.B. Ocampo, F.M. Medalla, M.C.C.P. Alfiler, M.O.Z. Domingo and T.B. Kintanar (eds.), The Philippines into the 21st century, University of the Philippines Press, Quezon City.
  • Alden, D., J.-B. Steenkamp and R. Batra (1999) Brand positioning through advertising in Asia, North America, and Europe: the role of global consumer culture. Journal of Marketing 63.1, 7587.
  • Asian Development Bank (2007) Highlights Philippines: critical development constraints. Country Diagnostics Study, Asian Development Bank, Metro Manila.
  • Avraham, E. and A. First (2003) ‘I buy American’: the American image as reflected in Israeli advertising. Journal of Communication 53.2, 28299.
  • Beltramini, R. (2003) Advertising ethics: the ultimate oxymoron? Journal of Business Ethics 48.3, 21516.
  • Berkowitz, D., A. Allaway and G. D'Souza (2001) Estimating differential lag effects for multiple media across multiple stores. Journal of Advertising 30.4, 5965.
  • Berner, E. (1997) Defending a place in the city: localities and the struggle for urban land in Metro Manila. Ateneo de Manila University Press, Manila.
  • Berner, E. and R. Korff (1991) Dynamik der Bürokratie und Konservatismus der Unternehmer: strategische Gruppen in Thailand und den Philippinen [The dynamics of bureaucracy and conservatism of the entrepreneur: strategic groups in the Philippines and Thailand]. Internationales Asienforum 22.3, 287305.
  • Berner, E. and R. Korff (1995) Globalization and local resistance: the creation of localities in Manila and Bangkok. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 19.2, 20822.
  • Biazon, R. (2006) Metro Manila billboards: unsightly signs of danger. Privilege speech delivered to the representatives of the Philippine Congress, 2 October 2006 [WWW document]. URL http://ruffybiazon.blogspot.com/2006/10/metro-manila-billboards-unsightly.html (accessed 12 January 2011).
  • Boddewyn, J.J. (1989) Advertising self-regulation: true purpose and limits. Journal of Advertising 18.2, 1927.
  • Burt, J.R. (2006) Speech interests inherent in the location of billboards and signs: a method for unweaving the tangled web of Metromedia, Inc. v. City of San Diego. Brigham Young University Law Review 2006.2, 473527.
  • Calo, R. (2005) Scylla and Charbidis: navigating the jurisprudence of visual clutter. Michigan Law Review 103.7, 187798.
  • Chan, K., L. Li, S. Diehl and R. Terlutter (2007) Consumers' response to offensive advertising: a cross cultural study. International Marketing Review 24.5, 60628.
  • Cox, K.R. (2002) Political geography: territory, state, and society. Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, UK.
  • Cullingworth, J.B. (1991) Aesthetics in US planning: from billboards to design controls. Town Planning Review 62.4, 399413.
  • Dakin, S. (2003) There's more to landscape than meets the eye: towards inclusive landscape assessment in resource and environmental management. Canadian Geographer 47.2, 185200.
  • De Los Reyes, B. and R. Santos (2004) Billboards: are they here to stay? Muhon 3, 3843.
  • Drumwright, M. and P. Murphy (2004) How advertising practitioners view ethics: moral muteness, moral myopia, and moral imagination. Journal of Advertising 33.2, 724.
  • Drumwright, M. and P. Murphy (2009) The current state of advertising ethics. Journal of Advertising 3.1, 83107.
  • Edmonson, B. (1998) In the driver's seat. American Demographics 20.3, 4651.
  • Fam, K.-S. and R. Grohs (2007) Cultural values and effective executional techniques in advertising: a cross-country and product category study of urban young adults in Asia. International Marketing Review 24.5, 51938.
  • Floyd, C.F. (2006) Billboards, aesthetics and the police power: legislative developments have largely negated judicial gains by scenic beauty proponent. American Journal of Economics and Sociology 42.3, 126.
  • Frederickson, H.G. and K.B. Smith (2003) The public administration primer. Westview Press, Boulder, CO.
  • Geyh, P.E. (2006) From cities of things to cities of signs: urban spaces and urban subjects in Sister Carrie and Manhattan Transfer. Twentieth Century Literature 52.4, 41344.
