Funny how some poems stick in your head. I learned this verse in primary school and have never forgotten it:
I think that I shall never see / A billboard lovely as a tree / Indeed, unless the billboards fall / I’ll never see a tree at all. (Odgen Nash, ‘Song of the Open Road).
And oddly, it came to mind the other day when I was thinking about billboards.
More specifically, it made me wonder: why, exactly, must a billboard and a tree remain so ontologically opposed?
What if they could co-exist?
Or, indeed, what if a billboard could be a tree?
There are a few examples of this around – McDonalds advertised fresh salads with a growing billboard, for example.
And Toyota used plants to demonstrate the eco-friendly features of the Prius.
But I seems to me that ‘outdoor’ advertising, by and large, remains constrained by indoor thinking – by the assumption that an ad needs to be static, and housed within a frame, and built into the landscape – rather than something organic, softer, and growth within it.
What if, for example, a brand genetically engineered and marketed a plant? (I’m thinking a BP tree, bred for fast growth and maximum carbon fixing, could do a lot for their enviro credentials).
Or what if you could turn autumn leaves into a communications medium?
Or if a billboard sheltered a sapling?
Maybe we’ve had enough around the world of Le Corbusier and buildings and monuments to ourselves. You know, gigantic phalli, huge arches, forbidding terraces and walkways as in our City Hall, neo-Soviet buildings. These are things in which we’re celebrating our strength, our power, our conquest of the world, right? How great we are! But maybe what we really need down deep is to get closer to where we came from. (EO Wilson, here)
So I’m wondering – what if we could, in fact, ‘get closer to where we came from’ – and make advertising a bit more like gardening?
A billboard could prove, in fact, lovelier than a tree.
Ogden would turn in his grave, perhaps, but the rest of us’d certainly benefit.