The City That Banned Outdoor Advertising

Photo credit: Ana Paula Hirama on Flickr.

Earlier this year, I watched Morgan Spurlock’s TEDTalk, “Morgan Spurlock: The greatest TED Talk ever sold,” on YouTube.

As is the case with most TEDTalks, Morgan Spurlock’s TEDTalk was definitely worth watching. His talk focused on his documentary film about branding, advertising and product placement.

Although I plan to focus on the topic of his film in a future blog post, it was something that he said during his TEDTalk, and the reaction that it got from the audience, that caught my interest and ultimately sparked the idea for this and many other blog posts.

Near the end of the talk, he mentioned São Paulo, Brazil, a city that banned nearly all forms of outdoor advertising in 2007. And, when he mentioned it, many people in the audience applauded.

That got me thinking.

Marketing Gets Creative

In September of 2006, the “Clean City Law” was passed in São Paulo, Brazil. (Keep in mind, São Paulo is one of the largest cities in the world.)

According to an article on, titled “São Paulo: The City That Said No To Advertising,” the ban was not limited to just billboards. The article states that “all forms of outdoor advertising were to be prohibited, including ads on taxis, on buses—even shopfronts were to be restricted, their signs limited to 1.5 metres for every 10 metres of frontage.”

From the articles that I have read online, it appears that the legislative measure has been positively received by the public.

However, it has created a unique obstacle for businesses wanting to advertise their products or services in São Paulo.

In an NPR “On the Media” interview, Vinicius Galvao, a reporter for Folha de São Paulo, Brazil’s largest newspaper, mentions that, “Big banks, like Citibank, and big stores, like Dolce and Gabbana, they started painting themselves with very strong colors, like yellow, red, deep blue, and creating like visual patterns to associate the brand to that pattern or to that color.”

“For example, Citibank’s color is blue,” he says. “They’re painting the building in very strong blue so people can see that from far away and they can make an association with that deep blue and Citibank.”

A Financial Times article, titled “São Paulo advertising goes underground,” states that, “Marketing directors had to find a place to spend the money they previously put into billboards. The result, they say, was a creative flowering of new and alternative methods – including indoor innovations such as elevator and bathroom ads – but primarily in digital media.”

In the article, Lalai Luna, co-founder of Remix, a new agency specializing in digital and social media strategies, mentions, “Companies had to find their own ways to promote products and brands on the streets. São Paulo started having a lot more guerilla marketing [unconventional strategies, such as public stunts and viral campaigns] and it gave a lot of power to online and social media campaigns as a new way to interact with people.”


São Paulo is definitely an interesting case study in the uses and effectiveness of alternative forms of advertising, and digital marketing, in particular.

It would be interesting to see what marketing campaigns have been the most effective, given their unique situation. There are definitely things that marketers all over the world can learn from São Paulo.

I also think that it would be interesting to see an analysis of the actual cultural and economic impacts that this legislation has had on the city.

So, what are your thoughts? Would you like to see this type of legislation enacted in your city? And, if your city enacted this type of legislation, would you be up to the challenge of marketing in a city that banned outdoor advertising?

Chad Thiele

Chad Thiele

I am a marketing analyst and strategist. I earned my master's degree from West Virginia University in Integrated Marketing Communications in 2023. I also hold a bachelor's degree from UW-Madison in Sociology with a Concentration in Analysis and Research, and I completed the Mobile Marketing Professional Certificate Program from Auburn University in 2015.