About 3 years ago, Chennai’s billboards disappeared. A government ban came into effect and erased every single vinyl from public view. Old, dilapidated and unfamiliar buildings appeared magically. Like dirt under the carpet, Chennai’s skyline was glamourous when it was unseen. Today, the only outdoor medium that survives in Chennai are the bus stops. Splashed with myriad colours, they provide a respite from the drab and mundane. The big brands try to sneak past the ban by painting outdoor surfaces like walls in public view, but ever so often, the government retaliates and strips the wall bare. Political posters and billboards, however, root themselves along pavements along with flags, and posters.
The malls are the direct beneficiaries of the ban. The space for events at malls is booked throughout the year, at inflated rates, since brands have very few opportunities for reminders in outdoor media. Walk through any mall on a weekend and food, car and personal care brands vie for attention. Much like the public grounds where 4-5 cricket matches go on at the same time and fielders watch out, not only for the ball from the game they are playing in but from others that could knock them down from behind.
Now, the city looks a lot better. The ban worked for the best, as it had grown to unmanageable proportions. On certain roads, it felt like driving through walls of vinyl, 70-80 feet tall. The support was at best, sketchy and these monstrosities came down regularly in a thunderstorm or merely with a forceful gust. And those old, dilapidated buildings? Oh, the facades have the new fangled plastic tiles now. Making them look like new age buildings. But don’t be fooled. Look at the sides and the ‘original’ manifests, peeling walls and all.