Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Sony Cited Over Illegal Ads In Philadelphia

Somebody at Sony management needs to buy a clue. Or at least staff their public and community relations groups with people who know how to do their jobs. And maybe a few lawyers as well, so they notice the legalities of what the corporation is doing.

On the heels of the debacle of Sony loading music CDs with Digital Rights Management (DRM) that infected the operating system of the PCs the CDs were loaded on, Sony is now facing the ire of the City of Philadelphia, and its citizens over a new ad campaign that uses graffiti-style ads on buildings to push product awareness of the new PlayStation Portables product. The ads were placed into public spaces without regard to either the prevailing attitude of the city, and its citizens, or the legality of permits and zoning.

Many cities are exerting more control over outdoor advertising, restricting height of billboards, placement and style of marques displayed and text included. Outdoor advertising is being seen more and more as a "quality of life" issue for communities, with some of the older painted-on building ads preserved as historical artifacts, along with the restrictions or elimination of billboards and other outdoor ads. Often at stake is investment in the communities by outside interests that see an overerabundance of billboards and other product advertising as indicative of a lack of local investment in the communities, as well as a measure of civic pride.

The people of Philadelphia have pride in their community, and want to keep their city attractive and livable. And they are not happy with Sony at all, viewing the corporation as being arrogant and insensitive to the community and the wishes of its citizens.

From the LA Times article on the story ( "Sony Draws Reproach Over Graffiti-Style Ads" )
PHILADELPHIA -- Graffiti and billboards are sensitive topics in this densely packed city, where municipal officials and community groups have joined forces in recent years to crack down on advertisers that had blanketed low-income neighborhoods with ads for beer, liquor and action films. The city prides itself on the hundreds of murals that decorate walls and buildings once smeared with graffiti.

In addition, Mayor John Street has waged a campaign to clean up the city, mounting programs to erase graffiti, clean up vacant lots and tow abandoned cars.

So, many in the city took offense when what appeared to be graffiti on building walls in inner-city North Philadelphia in recent weeks turned out to be what many consider even more annoying --- stealth advertising.

The caricatures depicted wide-eyed children playing with video toys. They were part of an advertising campaign by Sony Corp. for its PlayStation Portables, disguised as graffiti to appeal to the urban hip-hop generation.

Anti-graffiti activists were incensed. Graffiti aficionados were appalled. One of the three downtown ads was painted over, apparently by an anti-graffiti watchdog group that may or may not have realized it was an ad.

And last week, the city cited Sony for violating sign ordinances and ordered the company to remove the ads or the city wound take them down. Sony was warned that it faced fines for posting ads without a permit.

"They are not only illegal -- they are disrespectful to the community," Joe Grace, the mayor's communications director, said of the ads in an interview Friday. "We believe in removing urban blight ... and now we have a major corporation come in and just throw up ads without approval."

Grace said the city had not heard back from Sony, and public relations officials for the company did not respond to requests for comment Friday. Recently, a Sony spokeswoman told Wired magazine's website that the ads were aimed at "urban nomads, people who are on the go constantly."

Neither the product name nor the Sony brand is mentioned in the ads, which anti-graffiti activists say have appeared in six other cities, including New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

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