Ban the billboards - except one

  • Letters
  • Sunday, 30 Mar 2003


MANILA: Billboards are generally a nuisance, but there's one I especially like that always makes my day. That's the one showing a pretty mini-skirted girl bending over a handbag with her splendid legs spread wide.  

Young men and adolescent boys often go under the billboard and look up in hopes of discovering more of her. The picture does not oblige, of course, because it is not 3D. They then shake their heads in mock disappointment, and everybody has a good laugh.  

That billboard follows the usual pattern conceptualised by the ad agencies many decades ago. It was dreamed up by some clever huckster who believed that using a beautiful female face or figure, or both, could attract attention, if only tangentially, to the product being offered.  

The brainchild became an overnight success and soon the whole advertising industry was using it for endorsing all kinds of products from soup to nuts.  

That gimmick may be reasonable when it comes to female things like cosmetics or perfume or lingerie or jewellery. It has also proved effective in promoting breast enhancement with before and after pictures of the satisfied customer.  

Advertisements of this nature are not intended to attract the attention of only women. Men like to look at pictures of glamorous models in various seductive poses and degrees of dishabille. It is the men, of course, who, as husbands or lovers, pick up the tab for this infinity of feminine caprices.  

It is rather strange, though, to see a beautiful lady touting a tractor or a chainsaw or house paint. These products are unwomanly and better advertised by men, who are the ones who normally use them.  

Are pictures of muscular men used to advertise lipstick or sanitary napkins?  

The sponsors are happy, however, as so are the ad agencies, to use female advertisement for masculine articles, and there is no complaint from the public either.  

Billboards have proliferated in metro Manila owing, principally, to the construction of more roads and the increase in the number of motor vehicles. The entire length of EDSA Avenue is peppered with billboards advertising all kinds of causes and products, including religion and condoms. Many more will be added, and with neon lights yet.  

Next year, candidates for elective offices, from the presidency down to the local positions, will billboard their illuminated portraits in another imposition on the suffering public.  

As early as in the case of Churchill & Tait v. Rafferty, 32 Phil, 580, our Supreme Court has held that billboards are subject to police power. They affect the public interest and so may be regulated and even prohibited in certain cases.  

Billboards may distract motorists and cause traffic accidents. Inadequately secured billboards may be blown away during typhoons and injure or even kill people. Billboards offensive to morals or good taste or private reputation may be validly banned by law or ordinance.  

According to the Court, the promotion of aesthetic values, as applied to billboards, is a proper objective of police power.  

When she was First Lady in the United States, Lady Bird Johnson undertook a campaign against the proliferation of billboards. Many of them, she said, impaired the natural beauty of the surroundings and prevented appreciation of the wayside.  

Travelling through rustic England many years ago, I was thrilled by the charm of the countryside without the intrusion of modern commercial billboards.  

In the heart of the city of Brussels in Belgium, I savoured the medieval grace of that storied place until I saw a big Coca-Cola sign on top of the tallest building.  

I remember Cary Grant in An Affair To Remember, one of the more popular pictures during the '50s, painting a billboard. That was how billboards were made then, skilfully and laboriously. Now hi-tech has made them simpler and more beautiful, no longer painted on tin but printed on cloth. In case of typhoons, they are not blown away to threaten life and limb but simply torn, to be easily replaced.  

Some of them are better not replaced, like that billboard showing a bald half-clad male that made people look away without noticing the product he was selling.  

I imagine these billboards cost a lot, not only in their production, including talent fees and government permits, but also in their exhibition at strategic places that will easily catch the attention of the public. The rentals for these places must be steep and the retainers of the ad agencies astronomical.  

These expenses are passed on to the consumers who agree to be beguiled by the billboards and are most likely also claimed as allowable tax deductions by the advertisers.  

Billboards are now a ubiquitous fact of commercial life in the urban centres, but I wish they were not. While there are some billboards that are pleasing to the eye, like the one with the beautiful girl and her splendid legs, these advertisements are generally unwelcome, like the annoying commercials on radio and television.  

And sometimes they are even ungrammatical, like the one that announced some years ago, “The Games have began!”  

The bottom line is this: Ban the billboards except the one with the lovely girl and her splendid legs. 

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