In an interesting case from the Pacific Northwest, the city of Portland, Oregon, is suing employment-classifieds site Jobdango for the almost $5500 it cost to remove hundreds of illegal chalk advertisements the company placed on sidewalks last fall. The suit was filed by the city after waiting ten months for the company to pay the fines they were issued.
Each two-feet-by-four-feet ad took ten minutes to be scrubbed from the sidewalk.
This case calls to mind the 2006 case in which the city of Washington DC fined Verizon $150 each for spraying 135 chalk ads on sidewalks there.
I occasionally read Illegal Signs, a site which tracks illegal incursions of advertising onto public space, and sometimes it seems like we’re so broken down that we no longer question the right of companies to go where we go. We’ve grown so accustomed to a constant barrage of advertising that we may never question the right of that billboard to exist, or those Vespa pictures to be plastered in our alleys, or that giant inflatable bag of candy to be “tested out” in a public park. But in my view, there are already so many legal ways for a corporation to put its message before my eyes that we really don’t need to sacrifice more of our public space to them when they’re breaking the few restrictions that do exist.
Some refer to this ad creep as “guerilla” advertising, but though these companies use unconventional tactics, they’re certainly not underdogs operating from a position of disadvantage. They’re typically very powerful companies who are merely abusing their power and prominence. They’re well aware that in the time it takes a city bureaucracy or a citizen’s group to react, thousands of eyes will have already seen their message, and by the time it’s taken down it’ll have already served its purpose. They know that a token fine may be cheaper than the cost of a permit to conduct their campaign, and that going ahead without one is probably faster and more effective to boot. In that light, their usual “Oopsie!” defence rings hollow.
In the DC case, Verizon spokesperson Vanessa Banks demurred. “It’s harder and harder to catch consumers’ attention, so many companies, including us, are turning to nontraditional advertisements,” she said. “At this point, of course, I don’t think we’ll be trying it again.”
We’ll see about that.