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Projector ads in the Annex

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Projected Advertisement in Annex

The summer’s back and along with guerilla gardeners comes guerilla marketers.  This is the second time I have seen these guys camped out in the Annex on the corner of Howland and Bloor this month.  There would have been a third time too had the driver not had to fill up on gas to keep the projector going.

These kinds of abrasive marketing tools aren’t new to Toronto, yet it doesn’t seem like much has been accomplished in the past few years to successfully get these ads off the streets.  Or maybe i’m out of the loop…



  1. I’ve heard that some of these projection ad companies have arrangements with building owners. They actually pay to rent space in a number of buildings downtown. So it’s not really guerilla style… although still possibly illegal.

  2. Seems to violate the idling bylaw doesn’t it?

  3. If people can do it for art, why cant people do it for marketing? Where do we draw the line? (so maybe people shouldn’t do it for art either)

  4. Rajio> I’m not passionate either way about these projections — but I’d suggest, as a point of debate, that art (any art) gives something back to the viewer, whereas marketing takes — or wants to take.

  5. I’ve seen this three times in that same location. It makes me furious. What can one do about it? Is there someone to call about this? Police? Advertising bylaw enforcers? Car idling bylaw enforcers? What can I do?

  6. And also should note there are loads and loads of examples of guerrilla art that is shut down for not having permits etc.

  7. If you have the money to pay for the rental of a car, projector and marketing campaign, advertisers can get a permit and do it legitimately.

  8. If you don’t like it, here are a couple ideas: stand in front of the projector; shine a really bright light at the projection; contact the company who’s product is being adversited…

  9. I’m surprised that a property owner hasn’t challenged these marketers for projecting on their buildings. Advertising on a building seems to change the artistic and architectural character of a building. I think many property owners would object to this sort of defamation of the faà§ade of their building.

  10. I think Mark (at 1:45) has the right idea – even up to taking the camera and delivering it to the police. I think it can be reasonably argued that the projection ad (if without permit) constitutes a breach of the peace. The Criminal Code permits conduct that interferes with a breach of the peace.

  11. Don’t call the by-law officer, he’s on vacation
    3000 by-laws, no enforcement, What’s the point.

  12. I took a close look at this lately. The car was not idling. There was a separate generator, sitting behind the car and presumably powered by gasoline, running the projector and the lights. Since the generator was doing exactly what a generator is designed to do, I don’t think that any “idling” by-law would be relevant — unfortunately. However, I wonder whether the projection constitutes an unlicensed billboard, however transient it may be.

  13. I saw one a few nights ago at Bloor & Jane. I’ve seen the same guy in the same spot before, but it’s been a while. It must be the warm weather.

    The odd thing about this spot is only a few people would see it. He’s projecting against the blank front wall of the now-closed Odeon Humber theatre. It’s on the quietest block (fewest pedestrians)in Bloor West Village. Cars don’t face it so they can’t see it. There are two patios facing the wall, but they’re small, and would normally have only about 20 or so people.

    Besides being irritating, I wonder why??

    (In this case, the owner might need the money though).

  14. The good news is that the City’s new billboard by-law will likely contain provisions that will allow the City to easily enforce the laws that make these signs illegal.

  15. I guess that answers my question “What Would Rami Do?” 🙂

  16. Ive seen these a couple of times on the side a building just north of Isabella on Church Street on the east side. It was a car ad of some sort. Theyve done the same thing on at least two occasions in the past two years. I never did catch a glimpse of where it was coming from though.

  17. The problem used to be that City inspectors didn’t work outside of business hours and thus couldn’t catch these jerks in the act. Since late last year, however, they’ve had one or two people doing after-hours inspections for Municipal Licensing and Standards, including going after things like this.

    To report Optiadmedia or one of their competitors when you see them, call Access Toronto at 416-338-0338. There’s an option to leave a message regarding any number of urgent situations (they do count this as such), and the on-duty inspector will then zip over right away.

  18. They are breaking a bunch of laws.

    1) Idling (at least they used to. Looks like they use a generator now)
    2) Noise bylaw (if they’re using a generator)
    3) Parking (I don’t believe it’s a legal spot on Howland)
    4) Sign bylaw. The by-law enforcement folks could use discretion here and treat these as ‘signs’.

