Landscape and Advertising

Landscape Dimensions - Reflections and proposals for the implementation of the European Landscape Convention

Jean-Philippe Strebler, April 2017

In a society where individual and collective travel is on the increase, outdoor advertising - whose raison d’être is to be perceived by the greatest number of people - is taking on an increasingly important role in the landscape; this presence is accentuated by the use of technologies which now make it possible to push back many physical limits.

The aim of this report is to formulate proposals to take into account and regulate the presence of billboards in landscape protection and enhancement policies, and to make recommendations for policies to regulate the presence of advertising in the context of the implementation of the European Landscape Convention.


This report has been produced in order to :

The report emphasises the diversity of forms of advertising expression, which must be taken into account in the identification and qualification of landscapes. The prevalence of outdoor advertising in landscapes, which some national legislation has already sought to contain, justifies the implementation of public policies aimed at preserving or improving landscape quality objectives by means of intervention aimed at landscape protection and management.


Concepts and definitions concerning advertising displays

Advertising and communication Advertising is a form of communication aimed at publicising a good, a product, a service, a place or an event, or even an information or an idea, usually in order to arouse the support of the recipient of the message (consumer, user, voter…) and, if necessary, to incite him/her to acquire the good, product or service, or to adopt a desired behaviour (energy saving, road safety, election of a personality…). From an economic point of view, advertising can be defined, on the one hand, as the action of promoting the sale of a product by exerting an influence on the public, a psychological action in order to create needs and desires, and, on the other hand, as all the means (media) used to promote a product. Advertising is most often disseminated by mass media, of which the five traditional preferred media are the press, television, radio, cinema and billboards; nowadays, it also takes other forms such as advertising mail and leaflets, advertising on the Internet or on mobile phones. The market share of outdoor advertising can vary considerably from one country to another: while billboard advertising represents on average in Western economies between 5 and 7% of the advertising market in the major media1 , outdoor advertising can occupy a significantly higher market share (10 to 13%) in some countries (notably France, Belgium, Switzerland, Russia), while the market share is between 4 and 7% in other countries (Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, etc.). These significant differences reflect different organisations and traditions of the advertising market and, to some extent, also result from national legislation on outdoor advertising which can be considerably different from one European state to another (Centre d’études sur les réseaux, les transports, l’urbanisme et les constructions publiques - CERTU, 1995; Institut d’études, de sondages, de recherches, marketing, sociologiques et psychosociologiques - Procom, 2000; Union des annonceurs - UDA, 2013) .

The media used for advertising communication are :

Billboards and outdoor advertising It should be emphasised that, compared to media whose targets are becoming more and more dispersed (with the multiplication of television or radio channels, or the disaffection of newspapers, or even cinemas), or to those which allow their recipients to be precisely « targeted » (mailings, e-mails, sms…), billboards constitute a medium whose market share is relatively « stable ». This medium, which targets people on the move in a society that favours travel, makes it possible, when judiciously positioned, to reach all « passers-by » without distinction. Most often, these passers-by do not have the choice of avoiding the messages broadcast by billboards; as much as it is possible to change television channels at the time of the advertising screens, to turn off television or radio at the time of the advertisements, to not buy a newspaper or to skip the advertising pages, to throw away postal advertisements distributed, it is hardly conceivable not to see the advertising billboards placed at the edges of the travel routes. Although these forms of advertising are often described as « billboards », it should be noted that the forms of advertising expression are diversifying considerably; this ranges from the « staging » of supports (when they continue to hold posters) to the new « supports » for outdoor communication offered in particular by contemporary digital technologies: This ranges from the « staging » of supports (when they continue to hold posters) to the new « media » offered by contemporary digital technologies, such as very large digital screens (from a few square metres to several dozen square metres), window displays on façades, temporary or permanent advertising « tarpaulins », night-time light projections, etc. « Traditional » billposting (in the form of paper posters affixed to fixed or mobile supports) is very likely to diminish, or even gradually disappear, in favour of out-of-home advertising that takes full advantage of the possibilities offered by modern technology (and changes in their costs).

Changes in outdoor advertising media and technologies

Advertising and signs

Businesses may also need or want to signal their existence where they are located, with various visual messages, whether it be their company name or, if applicable, the products or services they manufacture or distribute. These messages can be qualified as signs.

