The Billboard Jungle

New York’s corporate graffiti

“Ad creep” — the process by which previously untouched surfaces are converted into advertisements — has taken to the streets. Due to advances in billboard technology, 200-foot whiskey bottles and scantily clad supermodels dominate the vista of many a metropolitan area. The increasing commercialization of public space means that even sidewalks and lampposts are fair game for advertising.

Although many of the burgeoning ads are illegal, advertisers find breaking the law irresistibly affordable. The sidewalks of New York, including SoHo’s historic bluestones, are covered with illegal stenciled advertisements. None of the perpetrators have been fined, although Reebok, which plastered more than 200 “mini billboards” on downtown sidewalks, was charged a cleanup fee to remove the ads. And while New York city officials pay lip service to stopping illegal advertising, they continue to sell space on everything from subway passes to toll booths. But don’t think Mayor Giuliani will give away public space to just anyone: Arrests of graffiti artists have skyrocketed since he took office.

Ever wonder what it would be like to be trapped inside an issue of Details? Take a walk in downtown Manhattan.