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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

BA emerges from behind the store signs

The McDonald’s on 9 de Julio and Corrientes avenues lays bare as it adapts to the new regulation.
By Francisco Aldaya
for the Herald
More than 2,000 marquees taken down following 2009 public advertisement law

It has been two months, and still the landmark McDonald’s on Avenida 9 de Julio and Corrientes remains almost bare — its trademark giant M that once marked that famous City corner is missing, replaced by a small, temporary sign.

The fast-food restaurant’s marquees have been stripped down to a bare grey, as the store’s management works on the installation of LED panels. Until they are put up, tourists will only ascertain they are walking past a fast food restaurant due to the large hamburgers that decorate the store front.

It may be just one sign, but its key location in the heart of downtown has turned it into the poster child for the changing face of Buenos Aires.

Although signed into law in 2009, the implementation of the Law on Advertising on Public Roads in Buenos Aires City has gathered force, and its effects are becoming evident.

The regulation has morphed traditional shopping avenues in the capital from chaos toward order, with the regulation aiming to limit the longstanding bombardment of advertisements on some of the City’s most iconic avenues, including Cabildo and Santa Fe.

Close to 2,000 marquees and signs have been taken down by the City government in the last two years for violating limits imposed by law, according to the local Environment and Public Space Ministry.

Almost 70 percent of signs removed were unlicenced, while 10 percent were in poor condition.

But shops and billboards on the main avenues are not the only ones that have come under scrutiny.

And just as the changes to the city’s landscape are becoming evident, store owners may soon have to adapt to an even stricter new set of rules, as the government wants to amend the 2009 with a bill that has already been submitted in the City Legislature.

“A year ago, the manager asked me to take a picture of the front of the gym to send to the municipality,” Víctor Rodríguez, an employee at the Sport Club gym on Paraguay street between Junín and Ayacucho, told the Herald.

The gym has several large flood lights to illuminate its main marquees, as well as a small overhanging sign, the type of structures that, if inadequately secured, could fall during one of Buenos Aires’ notorious storms.

“Everything checked out OK,” Rodríguez added.

Regarding the giant M removed from the façade of the well-known McDonald’s on Avenida Corrientes and 9 de Julio, the floor manager there told the Herald “they’ve been coming in every night to design the new LED banners.”

Even the employees are unclear about what will come next.

“The M was our trademark, what everyone recognized this McDonald’s for, and we’re still not sure what the new one will look like,” she added, asking not to be named due company policy.

The manager added that City government had given Arcos Dorados a deadline to remove the sign, which was duly met two months ago. Since then, the front of the store has remained plain white, lacking those famous golden arches save a small temporary sign placed over the weekend.

Arcos Dorados, the largest McDonald’s franchisee in the world, did not respond to a request for comment.

The driving force behind the new regulation has more to do with establishing order than ethical advertising, it seems, as the ministry’s releases on the matter are riddled with words such as “quality,” “safety” and “storms.”

“The aim of the initiative is to reduce the zones in which the installation of marquees is allowed in the city in order to guarantee greater safety to citizens, not to restrict advertising” a news release states.

A quick bus trip down Avenida 9 de Julio confirms such mobilization, with the amount of overhanging signs noticeably decreased from two years ago.

Delays in the application of the new regulatory framework seem to derive from painstakingly slow bureaucracy. The law was passed in August, 2008 and only signed into law in September of 2009, after which an “Urban Landscape Committee” was instituted by the law to settle disputes over grey areas, responding to the ministry’s Director for the Ordering of Public Space, which directly presides over inspections and enforcement.

Soon after the law came into force, Hernán Fernández of the Chamber of Argentine Advertisers’ (CAA) praised the norm for finally “taking into account new technologies” such as LED and signs with animation.

The regulation of these methods of advertising is particularly important in terms of safety, as guidelines on quantity, dimensions, height and brightness, for instance, bring order and fewer distractions in the visual field of drivers and pedestrians.

Another novelty in the regulatory framework was the incorporation of the firms hired to physically put up advertisements as responsible parties, thereby subjecting them to risk of legal action in case of infractions, which saw several improvised operations seemingly disappear overnight.

The new terms

Stores and other business units are allowed just one sign, which can bear a single sponsor. For instance coffee shops and bars can only showcase one official coffee or beer supplier on the street.

The McDonald’s case is representative, as the removal of the giant M sums up the main drive behind the measure: to decrease the amount of overhanging signs prone to collapsing in tough weather conditions.

On August 17, 2012, a 50-year old man was killed on Lavalle street when, during an intense storm, an overhanging 30-ton OSPESA marquees fell on top of him outside the customer service office during an intense storm.

Frontal marquees like the one that collapsed two years ago, depending on their elevation off the ground — taller buildings are allowed different dimensions than shorter ones — must be between 60 centimetres and one metre, and must be hang 50 centimetres from the edge, at most.

The chamber of tensions

Patricio Di Stefano, the head of the Use of Public Space office of the City ministry, declined to comment on the new bill, with his press officer explaining they would prefer not to give details until modifications on it are submitted to the Legislature, which he said could take place this week.

Di Stefano responded to certain questions via email, explaining the changes to the 2009 law include “the location of advertising devices, the type of advertisement that can be placed ... dimensions ... and the limits they must respect so they do not distort the essence of buildings’ designs.”

Regarding the persistence of illegal advertisements on City streets, an issue that has irritated the Argentine Association of Exterior Advertising Companies (APE), without addressing specific measures taken, Di Stefano said the ministry is very concerned about illegal posters that “are ocasionally degrading toward human dignity,” thus requiring government and legal control.

Also refusing to converse on the phone, APE only sent the Herald a general comment by e-mail.

“We oppose further meetings, or amendments to Law 2936, as this one is already being implemented ... and companies in Buenos Aires City have invested to adapt,” APE said, adding that “today, they (the municipality) are changing the rulebook yet again, when clandestine, unregistered advertisement has not been controlled.”

APE thus referred to the political and union posters that regularly drench building façacdes, phone booths, bus stops and light posts.

Philip Perez, of the Argentine Chamber of Advertisers, agreed, telling the Herald: “All we ask for is contracts, legal security and consistency to be respected.”

“There are cities that have more advertisements, while others less, like in Spain. It’s a cultural issue.

On the apparent greyness, if not opaqueness, of the tos-and-fros on advertising regulation, Facundo Di Filippo, who answered to the Civic Coalition’s Elisa Carrió in 2009 as a city legislator, told the Herald there were “strong rumours” of sector lobbyists exerting pressure to get two articles in their favour, which Macri later vetoed, restoring the law to the original condition his government first wrote up in the bill.

Nonetheless, that progress has been made in the last two years in dishing out order to the urban landscape is evident.

The McDonald’s case seems to be an exception, as most businesses have made the into new regulatory waters without major splashes. But for now, the near-empty space on the marquee is a reminder of the City that is emerging from behind the signs.

@franma1990
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