    So, it’s really just an enforcement issue (what’s new?)

    Last year, I forced them to leave Bloor & Howland by standing in front of the projector and holding up a clipboard in front of the projector, blocking the image. They guy threatened me, so I called the police. Clipboard in one hand, cell phone in the other. He drove away.

  19. I want to comment on two of the things said on this blog. Firstly, marketers are not trying to take something from you. You want to buy items and sellers advertise these items for sale. That’s called trade. Trade is the reason we have the computers we’re blogging on. Secondly, attempting to remove someone’s camera is not lawful arrest, it would probably be called assault. Ask some of the movie stars/rockers who have been charged for attempting to part a paparazzi from their cameras.
    As to my own opinion, the city is alive with perfectly legal, lit up, permanent advertising. Neon everywhere you look. If some individual entrepeneur is trying to crank out a living by advertising in a different way – I applaud their spunk! Time would be better spent complaining about graffiti, which is permanent, rather than light which comes and goes.

  20. Re: mpowell’s comment

    Advertising, especially lighted advertising, requires permits. It’s regulated, and (theoretically) controlled by the city. That’s why these sort of things enrage people when they see it – someone has decided that a law doesn’t apply to them, or that the risks of ignoring the rules the rest of us put into place are worth the benefits they get.

  21. @mpowell: Firstly, marketers are not trying to take something from you. You want to buy items and sellers advertise these items for sale. That’s called trade. Trade is the reason we have the computers we’re blogging on.

    It’s possible to have trade without commercializing every last nook and cranny of public space. I think that’s kind of the point of this blog.

  22. Re: mpowell’s comment>

    If there were no controls there would be ads on every square inch of the city and it would just be a giant billboard. I dont want to live there. Legal advertisers have more than enough places to advertise as it is.

  23. 1. ALL MARKETING IS ART, like it or not, awful or altruistic, Art is marketing.

    Who do you think these companies pay to design the ads?

    2. You are all products and pawns anyway, unless your adding to any kind of real equitable economic societal restructuring your just another complaining ignorant privileged tax-paying drone.

    3. From what I know, the wall space is paid for. But I’m sure if it wasn’t a projected image and just a permanent ad its all ok?

    so please, lets add some perspective and context. Consumers complaining about the means of consuming, wow.

    Let’s go shopping!

  24. The one on Church apparently was using a diesel generator, which makes it all the worse as those things surely don’t have the emissions control systems that a modern car has.

    As for the “Art” argument – its pretty much guaranteed that if you try and do some projection art on property not your own some kind of police or commissar will shut you down fast.

    Oh and then there’s that tool who perpetually circles the Yonge&Dundas area in his older model truck/improvised rolling yellow billboard advertising some junky clothing store.

  25. Art or Advertising… the grand scheme of thing’s it’s only light!!!! Light can be shut off, if this is highly intrusive to you then why aren’t you complaining about the giant neon sign’s that blink all night for porn shops and “adult theaters”. Projection advertising is here to stay so you might as well get used to it, besides would you rather pollute the landscape with a giant metal WW2 looking billboard frame and miles upon miles of printed graphic vinyl that ends u in a landfill or use the existing building faces to temporarily project dynamic and sometimes very interesting content?

  26. AC doesn’t get it. Its currently illegal, there are laws about it, obey them. Pretty simple. Its easy to defend projection advertising as non-polluting when you ignore the fact that generators or vehicles are used to power the projections.

    As an aside, it should also be noted that those of us who see the back-end of comments here on Spacing can see the server in which the comments are originating from and can easily identify when industry people are posting as regular citizens. On this post are people from Optiadmedia who did the projections profiled. Be honest and don’t hide. Make your case as part of the industry so that a real discussion can be had.

  27. @Matthew Blackett

    … it seems that a lot of people’s resistance to these ads is the air of sneakiness in which they’re produced – and apparently, defended.

  28. “….Spacing can see the server in which the comments are originating from and can easily identify when industry people are posting as regular citizens.”


    Political party flacks should also self-identify, especially when they post so often you’d think they were Spacing staff and they have their own blog anyway and they always grind the same old axe and…and…they’re bad.

  29. RE Dave Meslin: “It’s really just an enforcement issue”

    The following night, I spoke to the guys running the projector and promoters standing by the corner (this time advertising NOS, the energy drink).

