Dispute over moving image advertising in the city

In 2016, the city of Zurich will start using 20 illuminated rotating columns and ten 72-inch LCD screens in public spaces. More moving image installations could follow in the future. The city's announcement lights a new fire in the old conflict over the use of public space.


Good advertising is creative, entertaining and relevant - this (or something like this) is the credo of many advertisers. Away from the industry, however, what graces the billboards is not necessarily perceived that way. "Many posters are aesthetically unappealing and convey inane messages - a new shampoo formula is not an innovation," says Christian Hänggi, co-president of the IG Poster Room Society (PRG). When the Zurich resident walks from his apartment in District 3 to the tram stop, he is annoyed by the 17 billboards that cross his view. He would like to see a massive reduction in the current 8,000 poster sites in the city of Zurich. He certainly does not want to see any luminous moving images on the city's streets and squares. In a recently published press release, the IG PRG speaks of a "breach of taboo" by the city council in this regard. Hänggi is convinced that the association is not alone in this view. Recently, the IG PRG submitted a petition demanding that the city council completely abandon digital advertising screens and illuminated rotating columns.


Moving image rated positively by majority

Matthias Wyssmann, Head of Communications at the City of Zurich's Department of Buildings, is apparently also aware that "advertising is a nuisance to almost everyone per se". However, he puts it into perspective: "Most people weigh things up - they weigh whether the benefit justifies the annoyance." Together with the two largest outdoor advertising companies APG|SGA and Clear Channel, the city conducted a test trial with two LCD screens and five illuminated rotating columns over a period of two years. By means of two street surveys (one Survey on LCD screens and a Survey on the illuminated turnstiles), the acceptance of the new forms of advertising was then determined.

The surveys show: 88 percent of the passers-by questioned think that outdoor advertising is a welcome source of income for the city of Zurich. The assessment of moving image advertising is also predominantly positive. Only 21 percent of respondents think that the screens distract people too much. 61 percent even prefer spots and short films to the classic, static posters. It is striking that younger target groups in particular prefer the new forms of advertising. This shows a similar popularity trend towards video content as on the web. On the basis of these street surveys, the city council has now decided to introduce the new installations. They will replace analogue posters at existing poster sites. The tender for the initial operation has been running since 3 June 2015.

Critical figures on outdoor advertising

Christian Hänggi has done his due diligence and comes to a different conclusion than the city. As part of his dissertation, he examined outdoor advertising from an ethical-philosophical perspective and founded the IG Plakat Raum Gesellschaft in 2007. This was in response to the fact that the city of Zurich, in the context of the 2006 retendering process, increased the approximately 2,000 poster sites on public property (the remaining poster sites are located on private property) by 15 percent. He cites three figures against a renewed expansion of outdoor advertising:

1. the city's revenue from outdoor advertising is not particularly high. The administration generates around 2.6 million francs annually from outdoor advertising - that is just 0.03 per cent of the city's expenditure or 6.50 francs per citizen. The passers-by, whom the city had surveyed, were not informed about these figures.

2 In an international comparison, Switzerland already has an above-average poster density. For example, the number of billboards per 1,000 inhabitants is twice as high as in Germany or five times as high as in Italy.

3 The two studies conducted by the city give an idea of the general public's attitude to outdoor advertising: a remarkable 49 percent of respondents agreed with the statement: "There is too much advertising in public spaces in Zurich. And that doesn't say anything about the other 51 percent, Hänggi stresses: it doesn't mean that 51 percent think there is too little advertising in public spaces. Unfortunately, Hänggi criticizes not without reason, the study does not ask fundamental questions like these.

One of the two LCD screens that were operated on a trial basis in Zurich for two years. In 2016, 10 such screens will now be installed. It is quite possible that more will follow.

endorsement by city council

"Compared to the city budget of 8.5 billion francs, the revenue from outdoor advertising is not enormous. But that can be said of very many sources of revenue. You have to ask yourself what can be financed with 2.6 million francs," Wyssmann counters. In addition, the VBZ, also a municipal enterprise, generates a multiple of this income through outdoor advertising. Ultimately, the political stance is clear: "The decision lies with the city council and its verdict is clear: it supports the introduction of LCD screens and illuminated turnstiles." He added that the local council had also recently come out clearly in favour of outdoor advertising including LCD screens. Wyssmann compares moving image advertising to noise pollution: a certain level of disturbance is tolerated by the state, he says, even if the rights granted are only relevant to certain interest groups. "The awareness for the protection of public space is present in the city of Zurich," Wyssmann emphasizes. The possibilities are not exhausted in favour of the trade.

