What is AdBlock Leeds?
We are a group of volunteers based in Leeds that aims to reduce the ever-growing number of ads that we see in our streets. We have a positive vision for Leeds where local communities and residents are empowered to chose how to use their public spaces with sustainability as a core value.
What’s wrong with ads?
Ads are incompatible with living sustainably and in a system centered on local communities. You can read more about this here. Some concrete examples of how outdoors advertising is detrimental to our everyday life are listed below:
- Promoting and normalising consumption in a context where we should be reducing our use of resources
- Coming with high energy use and greenhouse gas emissions
- Conveying sexist stereotypes, which likely increase body disatisfaction, depression and lower self-esteem among the young public
- Fueling social injustice by being more present in less wealthy neighbourhoods, with the associated negative impacts
- Negatively impacting small businesses and citizen participation by offering infrastructures only affordable by large corporations
- Threatening road safety witll large distracting billboards
- Manipulating the general public into buying their products
- Surveiling and microtargeting potential consumers, yet another mean of intruding our private lives
The list is long and doesn’t stop here, but hopefully it gives you an idea of what this is all about. If you want to go more in depth, AdBlock Bristol have designed pamphlets exposing some of the harms of outdoors advertisement.
Are you against all ads?
Definitely not! We don’t see anything wrong with the local band telling us when their next gig is, or with the grocery shop saying that their apples are on sale. But we don’t like that large corporations use huge digital billboards and manipulate us into buying junk food or polluting cars.
The limit between what is or is not acceptable is not easy to define and will vary from person to person, but it is obvious that some ads don’t fit a socially just and sustainable world. These are the ones we are targetting in our campaigns.
But don’t ads bring money to the Council?
Yes, Leeds City Council gets about half a million pounds a year from their advertising contracts (575,000 in 2020, source: Freedom of information request to the Leeds City Council). As a comparison, the health damage from cars has been estimated to cost £76 million to the city of Leeds, and the economic and social costs of alcohol-related harm are estimated to be a staggering £438 million. While it is hard to assess how many of these products are there because of advertisement, it is obvious that when assessing the financial benefits of ads we should also factor in their impact on alcoholism, gambling addiction, mental well-being and health in general. That is unfortunately not done at the moment.
Aren’t there many more ads online or on TV? Shouldn’t you focus on that?
One special thing about outdoors ads is that you cannot turn them off, unlike other types of ads. You can always turn off your TV or install an adblocker on your computer. But you cannot walk or cycle around closing your eyes. As the ad industry likes to boast about, “out-of-home advertisement is the only one you can’t turn off”.
But this does not mean that online or TV ads should not be fought against. Most of the issues with outdoors advertisement are a problem with those as well.
Ads don’t affect me. Why should I care?
That’s what you might think! But if ads were not effective, why would companies spend tens of billions of pounds on their campaigns? Advertising companies know that we don’t always pay attention to ads, but we can still remember them and they influence our consumer behaviour. The shift towards affective advertising (i.e. one that plays on our emotions rather than giving us factual information) also increases the chances of us being affected by ads even though we don’t recall seeing them.
But assuming that you are fortunate and concious enough to not be affected by ads, that is not the case for the vast majority of people. So you are still indirectly affected by all the harmful effects of ads we mentioned before.
Does it matter whether a billboard is digital or paper?
Yes, even though ad companies will often claim it is a ‘like-for-like replacement’ when they apply to change a paper billboard for a digital one. Here are some of the differences:
- energy consumption: a digital 48-sheet billboard consumes the same amount of electricty as 14 to 48 UK households, whereas a paper one is equivalent to up to 2.7 UK households (if they consume any energy at all). While it is true that a digital billboard will save paper and trips to change the advert, companies have not yet provided any Life Cycle Analysis that would show the full impact of a digital billboard in order to compare to a paper one
- amenity: digital displays are more visible and intrusive -especially at night- in the streetscape of the city. This has already been a reason given by the City Council to refuse application, when they stated for example that a digital billboard was “likely to be more visually strident than the existing sign due to its proposed digital nature” (application 19/07383/ADV)
Is there a chance to win?
Absolutely! Only in Leeds, between 2019 and 2020, about 25 digital billboards have been rejected by the city council. We’re not claiming that the objections from Leeds residents are the sole reason for the rejection, but it definitely helps. You can see examples here, here and here. We also managed to get two applications withdrawn after there were more than 25 objections by Leeds residents.
And some councils are taken some very promising steps, such as banning junk food, alcohol and gambling ads on council infrastructure in Bristol. Another very relevant example is the banning of tobacco advertisement, which is brilliantly explained in this podcast.
So how do you fight outdoors advertisement?
There are several things we do:
- objecting to planning applications for new billboards. Planning officers have a duty to read all comments so writing an objection is a good way to get our point accross. You can read more about that in this post.
- uncovering the harm caused by outdoors afvertisement. We do some research on what impacts they have and publish the information. For example, we wrote an article uncovering the electricty consumption of ads accross the UK.
- lobbying policy makers. By showing the true cost of outdoors advertising and organsing the resistance, we hope to bring this issue into the political agenda. AdBlock Bristol had some wonderful results with their council.
- proposing positive alternatives. Once we get rid of harmful advertising, what do we want instead? Ideas include art, green spaces, community projects… You can read about some of our ideas here, but it would be amazing to get input from you or your local community!
There is an huge billboard where I live, can I get rid of it?
Once a billboard is in place, it is generally very hard to get it removed. But there are some options, especially if the area has changed within the last years (for example if a new bike lane has been built). Get in touch with us, and we can have a look at it.
I’m in! How can I help?
Always keep an eye on our applications page or join the facebook group. That’s where we post about new applications, and we always need more objections. And if you want to get more involved, you’re welcome to become a member and join us at our monthly meetings, where we discuss our actions and strategies.
We look forward to hearing from you!