Much has been written the past weeks about billboards especially with the untoward incident taking place last September 22 wherein a billboard and its appurtenance was deemed as the cause of the stalling of the operations of the MRT line. This article is written in view of the growing number of billboards in the metropolis and in view of the proposed Senate Bill authored by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago which is poised at providing regulation to the construction and operation of billboards.
Billboard regulation is not a new development. Similar pressure from the quarters of the government was also exerted during the days of Imelda Marcos when she was still Governor of Metro Manila. Billboards were much smaller in the 1970s having average sizes of 12 feet high by 36 feet wide. Furthermore, the quantity of billboards in those days were much lesser as compared to the combined number of steel structures we see nowadays.
From the point of view of an Outdoor Media Strategist, there seems to be an apparent need to regulate the number of billboard panels on EDSA if only to heighten the value of the medium. The entire landscape has become so cluttered with multiple panels that it becomes so difficult to let an advertiser's message stand out. Consequently, it is for this reason that advertisers and outdoor advertising companies alike have resorted to overcoming this obstacle by resorting to the parameter of size. That is, the bigger the better.
But are bigger billboards the solution to better visibility for the advertiser? Does a bigger billboard directly mean that it will provide greater media value? Not necessarily so. Perhaps the entire outdoor advertising industry should look into items such as setting a standard size for outdoor advertising placements. Senator Santiago's bill provides an item for this. Though the final size may have to be adjusted in as much as the proposed size may have its limitations, there has to be a set standard on how large is large. With a gradual scale-down of panel sizes to a tolerable and visible size, the highways will be less cluttered and as preferred by advertisers, their placements will be of greater media value.
In putting a regulation to size, this will consequently eliminate the hazards created by having to build gargantuan structures which are sometimes below their wind-bearing capacity. Why do billboards in other countries withstand strong winds? It is not so much that these are made of better materials, it is also because these have been made to a certain panel size which can bear the gusts of the strongest winds in the localities.
On the matter of number, it is this writer's belief that for EDSA, we have already gone way past the tolerable number of billboards. As it is, each billboard on EDSA cannot provide the advertiser with the maximum impact it is supposed to deliver simply because the media value of the billboard is diminished due to the clutter of other billboards around it.
To ask the question as to when we reached the maximum limit of billboards on EDSA, we are convinced that this happened about two years ago. If we stopped building billboards on EDSA two years ago, the highway would still be in a tolerable visual condition. To add to this, the hundreds of banners placed right in the middle of the road and affixed to MRT property.
How many is many? Although there is no definitive number on all the advertising panels present in the metropolis, the author of this article has embarked on a phase by phase report of all the available outdoor media spaces beginning with EDSA. This is soon to be published in a syndicated report by an independent party which for now shall be unnamed. This will be the first step to quantifying the number of billboards as they increase (or decrease) in the metropolis.
As the number of billboards plateau, the advertisers and their agencies will be happy to have better media value. There will be no doubt that each billboard panel will cost more in terms of monthly rentals, but these would mean better impact and value to them.
A balance has to be struck somewhere wherein billboards will still be allowed but surely regulated. The regulation first of all may have to come from within the industry and its players. As in all other forms of media in the country, and in the advertising industry, self-regulation has been given a premium. Nevertheless, it is unavoidable that should the industry players through its recognized trade organization cannot effect the self-regulation needed, then the industry players should not take it as a surprise if the much needed regulation will have to be put into effect from the side of government.
In implementing the new rules in regulating billboards, it will be to the best interest of the nation to compose these implementing rules and regulations hand in hand with select industry players who can see beyond protecting their companies' interest but can also see what is good and safe for the public.