In terms of poster density, Zurich cannot be compared with a major foreign city, says Beat Holenstein, member of the management board of Allgemeine Plakatgesellschaft APG|SGA and Head of Partner & Product Management. "In Switzerland, it is mainly small-format posters that are used. The most frequently used size is F4 (the so-called world format of 1.15 m2). These sites can be booked in the city of Zurich from CHF 45 for a week. They are also affordable for culture, local business, or political billposting." In addition, the city uses the F4 spaces to put up its own posters. So as part of the contract with the city of Zurich, they also provide services in kind and services to the public. The same applies to the new digital screens: "We make individual sequences available to partners such as the city if required. In the digital age, an administration should have the possibility, for example, to be able to communicate missing persons notices quickly and with broad impact."

Digital screens are a growth market for billboard companies. The city's decision therefore understandably provoked the IG PRG, which is against an expansion of outdoor advertising.

Screens in good locations extremely lucrative

The city is primarily hoping for additional revenue from the new moving image facilities: At least 1.23 million francs per year, according to the tender (with investment costs of 1.15 million). According to Wyssmann, the debate was not primarily about aesthetic arguments, but about the demand for new formats. The advantage lies with the poster companies and their customers, who in return pay higher fees than for traditional poster sites.

The digital systems will be installed at existing, highly frequented locations. The new, eye-catching moving image format generates great added value there. "It is a quantum leap that we can now offer digital screens," emphasizes Holenstein. At Zurich's main train station, for example, APG|SGA already operates so-called e-panels. Holenstein speaks of a "genuine alternative to other moving image media, which are losing importance due to changes in media usage behavior". APG|SGA is convinced that budgets will shift from other media to digital outdoor advertising. The new moving-image advertising media also allow multiple uses. According to Holenstein, customers are prepared to share the space at top locations and to spend proportionally more than for a static poster. In the railway station, APG|SGA currently operates with 60-second loops of six spots each, and the new installations would be operated in a similar way.

Another advantage over the analogue poster is that offers for customers can be fine-tuned and geared more specifically to mobility target groups. APG|SGA already offers various time slots on the e-boards at the main station: In the morning, advertising for a croissant, over lunch for a sandwich, in the evening for the after-work beer. Daytime bookings are also possible. "This is certainly the future of this medium."

However, digitization is only taking place at top locations where the frequency is very high and multiple use makes sense. According to Holenstein, the analog poster will not die out - at least not in the next 30-40 years. Analogue sales are not currently declining.

"Quality before quantity" is the motto of the poster companies and the city's overall concept. The new digital installations at the top locations are also in line with this principle. Holenstein speaks of a growth market for e-panels - without massively expanding the locations. "It's not the quantity that makes the difference, but the placement of advertising media at the best locations," emphasizes Holenstein.

The fact that APG|SGA is talking about a growth market, however, also makes it clear why the city's decision brought the IG PRG onto the scene. It is understandable that Hänggi speaks of an expansion of outdoor advertising in view of the introduction of the new installations.

Is outdoor advertising now crowding out TV?

The IG PRG should also be sounding the alarm about a budget shift towards outdoor advertising: If Hänggi has anything to gain from advertising, it is that it finances editorial content. "The higher the advertising revenues of the media companies, the more funds are available to do high-quality journalism," Hänggi said. Advertising should be focused on TV, newspapers and radio instead of generating inane city revenue, he thinks. It should only be allowed where society actually benefits from it. Public space, on the other hand, is there to display messages that address the issue of living together. For Hänggi, that includes event posters, public notices, political advertising, among other things. "It's always tricky to talk about content. But you can intuitively draw the line between public and commercial interests."

Simone Isliker

Billposting at a glance

For a long time, posters were put up in the city of Zurich (and nota bene in the rest of Switzerland) without an overall planning concept. It was not until 1992 that the first urban overall concept GK 92 was launched. Among other things, it harmonized the carrier types and poster sizes - and deliberately provided for fewer, but better-placed poster sites. As a result, 30 percent of the poster sites were reduced almost at a stroke, while at the same time doubling the city's revenues. In 2006, GK 92 was replaced by the PK 06 poster and megaposter concept. The PK 06 responded to the urban development trends of recent years. It also took into account the technical developments in billposting and defined corresponding guidelines. This was also urgently needed: in order to achieve the best returns with the existing sites, the poster companies had been continuously looking for new possibilities to expand the areas or increase the effectiveness by means of technological innovations.

There are about 8,000 poster sites in Zurich, but only about a quarter of them are located on public property. The number of these poster sites on public property has fluctuated somewhat since 1992: in 2006, it was increased by 15 percent (which was the trigger for the founding of the IG Plakat Raum Gesellschaft), and then reduced again by 10 percent in the last invitation to tender in 2013. The larger posters on private property (which are also visible from public property) generate almost no revenue for the city. For these poster sites on private property, which require a permit, only a one-time fee is paid.


An article from the current print edition of Werbewoche

(Visited 51 times, 1 visits today)

More articles on the topic