Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Bill Bored To Death

There’s a proposal for billboards to be banned from national highways. One drive down EDSA or South Super Highway and you know why the anti-billboard crew is up in arms: Hideous to the cityscape! Distracting to motorists! Driving hazards!

While I am a member of the industry that’s responsible for their existence in the first place, let me just say that what I’m about to say next isn’t really in defense for something that is partially responsible for bringing food to our tables. In fact, I’m not too fond of every billboard that comes out; most of them are rather bland and boring. And I think there should be regulations so that our city doesn’t become one living billboard.

However, I must disagree with those who say that the billboards pose a hazard to motorists because they’re distracting to the driver. (We are obviously going to limit our discussions to the drivers, because passengers getting distracted by billboards will not cause a vehicle to ram into another, not unless the passenger decides to distract the driver, in which case it’s the fault of the passenger.)

Let us say that the billboard IS distracting to drivers. In fact, it should be: billboards, like any other form of advertising, should be attention-grabbing and memorable. An almost naked woman that’s ten stories high will distract a lot of hetero drivers, while a Zanjoe wearing just Bench underwear and a pout will certainly make me take my eyes off the road and stare at his crotch.

But to put the blame squarely on the billboard maker is, I think, unfair. Because ultimately the responsibility still rests on the driver to keep his eyes firmly on the road. If he cannot glance at it once in a while and still keep an eye on the vehicle in front, then he’s not really a good driver and shouldn’t be behind the wheel in the first place. Yes folks, the really competent and experienced drivers eventually learn how to take in the surrounding sights while never really taking his eyes off the road for more than several seconds.

Using me as an example, I should have the discipline and will power to wrestle my eyes off Zanjoe’s crotch and focus back on the road ahead. If I allow myself to continue undressing Zanjoe with my eyes, then it’s entirely my fault if I end up rear-ending the vehicle in front of me. Why blame Ben Chan? Or even Zanjoe, the poor, almost-naked kid?

If we ban billboards because they distract drivers, then why stop at billboards? Why not ban any and everything that may distract drivers? Let’s ban bus ads. Let’s ban sexy women from waiting at bus stops or crossing the streets. Let’s ban Porches and other head-turning cars from the streets. Heck, while we’re at it, why not issue to drivers those view guards they put on horses to block their peripheral view? If they only see what’s in front of them then we’ll have less road accidents. Too bad though for Zanjoe, Alexandra de Rossi and the other Bench models.

Let me digress a little: the latest set of Bench billboards on the upcoming Bench Underwear Fashion Show is, I believe, tacky and an eyesore. Okay, at the start I could take it: the ever-delectable Andrew Wolfe, the yummy Zanjoe—the billboards were few and far between one another. Then I think Ben Chan decided to buy every other billboard along EDSA. So now there are disco balls, skimpy-dressed girls and brief-clad boys all over the metro. It’s not just pervasive, it’s already invasive. Billboards already make their subjects momentous because of their sheer size. To overdo what’s already an unsubtle medium is overkill.

Okay, back to billboards in general.

Some of the best billboards for me are those that are simple, easy-to-grasp, yet impactful. Like the ones of Folded & Hung, when they first came out with Claudine Baretto looking like Beyonce Knowles. Who knew Claudine could look like that? It immediately changed the way I looked at F&H. After they came out with their series of Illegally Low jeans billboards, I went out and bought a pair. That’s the power of the billboard. (Unfortunately F&H’s latest endorser, Polo Ravales, leaves me cold.)

Then again, there’s this one billboard by Lucky Me! along EDSA that’s a sad example of badly-crafted copy. The main visual is a bowl of Lucky Me! Supreme tilted 90 degrees to the side; its headline, designed to be read by tilting your head 90 degrees to the right, reads: “Gising na!” (“Wake up!”)

What’s bad is that it took me several viewings to realize that the billboard was oriented that way because it was meant to be read by people lying on their side; in other words, those still in bed. It’s already a bad sign if the billboard isn’t immediately understandable. To make it worse, the copy would have been better if it read “Bangon na!” (“Rise up!”) instead of “Gising na!”. It would have made the reason for the side-view orientation more obvious and easier to understand. Besides, one can be awake and still be lying in bed, right?

The billboards along the North Luzon Express are actually sources of entertainment—it’s fun to make fun of billboards of livestock feeds with their pun-filled copy and their kitschy visuals. “One Latigo, all bulate go!” screams a headline for livestock de-worming medicine.

I think that there should be regulations so that the proliferation of billboards won’t go overboard. But please, let’s not blame the advertisers for incompetent drivers.

I totally agree with you: banning billboards because they distract is a stupid reason. I, for one, enjoy billboards, and would love (lust) to see these new Andrew Wolfe, Zanjoe billboards that you mention (can you post photos, McVie, please?). However, too much of a good thing is bad, and during my last trip to Manila, I really despised the excessive billboards along EDSA and C-5 near Pasig. It was horrendously ugly! I believe aesthetic reasons are enough justification to regulate billboards.

Check out Bangkok, which has a lot of billboards but these never feel like too much. The expressway to and from the airport has billboards that are regulated in size and density. Why can't we do that along EDSA?
it's surprising sometimes how people react to different issues and situations around us.

I have never liked the way billboards are placed along EDSA. if you look up - the whole highway is a disaster! It's a total mess! Billboards i think should be tastefully placed along the highway... leaving some space in between structures to breath. Right now it's too cramped and the city looks so miserable... the type faces... images.... messages - all cluttered. Billboards + the cable wires - ohh! what a horrible sight! I hope we can clean this up and that the approving committee on billboard placements would think twice before approving it.
XIMOROSE: For me, it is not surprising that people react differently to issues and situations. In fact, it's expected.
I just saw the new bench commercials of andrew, rafael, and sam on youtube. Oh My Gosh! I would love to see them on billboards!
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