In an age of ever-increasing specialization, with the media focusing on smaller and smaller slices of population, many new and pioneering methods of advertising has been given birth to. The need to communicate a message in a split second to a viewer has not only made advertising creative and artistic, it has also made the advertisers a cruel lot, who in order to meet the required results are often seen compromising on public safety and security.

One of the most common yet effective mode of advertising that dot all major roads all over the country are billboards, which we have again twisted and turned in such a way that instead of being an asset, it is more of a perilous liability. When billboards were first posted, they expressed artistic creativity, informed the public of current events and served as constant reminders of national products…not so anymore though! Although this genre traces its origin centuries back with the advent of wall chalking, the new forms of billboards have undergone a metamorphosis of sorts in the last several years. Advancements in billboard technology – including vinyl & computerized painting, three-dimensional effects, backlighting, digital & LED technology, computerized lighting and more – boost billboards’ ability to capture viewers’ attention. Moveable message signs allow three different images or messages to show in succession on a single sign, greatly increasing potential revenue per sign.

As is known by all, advertisements are known to reflect the growth of a society and have been prominent indicators of the lifestyle of a place. For example, when you see a city like Karachi loaded with hoardings of brand names we may immediately draw the conclusion that the people of this city are able to afford these brand names and thus have money to spend. Hoardings serves a lot of purpose and aren’t exactly just a beautifying object. To advertiser, hoardings promise that the message will be delivered to the masses. To a commoner, who is too busy to catch up with what is going around him, hoardings are of immense help for they keep him updated with all that is important. Also authorities can use billboards to disperse information and warnings. Thus billboards have been used to help us do several important things and they can reach people when other medias cannot. Also aren’t they a pretty sight when you are stuck in one the famous traffic jams of Karachi??

But the story is not complete yet. Although all these flashy and multihued hoardings add colour to the surrounding but its effects are more hazardous than we realise. To start off with, the attractive hoardings inculcate an impulsive buying behaviour in the society. People end up buying what they don’t really need but find it impossible to resist the fancy that these advertisements induce. The last thing we need in our society is abnormal purchasing conduct of the citizens as a result of sense of deprivation. Disrupting the economic well-being to colour up the environment sounds a bit bizarre to me at least!!

Along with that, the content of certain advertisements can potentially hurt major sector or niche in the society. Racism, ethnicity, social status and other grounds for bias attitude towards people uses hoardings as a stepping stone. Also we are a nation which although has majority of followers of the same religion yet fight among themselves on religious grounds. Hoardings work like fuel to fire. It’s a piece of cake for influential people to paint up a board-as if walls weren’t enough- with insolent subject matter and initiate a series of unpleasant events that effect anyone but them. Just recently I faced embarrassment when my foreign relatives pointed out what we have accepted as a norm and don’t even notice anymore, the fact that this mode is actually being used to meet political purposes and instigate bitterness in our lives.

Next to misuse are the unsupervised PRODUCTS that are marketed through this medium. Tobacco, cigarettes, superfluous beauty products, indecently attired models etc disrupt the smooth flow which sways the social order. Mothers can keep an eye on what their children watch on TV but what can they do to protect their children’s naïve minds when they go to schools and catch sight of such impressionable billboards? For all the “no-west” ideologies that circulate in our society, we are remarkably unobjectionable to the artistic addition to our environment through these billboards.

Karachi, being the city of extremes, has weather that does justice to the adjective just associated with the city. We are used to scorching heat followed by heavy downpour, both within a few minutes. The problem that is posed is that we are not conscious enough to follow safety rules while erecting hoarding in the middle of the city and thereby enveloping the safety of city dwellers in jeopardy. These huge wooden, steel and iron billboards are hazardous to those moving and living underneath them. These are usually erected in crowded public places and busy roads so that potential customers can see them. However, these huge billboards are usually built without adhering to safety measures. Therefore, at times they cannot bear strong winds and collapse, injuring those underneath. Haven’t we witnessed enough of it when heavy rain washed our city and on its way, took some human lives with it too?? If you had the misfortune of being out on road, you could have seen how terrible it was when huge signboards fell in the middle of the roads, crushing lives that were ill-fated. Not only did it cause loss of mankind but the EFFICIENT KESC network of wires was brought down by these billboards. Just imagine…fallen billboards…stagnant water…broken wires causing water to electrify…dead bodies…it is more than enough to make a person shudder!

Moving ahead from that ghastly picture, we are all more than nicely acquainted with the problem of power failure. Many areas in the city endure electricity breakdowns for more than 5-6 hours, thereby bringing their life to a halt. And at the same time, billboards around the city are glimmering with 500W bulbs! The precious electricity is being used up by these billboards and commoners are driven back many ages where they have to light up a fire to assist their vision (just that now tires are used instead of stones and wood!)

Simultaneous to wastage of electricity is the fact that sometimes these billboards are imprudently erected in ways that cause vision problems for drivers. They cannot see ahead of them and the sight of scarce traffic lights is also obstructed. Also, these billboards distract the drivers, who end up smashing into their vehicle against the one ahead of them. We already have a sky-rocketing rate of road accidents and can do perfectly well without more instigators to acerbate this menace.

In a nutshell, hoardings can be very useful if safety measures are adhered to and the concerned authorities enforce strict rules for building billboards to ensure safety. Inspection teams should be made to inspect billboards on at least a monthly basis, and immediate fines made mandatory for defaulters. To reduce the threat as much as possible, these billboards must not be placed atop tall buildings. Also, advertisers should be more sensitive towards masses and make sure they hurt no one. And most importantly, we should commit to our memory that we live in ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF PAKISTAN!