    Turns out that grassroots media pays the owner/renter living in the apartment being projected on a few hundred dollars in exchange for the wall space (not the futon store on street level which is closed at night). The ad guys then contact companies who provide the adds. This, however, doesn’t make it any more legal.

    As one of the promoters hanging around the projector handed me an energy drink, he casually mentioned how police have occasionally forced them to leave (although he didn’t mention what bylaw was being enforced), but that sometimes all it takes is a case of whatever is being promoted to get the police to leave them alone.

    If anyone is interested in seeing these guys face to face, I’m guessing they’ll be back out at Howland and Bloor this Thursday.

  30. Seems to me that it’s nothing a well-targeted water balloon wouldn’t fix pretty quickly.

  31. 1. Unless your adding to any kind of real equitable economic societal restructuring your just another complaining ignorant privileged tax-paying drone.

    Don’t be mad because you’re little ‘haven’ is deteriorating with the times, understand the global context in which you live.

    2. If it wasn’t a projected image of light and just a giant permanent ad its all ok? Permanent ads are taking up shop/building walls as well, and they’re up night AND Day.


  32. Does anyone here actually know as a matter of fact if this is actually legal or not in the city of Toronto? If so which bylaw is this violating? What kind of permits are necessary? What would deem a projection ad `acceptable’ to the discerning eyes of the average spacing end-user?

    I personally believe that projection advertising is arguably the most environmentally friendly form of ads and it gives the opportunity to be more creative than traditional print media would ever be able to.
    Just my two cents.

  33. As a matter of fact, these projector ads are all illegal because they constitute a “sign” which requires a permit under the signs by-law. Because projector ads are not permitted in the signs by-law, you would not be able to obtain a permit for one. Hence, they require Community Council approval for each location.

    Furthermore, these companies almost never pay the property owner for the right to project ads on the walls of the buildings.


  34. The question that I have is if you are so against advertising then why?


    Spacing accepts paid advertising in the magazine and on our website. We have an extensive advertising/media kit which we can provide you in a PDF format or send it out to you through the mail. Download our ad rate kits for both print and online [PDF] or please contact our advertising director Matthew Blackett [ matt @ spacing . ca ] or call him at 416-644-1017.

    Print is a medium that also isn’t good for the environment and what about the metal used for a stupid button? I suggest that maybe you relax yourself, smoke a joint and get a hobby that’s contructive rather than making it your objective to shut down a projection that is employing many people and giving opportunity to many citizens of Toronto. If this medium is shut down, can you house me? Can you feed me? You going to buy my son diapers? No? Then please think about the bigger picture. It’s a temporary sign that pushes Toronto into the cutting edge of advertising that isn’t hurting anyone.

  35. I think its great! i love guerilla marketing..small business owners thinking out of the box and finding new ways to advertise without breaking the bank.

    Canadians tend to be so thingy about rules. Its almost as if if something becomes illegal people should automatically be enraged if others break that law. There are so many by-laws in Canada its just oppresive, and some of them are really over the top. At least there is one law in Canada though that people do break without getting all moralistic about it – weed!

  36. I’ve never been to Toronto or seen a projected ad, but I don’t understand all this hostility toward this great idea. As far as I can see it’s great for everyone. If I owned a business (or was even near one) that was being projected on, all I could say is thanks for help drawing attention to my business. If it’s not blinding motorists it’s safe. It stimulates activity and excitement in an area (If you don’t like it, don’t live in the city!). The only media less intrusive than this is radio. If I was a police officer on the beat in a busy city, I would feel ridiculous hassling someone that is trying to stimulate the economy with advertising, when there is real criminal activity going on. And I sure wouldn’t pat myself on the back for all the advertisers I brought to justice when I got to the precinct! In trying to understand the animosity of those that oppose I must conclude that:

    A.) You are against all technology and progress, would prefer to live in the 19th century, and are better suited for living in an Amish settlement rather than a progressive city;


    B.) You have already been to an Amish settlement, and by misfortune or curiosity suffered the lodging of a corn cob in a sensitive area, and rather than seek help from a proctologist, you endure the pain and express bitterness to all.

    But seriously, who is it hurting, or why does it bother you?