Advocacy, education and outreach in support of Vancouver's public spaces

By vancouverpublicspace

December 18, 2010 at 9:56 AM

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Projection billboards: Oakridge ad violates Sign Bylaw

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Oakridge Mall - Projection Advertising 1 of 2

It’s a given that advertisers are always looking for new ways to sell products and services – from ads in bathrooms and on building steps, and now – coming in January – on the fare cards used by Translink. From a marketing point of view, the more people you can get your message to, the better the “job” done by the ad. And newer and more novel forms of advertising help to fight that malaise that marketers dread the most: people tuning out of conventional forms of advertising hucksterism (a silent tragedy, we understand).

Unfortunately, the nature and placement of advertising often means that public space is impacted in a negative way. Urban spaces – sidewalks, utility poles, street-facing views – get targeted for branding activity and used as a medium to sell one or another projects.

To counter this, cities have long enacted mechanisms like sign bylaws in order to control the nature and distribution of outdoor advertising, particularly to limit its impact on the public realm. The intent is not to stop outdoor advertising, but to ensure that it doesn’t proliferate in an unchecked fashion.

By and large, we think the City of Vancouver has a pretty progressive Sign Bylaw. Unlike many cities, ours has fairly tight restrictions on the size of billboards, the presence of rooftop signage, the placement of sandwich boards and so forth. The challenge – and it’s a big challenge to be sure – has always been in the enforcement side of things. 

That, of course, bodes well for advertisers… who continue to test the limits of what they can get away with. As we’ve pointed out on a number of occasions, almost half the billboards in the city are actually non-compliant with the City’s bylaws… so if this is any indication, you can imagine the scale of the problem.

The image at the top of the page is another, newer example of the get-away-with-it-while-we-can school of advertising: a six-story projection sign for Oakridge Mall that loomed over the corner of Davie and Burrard on December 14. A rough guess places this non-compliant gem at about 8 times the allowed limit under the Sign-Bylaw… assuming that it even had the appropriate approvals in place (we doubt it).

It’s not the first time projection advertising has been used in Vancouver and likely won’t be the last… but it’s the biggest example that we’ve seen of this sort of thing in a while. 

The City is currently in the process of reviewing its Sign Bylaw. We hope there will be some opportunity to take a good look at the role that newer forms of advertising such as this will play in shaping the look of Vancouver. Our hope in this is that the City will continue to enact a progressive approach to outdoor signage and branding activity – because we believe that this will have a positive affect on the look of the city. Perhaps a clarification to advertisers might be in order as well: projection signs, ads etched into the sidewalk, mobile billboards – and all the other newer forms of marketing that have sprung up around Vancouver – are still forms of advertising subject to the City’s bylaw.

In the meanwhile, unless there’s a cry and hue that suggests that six-story projection advertisements actually strengthen the Vancouver aesthetic… we also hope that the City will work to reign in advertisers who opt to circumvent regulations.

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These projection ads sometimes go on the Scotiabank Theatre on Burrard and a building on Granville. They make me so angry. Unfortunately I don’t think the current bylaw covers them – and they aren’t in place long enough for any enforcement to take place anyway. It seems like they’ve found a pretty solid loophole…

I actually prefer these projections to regular billboards. Techniques like pressure washing sidewalks or video projection have way less impact on the environment than repeatedly printing billboard ads on vinyl or paper.

I agree with AD.. this is a much better way to advertise and we cant avoid advertising.. Print billboards do nothing but fill landfills monthly. At least these companies seem to be considering their impact.. This compared to that building with a huge Vinyl ad hanging off.. I prefer this.. :)

Interestingly, there is no loophole. City bylaws are fairly explicit about the fact that these sorts of projection technologies ‘count’ as signs and are thus subject to the same regulatory considerations.

While we agree that the fact that these ones are impermanent means that their material impact may be different than an old school frame and panel billboard, there are other considerations to think about as well… such as visual impact of larger advertising in public space, the placement of these ads (which often contravene Sign Bylaw requirements), the lack of permitting, the distraction factor with projecting large movie-style ads beside a major roadway, and so on.

But the notion of whether or not they might be better than the older type of billboards is an interesting question and one that we’re looking at with our work into outdoor advertising. Hopefully we can keep you involved in the discussion as it carries on!

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