Will the right to advertising freedom come soon?

A Berlin initiative has big plans: it wants to usher in the end of the era of commercialization of the city

How prevalent advertising and consumption are on the streets and squares of our cities, many people notice at most unconsciously. If one addresses the subject in the circle of acquaintances, one often gets questioning looks – so much have we got used to the ubiquity of commerce and perceive it as a normal part of public space. However, since I heard of the citizens’ initiative Berlin Werbefrei , I am increasingly struck by how obtrusive and intrusive are the constant advertising messages in buses and trains, on house walls, at bus stops and on freestanding billboards. In the meantime, in certain parts of the city, I sometimes feel like I’m in a long-distance TV commercial – with a broken remote control. Because I can hide or switch off the advertising in the city unfortunately not. The initiative is now working with a bill to reduce this constant sensory overload through product and service advertising on our streets and squares to an absolute minimum. Whether that can work?

Yes, according to Fadi El-Ghazi. The lawyer and co-founder of the initiative runs since the announcement of the project from one press date to the next. There is a lot of interest, and opinions differ enormously on the subject. With a friendly smile, he explains what the activists are all about: “Our main concern is to signal against the commercialization of the city and to make a democratic decision on the use of public space. We believe that not only large corporations should serve as a projection screen for their advertising campaigns, but should be used and designed by all citizens. After all, he is common property and living space, and not a commodity. “

According to the bill, which the group has submitted to the Berlin Senate and for which it is currently initiating a referendum, commercial advertising in the public area of ​​Berlin would be inadmissible with few exceptions from the entry into force. Advertisements for events and charitable and cultural purposes, however, would still be possible, but on designated areas (eg Litfass columns) and limited to the maximum dimension A0. In addition, every store on its own façade should continue to promote itself as long as a height of 10 meters is not exceeded. That such a step is possible, have already proven cities like Sao Paulo in Brazil and Grenoble in France with their outdoor advertising bans.

The impact of the law on the face of the city and the perception of public space would be enormous. “I’m looking forward to a city without advertising. Without the annoying, constantly and everywhere insistent purchase requests, the often tasteless or degrading advertising messages … Instead, the view would be free again on architecture, green areas or simply the sky. And one or two dreary walls would be a wonderful area for art without advertising, “says Sarah Mohs, product designer and co-founder of the initiative.

Apart from a visual reassurance of the cityscape, such a ban on outdoor advertising means a noticeable revaluation of public space – as a place of encounter, of social life and of exchange. It would be a sign that not all areas of commercialization need to be divulged and that public goods as such are valued and protected. In addition, smaller stores would attract more attention again – which is why local retailers can look forward to it.

The bill also creates regulations for public institutions such as schools, colleges and even the Berlin public transport authorities: for example, a ban on the advertising of day-care centers and schools (which does not exist at law so far), and clear rules for sponsorships at universities, which ensure transparency here should. The aim of these regulations is to protect the neutrality and independence of public institutions.

Those who are concerned with the psychological, ecological and social effects of advertising are quick to wonder why we have not banished advertising from the cityscape – and perhaps from other areas as well. Apart from the fact that advertising can promote stress and depression , it is above all one thing: massive waste of resources. Billboards use tons of paper and glue – just to be replaced after a few days. Digital billboards eat a lot of electricity and contribute to light pollution. In addition, especially in the wake of a post-growth debate, the human resources claimed by advertising should not be neglected. How much energy and creativity are wasted on constantly developing new advertising campaigns and encouraging consumerism? All the people involved could use their energy in a much more meaningful way.

But a system that relies on growth can not do without raising ever-changing needs. Anyone who campaigns for sufficient consumerism, must therefore constantly work against the overpowering advertising industry – ultimately a Sisyphus task. An outdoor advertising ban, given the variety of advertising opportunities, is certainly only a small step, but it goes in the right direction and sends an important signal. And the debate about it can help sensitize more people to the commercialization of public life and the growth paradigm hidden behind it. Should Berlin be the first European capital to be serious and introduce the “right to freedom of advertisement”, other cities will most likely follow.


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