Right now, the city of Cape Town and its residents are mulling over a change to the policy prohibiting the erection of advertising billboards on buildings and the roadside.
The reason for this is because the city fathers have realised that there’s a heck of a lot of money to be made by allowing the out of home advertising industry to set up camp in the Mother City.
Of course, there are a lot of residents who believe that the beauty if Cape Town has long been enhanced by the lack of crass advertising billboards.
It is going to be interesting to see who wins.
The debate reminds me of something I read about a decade or so ago about the University of Natal coming up with a research project showing that street side advertisements caused road rage among drivers.
I am quite sure this will be trotted out at some stage during the great Cape Town outdoor advertising debate.
Quite apart from this very notion being unadulterated crap, this is a typical example of how South African society is getting into the habit of solving problems buy attacking one of the most benign and politically correct symptoms.
It’s not surprising that road rage and advertising have been linked together because everybody blames absolutely everything on advertising these days. And the industry has, in the past been so self-absorbed and full of wimps it never ever seemed to respond to criticism. So if you wanted to bash something, you could always have a go at the ad industry and you’d be quite safe from any sort of recrimination.
I have to say, however, that the advertising industry’s response to government plans to ban alcohol advertising has been refreshing, unemotional and pragmatic.
But, getting back to advertising and road rage, I fail to see any sort of connection whatsoever.
Surely road rage is caused by people? I am not the most patient person in a car and I am also someone who gets seriously offended by crap advertising, but I can tell you I have never come close to wanting to get out of my car and beat some other driver about the head with a baseball bat just because he or she happens to be between me and a dodgy 98 sheet poster.
Now I’ve been following road rage cases in the media , like that in which some bloke shot a motorcyclist in a fit of road rage and some other guy in the Cape beat a fellow motorist to death with a hockey stick.
Go over the court records with a fine-tooth comb and nowhere is there any evidence to suggest that the fellow who shot the motorcyclist had just passed a piece of cardboard stuck to a tree reading ‘Phineas 4 painting and tiling’ and it had pissed him off so utterly and completely that he had this overwhelming desire to go out and shoot a motorcyclist.
Or, that the bloke with the hockey stick had seen something on a street pole ad that had sent a big enough jolt of anger through his brain that he stopped his car, opened the boot, took out his hockey stick and randomly selected a nearby driver to beat to death.
Frankly, all this research tells me is that someone somewhere is looking for another incredibly flimsy excuse to blame advertising for something.
And when it comes to road rage anyone with half a brain knows that the cause of this is simply very bad road hygiene on our highways which in turns leads to intolerance.
All of which is exacerbated by the fact that the traffic cops are so busy with speed traps they don’t notice the idiots who tailgate, use emergency lanes as race tracks, overtake on solid white lines and generally behave like motoring morons, not to mention taxis getting away with murder. Literally.
Road rage is taking the law into your own hands when the law won’t do the job properly.
Now some advertising might be really bad but it hasn’t killed anyone yet.
And, it hasn’t made anyone turn to drink as the excellent study by Econometrix pointed out quite conclusively a fortnight ago.
The decision facing the people of Cape Town is not easy. As someone who believes in freedom of commercial speech and the contribution the advertising industry makes to the economy, I have to admit that even I am in two minds. I really believe that Cape Town is a lot more beautiful now without billboards than it would be with them.
But, that is a selfish attitude. The economy, and jobs must come before the whims of those who do not want their vistas of sea, trees and mountains blocked by crass advertising.
So, my bet is that it will all end in a compromise which should satisfy both sides but which, like most compromises, will turn out to be unsustainable in the long term.
Eventually, money always wins against morality or the whims of the whimsical.