Billboard ads are an architectural eyesore. And they’re fundamentally designed to get in your way–to leverage visual noise to distract you while going about your day and having your own thoughts. Worried about filing that report? A bus stop wants to sell you french fries. Dodging other drivers during rush hour? An overhang has a deal on car insurance.
But the campaign by IBM’s People for Smarter Cities Project, by Ogilvy & Mather France, has a better approach to big signs. Namely, they’ve incorporated useful functions into their billboards. One sign is simply curved at the bottom to double as a bench–and flipped upside down, a similar protrusion creates shelter from the rain. Genius.
In the most ambitious piece, a sign actually folds 90 degrees over concrete steps, providing a useful ramp for bikers and anyone else negotiating wheels. I imagine that, placed in the right spot, such an ad can feel like a godsend to a sweaty commuter lugging a 20-pound frame up a flight of stairs. Even still, I think this particular ad goes a bit too far, potentially invading our urban landscape and personal space with too much zeal. Because, imagine if I’d prefer to take the stairs, but they were crowded and this ad-ramp got in my way? I’d despise IBM, stomping on their silly ramp with every begrudging step.
As Google reminds us with their two jars of marbles, however clever a solution may seem on paper, if it’s imperfect in actual use, it’s just part of the problem. It’s just more noise.