For a measured and intelligent city view

As we can see, it is clear that if commercial display is not threatened in the short term in its existence on the national territory, then its place and its role in the urban space is being considered. With a clearly observable trend: civil society everywhere is calling for a reduction in display surfaces, which actors in the world of economics and communication are trying to resist. For us, display professionals within the company Horizon, as for our group ESH Médias, the question is rather how it would be possible to go beyond a radicalization of positions between pro and anti-display to arrive at a common platform that allows to perpetuate a poster that is positively perceived by the entire civil society.

Public opinion has evolved considerably in recent years, with a question mark over the consumerist model that finds ample evidence in the successive reports of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). Should we therefore revolt against freedom of expression and massively condemn, as the opponents are doing, an attack on the quality of the urban landscape, the mobility of people and the well-being of the population, while in the name of individual freedoms, right to be protected from the harmful attacks of commercial advertising and why not also politically and culturally?


Before answering this question, as a display company, we cannot do without a certain amount of self-criticism. Billboard companies have not always been impeccable in placing billboards in urban areas, and it is this observation that has fueled the creation of Horizon: proposing a new approach to surface layout, as well as seeking a balance between posters intended for public service and posters intended for commercial display. The issue of content should not be overlooked either. Although this depends on advertisers and their advertising agencies, we, poster companies, should position ourselves more on the consistency of the messages being conveyed.

That said, should we ban advertising posters from our streets by accusing them of all forms of abuse because, as we heard, they were the root of “undesirable exposure to advertising and over-stimulation of consumption”? The answer makes sense. We will not succeed in creating a successful society between businesses and citizens by pointing the thumbs down to condemn urban frenzy to death. Especially since the townspeople who stroll through their city seem to appreciate this kind of entertainment. In other words, billboards are popular with citizens, while other media are considered much more intrusive. According to the latest survey by the market research institute LINK, commissioned by AWS Outdoor Advertising Switzerland, on the question conducted with a representative panel, 82% of those surveyed approved the display. A capital sympathy that is certainly due to the measured integration into the urban landscape, in consultation with the different communities. It is certainly the result of stricter regulations than those of our European neighbours, which have helped to maintain a surface density that is perceived as quite low.

In the same vein, why choose a scapegoat for a media that is not only perfectly controlled by the government, but also contributes to the financing of local communities, not to mention the services offered to local businesses, culture and political parties? In this sense, posting does not threaten territorial sovereignty, but reinforces it. And what about the digital media of GAMAM (Google, Apple, Meta, Amazon, Microsoft), Meta (formerly Facebook) and Google in the lead, busy “transferring” ad revenue in the country. The frontal attacks of poster advertising tend to favor this type of actor whose activity is unchecked and does not benefit local actors.

to find a balance

Historically, billboards have contributed to the urban development of local communities in the country, for example with the construction of telephone booths or the construction of bus shelters. Even today, billboards are used by Swiss municipalities, who like to have these media for their political and cultural communication and also for information to the population. As for local merchants, posters offer them an interesting economic alternative to advertise their services in the spirit of the short circuits we are trying to promote today. Speaking of savings, finally, it should be noted that billboards also represent significant financial income, namely 6 to 8 million for Geneva, if we are to believe the referenda. At the national level, the research of the Laboratory of Applied Economic Sciences of the University of Geneva estimates the direct and indirect turnover of the advertising sign sector at 155 million, which employs 8% of the workforce in the advertising industry.

Faced with this reality, a balance must certainly be struck so that the display retains its role of messenger at the service of brands and supporting public authorities. Should this be done through a better integration of the panels in the urban space, even if this means that they have to become more discreet or even less numerous where the architecture of the site requires it? We believe there is a balance, and Horizon’s mission is to find it. Should this be through a joint ethics committee between the municipalities and the display companies to review the content of the posters to ban sexist or “fizzy” ads, as certain communities require? It is quite desirable. Does this have to be done by simply removing billboards to supposedly contribute to the well-being of the population? It is completely useless and counterproductive, even dangerous. Posters play a role in our modern societies, as long as we know where everyone’s interest lies in respecting others. It’s progressing, but we’re not there yet. Wouldn’t proponents and opponents of poster advertising from this angle have every interest in finding common ground? The threat to our freedoms does not come from advertising as such, but rather from the proliferation of international, uncontrollable and increasingly intrusive digital players. Removing the screen amounts to giving even more capture space. Is this what we want for the Swiss media landscape?

The creation of Horizon by the ESH Médias group, whose main mission is to guarantee media pluralism in French-speaking Switzerland, reflects our desire to answer this question in the negative. Our regions should benefit from a media landscape that is open, diversified and at the service of local ecosystems. It is Horizon’s mission to contribute to this.

By Etienne Reignoux

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