Multiple forms of signs

If one can consider that this form of visual communication constitutes « advertising » for the benefit of the activity which uses it (which thus promotes itself and possibly its products), one can also consider that the possibility of signalling oneself where an activity (economic in particular) is installed can be wider than that of broadcasting, in the same places, advertising messages unrelated to the activities present.

1.3. The impact of advertising on the landscape

Since the very purpose of advertisements and signs is to be seen (preferably by the greatest number of people), several factors contribute to an increasingly strong presence of advertisements and signs in landscapes, mainly urban, but also sometimes natural:

It even seems that in some cases, the adage that « too much advertising kills advertising » does not stop certain outdoor advertising professionals who, particularly with regard to their advertisers, cannot refrain from being present where their competitors are already present, even if it means that the compact overabundance of advertising messages becomes blinding and renders them largely ineffective. Over time, advertising messages are placed on increasingly varied and even unusual media:


The many forms of outdoor advertising mean that it is increasingly present in the landscape. While the European Union has focused on advertising from an essentially economic perspective, some national legislation has intervened, by different means, to regulate outdoor advertising for environmental purposes, while taking into consideration certain limitations to regulatory interventions.

2.1. Landscape issues

According to billboard professionals, outdoor advertising cannot be satisfied with a mere presence: it must attract attention. The French poster artist Raymond Savignac felt that « like a boxer, it must have punch to grab passers-by by the lapel and bring them to it. Her flashy and provocative appearance, her violent make-up are so outrageous that they go far beyond the limits of bad taste and sometimes give her style’ (Mouandjo, Lewis and Mbianda, 2010). Outdoor advertising is therefore by nature and by principle designed to take the most visible place possible in the landscape and there is no question of it blending into the landscape.

The diversity of outdoor advertising media presented above provides opportunities for outdoor advertising to express itself at different scales of the landscape:

At these various scales, outdoor advertising is one of the most significant and fastest forms of landscape anthropisation. This increasingly strong presence constitutes so many elements « added » to landscapes which, beyond a certain level (whether quantitative or qualitative), can be considered as a form of nuisance or visual pollution that the objectives of « protection, management and planning of landscapes » expressed by the European Landscape Convention commit to limit in the framework of national policies.

Outdoor advertising, due to the multiplicity of forms, formats and media it can take, is an increasingly present element in the landscape. Thus, even if advertising in general and outdoor advertising in particular are likely to contribute to consumer information in a free market economic context - and as such, the landscape in which outdoor advertising is inserted must also « constitute a resource favourable to economic activity » - the insertion of outdoor advertising media is often likely to « accelerate the transformation of the landscape ». The presence of outdoor advertising often distorts the landscape and alters the quality of life. The widespread use of outdoor advertising lighting (whether projected lighting, backlighting, digital images on screens or projections) strongly contributes to the prominence of advertising in landscapes: light and even more so movement (digital images, flashing) actively attract attention within landscapes, focusing attention in an almost intrusive way. In relation to the economic stakes of communication (largely commercial), it is advisable to take care to preserve the landscape amenity; this one can undoubtedly largely dispense with any advertising presence, but this presence should not be systematically considered as a visual pollution or nuisance: it also happens that some advertising devices, in certain situations, contribute to make the perception of landscapes pleasant. The installation of advertising media or signs is considerably quicker than urban development or building construction and it only takes a few days or even a few hours to bring about a major transformation of the landscape. While it is true that what has been installed quickly can just as quickly be dismantled, it seems much more effective, on the one hand, to preventively define a legal framework for the deployment of advertising in the landscape (in order to limit criticism of arbitrary subjective decisions taken on a case-by-case basis against such and such a device), and, on the other hand, to envisage forms of prior public control (which would, in particular, make it possible to avoid useless economic investments for non-regular devices that would have to be dismantled after their installation). It should also be taken into account that in times of economic crisis, a possible decrease in outdoor advertising turnover (due to a reduction in advertising expenditure by advertisers) does not necessarily correspond to a reduction in the number of devices in use (the available faces may simply be offered at lower rates). In tense economic situations, some devices are also abandoned in the landscape and become real landscape « black spots »; in this respect, the landscape is also a reflection of the functioning of an area, and can, as in this case, reflect negative images of this landscape. The outskirts of built-up areas are particularly sensitive from a landscape point of view. The problem of the trivialisation of town entrances, due to the denaturing of these fringes constituting transitional spaces between open, undeveloped natural landscapes and urbanised artificial landscapes, constitutes a major landscape issue. Sometimes degraded by uncontrolled urbanisation (particularly commercial), they are particularly popular sectors for outdoor advertising, whether to advertise activities or services present in the urban area or to indicate activities that have been established along the edges of the city’s entrance roads.