  • Groothuis, P., J. Groothuis and J.C. Whitehead (2007) The willingness to pay to remove billboards and improve scenic amenities. Journal of Environmental Management 85, 1094100.
  • Gunther, M. (1999) The great outdoors. Fortune 139.4, 1507.
  • Jones, J.P. (1993) Advertising's crisis of confidence. Marketing Management 2.2, 1424.
  • Jones, M., R. Jones and M. Woods (2004) An introduction to political geography. Routledge, London.
  • Kelley, L.D. and D.W. Jugenheimer (2004) Advertising media planning: a brand management approach. M.E. Sharpe, New York.
  • Kraft, H.J. (2003) The Philippines: the weak state and the global war on terror. Kasarinlan: Philippine Journal of Third World Studies 18.1/2, 13352.
  • Laible, M. (1997) Changeable message signs. Journal of Public Policy and Marketing 16.1, 17377.
  • Land Transportation Office (2010) Vehicle Statistics [WWW document]. URL http://www.lto.gov.ph/stats.aspx (accessed 5 January 2010).
  • Latham, A. and D.P. McCormack (2004) Moving cities: rethinking the materialities of urban geographies. Progress in Human Geography 28.6, 70124.
  • Leslie, D.A. (1995) Global scan: the globalization of advertising agencies, concepts, and campaigns. Economic Geography 71.4, 40226.
  • Litman, J. (1999) Breakfast with Batman: the public interest in the advertising age. The Yale Law Journal 108.7, 171735.
  • Lynch, K. (1960) The image of the city. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
  • Mabasa, R.C. (2006) GMA certifies as urgent bill on outdoor billboards. Manilla Bulletin October 11 [WWW document]. URL http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-152595331.html (accessed 8 March 2010).
  • McCann, E.J. (2002) Space, citizenship, and the right to the city: a brief overview. GeoJournal 58.2–3, 779.
  • Menthe, D.C. (2010) Aesthetic regulation and the development of First Amendment jurisprudence. Boston University Public Interest Law Journal 19.2, 22560.
  • Murphy, P. (1998) Ethics in advertising: review, analysis, and suggestions. Journal of Public Policy and Marketing 17.2, 31619.
  • Nebenzahl, I.D. and E.D. Jaffe (1998) Ethical dimensions of advertising executions. Journal of Business Ethics 17.7, 80515.
  • O'Connel, K. (2001) Sign language. The American City and County[WWW document]. URL http://americancityandcounty.com/mag/government_sign_language/ (accessed 7 October 2010).
  • Pontifical Council for Social Communications (1997) Ethics in advertising. Vatican City.
  • Staeheli, L.A. (2008) Political geography: difference, recognition, and the contested terrains of political claims-making. Progress in Human Geography 32.4, 56170.
  • Streeck, W. and P. Schmitter (1985) Community, market, state — and associations? The prospective contribution of social governance to social order. In W. Streeck and P. Schmitter (eds.), Private interest government: beyond market and state, Studies in Neo-corpratism, Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA.
  • Tai, S.H.C. (1999) Advertising ethics: the use of sexual appeal in Chinese advertising. Teaching Business Ethics 3.1, 87100.
  • Taylor, C.R., G.R. Franke and B. Hae-Kyong (2006) Use and effectiveness of billboards. Journal of Advertising 35.4, 2134.
  • Taylor, P.J. (1999) Places, spaces, and Macy's: place-space tensions in the political geography of modernities. Progress in Human Geography 23.1, 726.
  • Vladeck, D., G. Weber and L. Gostin (2004) Commercial speech and the public's health: regulating advertisements of tobacco, alcohol, high fat foods and other potentially hazardous products. The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics 32.4, 324.
  • Washington State Department of Transportation (1992) Visual perception of the roadway and roadside elements by the observer in motion. Final Report No. WA-RD 283.1.
  • Xin, Z. and R.W. Belk (2008) Advertising consumer culture in 1930s Shanghai: globalization and localization in Yuefenpai. Journal of Advertising 37.2, 4556.
  • Yin, S. (2003) Counting eyes on billboards. American Demographics 24, 11 247.
  • Zukin, S. (1995) Whose culture? Whose city? In S. Zukin, The cultures of cities, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford.
Footnotes
  • 1

