December 01, 2015
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What’s Responsible Advertising Look Like?

by Elisa Bonora

Billboards and commercial messages dominate the public space like never before. But is a movement taking shape to reverse this trend?

In This Space Available, filmmaker Gwenaëlle Gobé says yes.

Influenced by the writing of her father, Marc Gobé, this new director brings energy and urgency to stories of people around the world.

From visits to 11 countries on 5 continents, This Space Available charts a fascinating variety of struggles against unchecked advertising and suggests that more than aesthetics is at stake. If Jacques Attali once called noise pollution an act of violence, is visual pollution also such an act? Should we also consider, as one Mumbai resident says, “which classes of society can write their messages on the city and which classes of society are marginalized?

The filmmaker recognizes the history and politics behind this story. Turning to such legislation as the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, Gobé shows how the enforcement of this landmark law, designed to regulate outdoor advertising on America’s roadways, has steadily eroded. And today, public space activist Jordan Seiler faces harsh penalties for covering illegal outdoor ads with art, while officials turn a blind eye to illegally erected billboards.

Still, the film strikes a hopeful tone. A standout interview features Gilberto Kassab, the popular mayor of Sao Paulo, who threw a stone into the quiet pond of the billboard industry by successfully banning outdoor media in his city -- the eighth largest in the world. The move is not without precedent: Houston’s 1980 billboard ban was also a deliberate tactic to improve its flagging image, economic competitiveness, and quality of life.

In the end, This Space Available challenges audiences to recognize that aesthetics and beauty go hand in hand with responsibility. Gobé asks why brands continue to ally themselves with an industry that cuts down trees, hogs energy, and spends its profits in courts and statehouse lobbies, especially while younger consumers push for improved corporate citizenship? And is everyone equally to blame for enabling the spread of visual pollution, while other humble individuals show that it’s possible to reverse it?

The film navigates these issues without promoting a universal solution. Gobé instead weaves together stories reflecting diverse local responses to an increasingly global condition. This Space Available compels audiences to consider these stories long after the film ends, or at least to remember them each time we speed by a billboard.


  1. JenniferSimaRad 31 May, 2012 at 22:05 Reply

    Quite a bold statement against the billboard industry. I do very much like the reader mag and i don’t consider it junk mail, unlike almost everything else i get. But we do have to consider how much advertising is completely unsolicited.  

  2. Jospeh_J2102 3 June, 2012 at 08:46 Reply

    the question should be whether advertising is a necessary evil , and everything can be said to have that component, including magazines

  3. Planet2Equality 3 June, 2012 at 22:38 Reply

    I have seen this film and the billboard industry in third world countries is especially subversive in that they do promote only what the wealthy want the poor to digest— kinda like our equivalent of the news on tv here in good ol’ USA

  4. GZ 26 July, 2012 at 10:12 Reply

    I for one believe in freedom of speech and press but with this freedom comes responsibility. I found it really irresponsible when an underwear company put up a billboard along the highway with the picture of a male celebrity in briefs only. How can people not think of the kids passing by? Coming from a 3rd world country should not be an excuse. 

    What does it take to have common sense?

  5. Brenda_j 28 August, 2012 at 22:25 Reply

    i wanted to leave a comment about how I appreciate that you all don’t have crude ads that show body parts (like in cosmetic surgery ads) or highly sexualized ads (like some other stuff I get in the mail that has coupons for swimwear or tattoos that I would hope my children never see). thank you for not having ads like that, as a mom, I appreciate it 

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