2.2. European legal approach

The European Union considers advertising to be an economic tool that influences the purchasing behaviour of several hundred million consumers who live and work in the Union. Advertising thus has an essential informational role which contributes to the proper functioning of the internal market, which, with the free movement of goods, services, capital and people, has increased the diversity of products and services on offer. It is mainly from the point of view of consumer protection that the European Union has so far been concerned with advertising (misleading and comparative advertising, television advertising): the consequences of the presence of outdoor advertising on the landscape have not been the subject of Community intervention to date.

2.3. National legislation

The legislation of several European countries tends to regulate outdoor advertising more or less strictly. Examples of national legislation that deal with the limitation of advertising in the landscape in different ways are


In the absence of federal legislation, outdoor advertising is mainly governed by the building code, whose implementation is defined by the Länder. The devices are subject to a (municipal) building permit and to a local tax. They must be integrated into the urban landscape of city centres; in residential areas, only construction companies may carry advertising (except for special events). In natural or sparsely populated areas, advertising is prohibited. The regulations appear to be largely dissuasive: outdoor advertising is rare and located in sectors of little landscape interest; at the entrances to the town, synoptic signs generally group together the mentions of the establishments encountered; signs are often decorative and informative, rather than advertising.


The regions integrate the regulation of advertising and signs in their regional town planning regulations. The regional rules applicable to the Brussels region, for example, tend to favour a harmonious integration of advertising in the urban landscape (devices visible from the « outside » public space) by avoiding visual nuisances, to prohibit devices that are dangerous for road safety, to guarantee the habitability of housing and to regulate new forms of advertising (tarpaulins and vinyl); advertising and signs are, in principle, subject to a prior building permit, except for exemptions provided for temporary or small-scale devices.

France :

Outdoor advertising is essentially governed by the environmental code, which was thoroughly revised in 2010-2012 (Dupont, 2009). Prohibited in principle outside built-up areas and in « environmentally » sensitive sectors, it must comply with various regulations (density, surface area, location, etc.); only certain forms of advertising (illuminated signs, tarpaulins) require prior authorisation, with the administration only being informed in advance of plans to install other devices. Municipal or inter-municipal authorities may adopt local advertising regulations to restrict the possibilities offered by the national rules. Safety concerns may also limit the possibilities of advertising along roadways.


Depending on the area, national regulations and local rules coexist; the municipalities define the conditions for the installation of advertising signs which are subject to a prior authorisation regime. The highway code limits, but does not prohibit, the presence of advertising along roads outside inhabited areas: restrictions apply in particular to devices likely to constitute a danger for road users; the authorities managing the roads (State, regions, municipalities) set the rules applicable to advertising media. Only protected sectors and the roads that serve them are forbidden to advertise.

United Kingdom:

While advertising is regulated by the Town and Country Planning Act (1990) and the Control of Advertising Regulations (2007), local authority planning boards and councils are responsible for controlling advertising. Depending on the case, the devices are not subject to any prior formality or, on the contrary, must be subject to a prior declaration or authorisation. The regulations are marked by simplicity and pragmatism, preferring case-by-case assessment to prohibitions or general rules; however, landscapes on the outskirts of city centres in particular do not seem to be well protected in terms of advertising.


Advertisements » (according to national legislative terminology) are regulated to ensure road safety (federal law and ordinance, cantonal regulations) and subject to prior authorisation. However, the presence of advertisements is not only considered from the point of view of the functionality of the roadways, but by considering the roadways as a public space that integrates the landscape dimension and the protection of sites. The legislative framework leaves little room for manoeuvre, with regulations being generally respected.