    Press Release from the Office of Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, 2 October 2006.

  • 2

    Quotation attributed in the news to senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, a vituperative author of an Anti-Billboard Blight Bill (Mabasa, 2006).

  • 3

    An allusion to the communication theory of Magic Bullets or Hypodermic Needles, popular in the 1940s–1950s, when advertising's new-found power was regarded as being able to cause direct, powerful effects on target receivers. The archetypical example of magic bullets at work was Orson Welles' 1938 broadcast of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, which temporarily caused mass hysteria among uncritical listeners. From http://www.utwente.nl/cw/theorieenoverzicht/Theory%20clusters/Mass%20Media/Hypodermic_Needle_Theory.doc/ (accessed June 2010).

  • 4

    Wire & Plastic Products Group — one of the larger mega-agencies for advertising. Founded in 1971, it bought up J. Walter Thompson and Hill & Knowlton in 1987, and the Ogilvy Group in 1989.

  • 5

    ‘[US] Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances’ (emphasis added).

  • 6

    Duit Kopi’ a Bahasa Indonesia euphemism for bribes.

  • 7
  • 8

    Computed from field observations of a total of 443 billboards along both sides, divided by an estimated 30 km length, from the new Reclamation Area to the Bonifacio Monument.

  • 9

    The barangay[ba-rang-gai] is the smallest politico-spatial unit in the Philippines, historically equivalent to a village of extended families.

  • 10
  • 11
  • 12

    At US $1.00 = PHP 45.

  • 13

    Urdaneta Village — one of the more expensive gated communities in the heart of Metro Manila, where wealthy expatriates and local tycoons reside.

  • 14

    Chapter X, Sections 1001 and 1002 respectively of Presidential Decree 1096, or The National Building Code of the Philippines (including Implementing Rules and Regulations) of 1977.

  • 15

    An important order from the President, in the wake of typhoon Milenyo, that ordered DPWH to make a comprehensive inspection — and if necessary, dismantling, of billboards.

  • 16

    There were also at least five Bills originating circa 2005–06 from the lower House of Representatives (HB 4266, 5822, 5847, 5883 and 5959), which have lain dormant as they wait for consolidation, as against the Senate Bills, which have been more vigorously pushed and sponsored by their proponents.

  • 17

    The start of the term of its chairman, Bayani Fernando, who unlike other local officials made a mark managing the metropolis with a strong hand by punishing violators quickly, cleaning up major streets, imposing U-turn instead of signal intersections, establishing pink-and-blue male urinals, and steel pedestrian overpasses and fences — all within 7 years. He ran for president in 2009, but lost, and has since faded from the limelight. He was succeeded as head of MMDA by Oscar Inocentes, who in 2010 handed over the reins to attorney Francis Tolentino.

  • 18

    A form of public transport identified with the Philippines, which evolved out of post-second world war jeeps that were colorfully repainted and converted into passenger vehicles with two lengthwise rows of seats in a back cabin, which have grown longer through the years, so that a sturdy jeep can squeeze up to 11 seated commuters into each row — occasionally more.

Supporting Information

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Outdoor advertising as a spatio-political problem: research objectives
  5. Methodology, scope and limitations, significance of the study
  6. Review of related literature
  7. Content and ethics: good, bad, and just plain ugly
  8. Physical description and spatial context — the method to the madness
  9. Chain of responsibility: the whodunit of the big picture
  10. Policies-in-the-making and other legislative stabs in the dark
  11. Analysis and discussion
  12. Conclusions and looking ahead
  13. References
  14. Supporting Information

Figure S1 One of the more eye-catching examples is this billboard ad for underwear (photo by author, July 2011)

Figure S2 One of the author's recent favorites — the arm-wrestling men and the women behind them depict both virility and sensuality (photo by author, July 2011)

Figure S3 Image modified by author from Google Map — dots indicate billboard cluster placements along C-5 in one of the areas with high concentrations (Image © 2009 Digital Globe, © 2009 Google)

Figure S4 Composite image of billboards (photos by author, May 2009)

Figure S5 Not all billboards are outrageous displays of skin and sexuality! This one advertising a shop for eyeglasses manages to be quite humorous (photo by author, July 2011)

FilenameFormatSizeDescription
ijur1098_sm_fs1.TIF9584KSupporting info item
ijur1098_sm_fs2.TIF9741KSupporting info item
ijur1098_sm_fs3.pdf251KSupporting info item
ijur1098_sm_fs4.pdf254KSupporting info item
ijur1098_sm_fs5.pdf79KSupporting info item

Please note: Wiley Blackwell is not responsible for the content or functionality of any supporting information supplied by the authors. Any queries (other than missing content) should be directed to the corresponding author for the article.