Sao Paulo: The City With No Outdoor Advertisements

Jul 20, 2013 19 comments

In September 2006, the mayor of São Paulo passed the so-called “Clean City Law" that outlawed the use of all outdoor advertisements, including on billboards, transit, and in front of stores. Within a year, 15,000 billboards were taken down and store signs had to be shrunk so as not to violate the new law. Outdoor video screens and ads on buses were stripped. Even pamphleteering in public spaces has been made illegal. Nearly $8 million in fines were issued to cleanse São Paulo of the blight on its landscape. Seven years on, the world's fourth-largest metropolis and South America’s most important city remains free of visual clutter and eye sore that plagues the majority of cities around the world.

When the law was passed, it triggered wild alarm among city businesses and advertisement groups. Critics worried that the advertising ban would entail a revenue loss of $133 million and 20,000 people would lose jobs. Others predicted that the city would look like a bland concrete jungle with the ads removed.


Photo credit

"I think this city is going to become a sadder, duller place,” said Dalton Silvanom, the lone councilman to vote against the law, and who (unsurprisingly) is in the advertising business. “Advertising is both an art form and, when you're in your car or alone on foot, a form of entertainment that helps relieve solitude and boredom," Silvanom added.

Despite the forebodings, São Paulo’s economy didn’t run aground although the city did look alien and war-torn for a few months following the tear down. The breakneck speed at which the law was enacted caused the city to resemble a battlefield strewn with blank marquees, partially torn-down frames and hastily painted-over storefront facades.

In a survey conducted in 2011 among the city’s 11 million residents, 70 percent found the ban beneficial. Unexpectedly, the removal of logos and slogans exposed previously overlooked architecture, revealing a rich urban beauty that had been long hidden. “My old reference was a big Panasonic billboard,” said Vinicius Galvao, a reporter with Folha de São Paulo, Brazil’s largest newspaper, in an interview with NPR. “But now my reference is an art deco building that was covered [by the massive sign]. So you start getting new references in the city. The city’s now got new language, a new identity.”

Photographer Tony de Marco documented the transformation the city underwent in 2007 in a sequence of images published on Flickr.

Sao Paulo isn’t the only city to have banned outdoor advertisements. Bans on billboards exist in other parts of the world, such as Vermont, Alaska, Hawaii, and Maine in the US, as well as some 1,500 towns. In Europe, the Norwegian city of Bergen does the same and many others have imposed severe restrictions on billboards or declared no-billboard zones within the city.












Sources: Newdream, Businessweek, Adbusters, Economist


  1. Looks very eerie...Like the show "Life After People"

  2. Banners, billboards and signage’s are for the advertisements and I thing with these signage’s it becomes easy for the customer’s to locate the plaices. I think if laws are there not to hide the architectures, then sign boards can be used. Free standing sign boards are usually placed at a distance from the shop areas and these signs are actually for the customers so, that they can easily find what they want. I think these signs are essential to attract customers to your business. They need not to ask people to find your business.

  3. Well the Blockbuster store would've been closed by now anyway. (4th picture).

  4. I don't think think this is a nice move by local govt. Due to this many of people becomes job less and lost their only source of earning.

    1. "AdSystems" thinks this is a bad idea...

    2. it helps the small business though

  5. That looks so peaceful. Ads really aren't beauty since they tug at our attention and attempt to invade and persuade. This might be good for small business that doesn't have a million dollar ad budget.

  6. I think this law needs to be pass on the Philippine government, they are countless numbers of celebrity billboards around the city of Manila, advertising God knows what, which is causing big tragedy, when there is storm, strong winds etc.. causing the billboards to fall down on peoples houses, blocking the street and causing many lives.

  7. YES!!!!!! I LIVE IN SAO PAULO!!!!!
    that is actually AWESOME!!!!! we love it
    the visual pollution used to be unbearable now... THIS looks more like a city and less like a formula 1 suit!
    this law should be considered world wide, really increased our life quality, even though this is still brazil (YES small b, I hate this place!)

  8. It looks grim, like something from Eastern Europe or USSR during the Cold War.

  9. It's not that creepy looking, the pictures give that impression because it's focused on the blanks where were there were ads... But the city still have tons of graffiti art and color.

  10. How do you find anything while driving? Some of those aren't even advertisements, they're signs for the businesses. Where do you draw the line? Barber poles? Cafe blackboard menus? Hopefully they at least took all the billboard structures down and painted over everything, not that the buildings themselves don't look like crap anyway. Gloomy grey stone everywhere.

    1. STREET SIGNS. The architecture now has to stand out more than before.

  11. It looks beautiful; peaceful; harmonious; more human. It allows for your imagination to flourish. I'd say if worldwide cities began adopting this that over the years creativity would increase for the human race. There are enough ads online at this point, the last thing we need is more ads cover our eyes as we walk out own streets.

  12. So how are you supposed to know what is inside any of those businesses? You have to know the exact address in advance?

  13. You guys needed BEFORE and AFTER pics. Just showing the AFTER pics doesn't really do much.

  14. The stores are allowed small signs.

  15. The pictures concentrated in the removed outdoor ads and banners, but, believe me, the city looks cleaner and tidier without all that visual pollution. In southeast and south Brazil regions, things look much nicer than many other countries. Thankfully, Rio de Janeiro is not a city that represents Brazil anymore.


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