Some countries (e.g. France, Italy and the United Kingdom) have introduced a tax system for outdoor advertising which, as a deterrent, can help to protect landscapes from excessive advertising. It should be noted, however, that while the taxation of outdoor advertising makes it possible to limit its presence in the landscape, it can also have the perverse effect of discouraging any action that might be envisaged by these same authorities to ensure compliance with environmental regulations, particularly in times of budgetary difficulties for public authorities.

2.4. Limiting billposting and public freedoms

However, a number of factors should be taken into consideration in favour of a « measured » public approach to outdoor advertising:


Under the European Landscape Convention, the increasing importance of outdoor advertising, in its various forms of media, formats and technologies, in natural or urban landscapes, would justify that the signatory states of the Convention consider the adoption of various measures. Regulatory approaches on landscape grounds do not, of course, preclude other concerns from justifying legislative, regulatory or administrative interventions: road safety, protection of property owners, consumers, taxation and others. Even if it is possible to conceive of a « gradation » in the protection and enhancement of landscapes, it would seem worthwhile to favour a global approach in which all landscapes deserve protection with regard to outdoor advertising, rather than an approach that identifies sectors to be protected in a restrictive manner, with the rest of the territory allowing advertising to be more or less contained by legislation. Such a comprehensive approach could result from a combination of public protection, regulation and control measures.

Public protection policies

The most sensitive or vulnerable areas from a landscape point of view should be subject to significant protection from the intention to install advertising. This landscape sensitivity or vulnerability should not only take into account the occupation of the land (the natural, agricultural, forest or urban character), but also the superposition of the fundamental landscape (relief, hydrography, climate, etc.) and the perceived landscape (vanishing lines, curves, ridge lines, points of visual appeal, horizontality or verticality, mass effect, covisibility, view cones, visual fields, etc.).

These protections could thus concern in particular

The landscape inventories undertaken by the States Parties to the European Landscape Convention should make it possible to identify vulnerable landscapes, to formulate quality objectives with regard to the presence of advertising, and then to consider, in the light of these objectives, how to limit the risks of damage that advertisements or signs might cause.

Public regulation policies

Whatever their specific urban or architectural quality, built landscapes should only allow advertising under controlled conditions; the aim would be to limit « advertising excesses », for example by limiting the surface area, or even the number of devices, and by defining conditions for the use of advertising media (buildings, fences, special devices, street furniture, advertising vehicles, etc.). Special attention should be paid to « urban edges », given the challenges that these transitional areas between natural and urban areas represent for outdoor advertising near traffic routes ("city entrances"). National (and local) regulations should urgently take into account - if they have not already done so - the contemporary outdoor advertising media constituted by digital screens and large and very large format tarpaulins, in order to regulate their presence, which could otherwise be very rapidly and durably invasive in many landscapes. Depending on the institutional system of each State, it would be interesting if national regulations could be adapted by local authorities (provincial, regional, cantonal, communal, etc.), so as to adjust advertising and signage regulations to the specific characteristics of local landscapes; these local authorities could therefore be particularly relevant in ensuring that prior authorisations are granted, if necessary. Approximation of the procedures and regulations applicable to advertising and signs to those concerning town planning and construction would seem likely to encourage more consistent consideration of landscape concerns; some countries (notably the United Kingdom, Germany and Belgium) have already favoured this overall approach to urban landscapes and have integrated the law on advertising displays into town planning law. In accordance with the principles laid down in the European Landscape Convention, the definition of regulations - whether national or local - must allow for effective participation by all the stakeholders concerned, the public - since it is the public that « benefits » from the landscapes that should be preserved from excessive advertising and it is the public that is the « target » of advertising messages (the freedom to « receive » advertising messages can usefully be compared with the freedom of expression that is often emphasised) - but also the professionals concerned, such as bill-posters or teachers, advertisers or traders, local and regional public authorities, research and consultancy firms and other authors. Provisions to ensure the control of legislation Even if « no one is supposed to be ignorant of the law », the effective implementation of the principles of protection of the most sensitive areas and regulation of devices also requires that prohibitions and regulations be controlled, preferably a priori, within the framework of prior authorisations that many States have instituted (independently or not of town planning, construction or building authorisations), with, in most cases, real environmental effectiveness. These prior checks must also be followed by checks on the legality of the devices installed, enabling judicial or administrative procedures to be implemented to remove or bring into line devices that have been installed irregularly.


To go further


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