The city that went to war on advertising

Sao Paulo has banned billboards, and residents are using a hotline set up by the Mayor to report any and all offenders

Stealthily, cleverly, implacably, the officials of Sao Paulo – its 20 million inhabitants make it one of the world's largest cities – are after their prey. Since the first day of 2007, morning, noon, night and at weekends, Argus-eyed, they wait and watch for it on foot and in their vehicles. Their weapon is the Lei Cidade Limpa, the Clean City Law.

They are there, downtown among the tall, undistinguished buildings that cluster round the entrancing Copan Building, the world's most beautiful skyscraper, designed by Oscar Niemeyer. They lurk on the eight-lane urban motorways. Their people keep a watch on the shopping arcades. They keep an eye on the miles and miles of dreary suburbs and the anthills of the slums along the polluted River Tietê as it stinks its way past the race course.

Directly they see their quarry, they pounce. It can't camouflage itself; that would go against its nature. It is after all, advertising, and Sao Paulo is the first city in the world to ban it. Billboard advertising has, simply, been outlawed. Eight thousand hoardings have been done away with so far, with more to go. Those who disobey the law can be fined more than £3,500 per offending site. In its first year, the law brought to the city nearly £15m in fines.

Today Publicidade, as we call the spirit of billboard advertising in Sao Paulo, is fighting for her life in the political jungle of Brazil. So bruising is the fight over legislation in Brazil that, the other day, President Lula da Silva despairingly remarked that the gap between what he wanted to do and what the politicians let him do was as wide as the Atlantic. He added: "If Jesus Christ came here and Judas had a vote in any political party at all, Jesus would have to get Judas on the phone to clinch a deal."

The admen tried everything to stop the measure before the vote was taken by the municipal council in Sao Paulo. They forecast – mendaciously – that it would lead to massive unemployment, but the law was passed on 26 September 2006 by 45 votes to one. Their trade association, Sepex, took the Mayor to court, arguing that he was attacking free enterprise in an unconstitutional way and that only the Federal Congress in Brasília had the power to legislate on advertising matters.

At first, they seemed to be in with a chance and got a postponement of the application of the law. But the STF (the Federal Supreme Court) was impressed by the big majority with which it had been passed and by the way citizens were being given a part in making it work. The STF judges disagreed with the lower court saying it was fully constitutional and indeed enjoyed "the highest degree of public interest, seeking as it does to promote the public good essential for a better quality of urban life".

Dalton Silvano, an adman and the sole opponent in the council vote, claims that the city is joyous no more. He admits his side has lost a battle. "But we haven't lost the war," he claims, a little unconvincingly.

It could be said Publicidade has already died the death of a thousand cuts. Hoardings on the side of buildings have been painted out. Shop fronts are under tight control, with advertising held to fierce limits of a proportion of their façades. The sides of buses are clean – not for these vehicles polemics for and against God, no pretty girls smiling as their sip their sugary, gassy colas. Nothing but the neat coat of arms of the city. The trouble for Publicidade has always been that the ban on her has been very popular.

The Mayor, Gilberto Kassab, revels in the popular acceptance of his measure and his city's position as the world's first metropolis to crush the admen and the big transnationals which screamed so loudly as the ban was introduced in 2007.

He set up telephone hotlines where citizens could report instances of advertisers breaking the law. "Some days, we had 3,000 calls on those lines," he says contentedly. Kassab says that Sao Paulo's lead is being followed by Buenos Aires, and some European cities – but not London – have sent missions to have a look at his city's experience. Regina Monteiro, a colleague, says: "The ads filled our eyes with nothing."

Now Mr Kassab is trying to improve the city's air and water and cracking down on noise pollution. The disposal of sewage is a major challenge in a city where developers did not feel they had any responsibility for linking their buildings to a sewage system. Millions of the city's inhabitants use septic tanks, and raw sewage is fed unceasingly into the reservoirs.

Yet still Publicidade rises to her knees, groggily now, denying to the last she will be exterminated. But the only thing the admen can look forward to is a fight with Mr Kassab about how many bus stops and bus shelters are going to be allowed to carry small ads. "Before the advertising ban," says Jorge Wilheim, a well- known architect and town planner, "Sao Paulo was chaotic and ugly. Now it's just ugly." But the sandwich men legally carrying their messages on their backs are laughing. They are doing a good trade.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Electricians

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fully qualified electricians re...

Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst - High Wycombe - £30,000

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst role...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Transport & Logistics Assistant

£16000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This highly regarded industry l...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Team Leader

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you want to work for a Compa...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower