This campaign demands ecologically “responsible signage” for our cities

Madrid-based design studio Point of Reference wants us to know that billboard advertisements and signs are a major contributor to environmental issues.

10 November 2021


Jeffrey Ludlow, art director at Point of Reference, thinks it’s time the out of home industry got a much-needed wake up call. Using digital mockups of OOH advertising campaigns as a way to “critique what we as designers rarely ever think about,” Ludlow and his team at Point of Reference have brought attention to how OOH signs, “although sometimes very thin, are a large contributor to pollution and environmental issues we are facing,” the director explains.

“The amount of waste generated on campaigns and communication in physical settings is something that we as designers should be more conscious of,” argues Ludlow. The campaign, with an ominous film motion directed by Lucía Venturini, tells us that an advert posted for one month will take 400 years to decompose, and asks us, “In this moment of survival, do we really need another ad?” These statements are boldly placed within pastoral settings, with cutouts of billboards lining the blue horizons and the green landscapes, suggesting adverts are “out of place” within a natural world.

“We as designers tend to see the individual sign, and not the large empire of signs that this industry really is,” says Ludlow. “We as creatives should be pushing for cleaner, more sustainable forms of communication whether it be OOH or digital OOH (which also consumes a large amount of energy).” Every two weeks in Europe, over six million square metres of poster paper are thrown out: “the paper is not recycled, the ink is not eco-friendly, and the glue used is toxic. Due to this, billboard advertising has a disastrous effect on the environment,” one study from the European Commission claims.

Point of Reference: Empire of Signs (Copyright © Point of Reference, 2021)

The campaign features a looping narrative format, which was a challenge to make. Ludlow wanted to make it “short enough to fit within an image format,” whilst providing “enough information to make people question their use of mockups and do further investigation into the OOH signage as an industry. Balancing the critique with the format.”

When seeking inspiration for the project, the team read into the history of out of home as an industry, with research headed by Ana Suárez-Anta. “OOH has existed since the Victorian ages, seeing buildings and public squares fully covered with layers and layers of advertisement was inspirational as a designer, but as a public citizen, somewhat appalling,” claims Ludlow. He says that what was truly inspiring was the knowledge that the current challenges of OOH advertising that we are facing today is nothing new, “and that in the past public outcry has led to legislation of the industry. We hope to be the tip of the spear in bringing attention to this topic and that history repeats itself in some form,” Ludlow continues.

GalleryPoint of Reference: Empire of Signs (Copyright © Point of Reference, 2021)

Response & Responsibility – Cop26

During the next two weeks, over 120 world leaders are meeting in Glasgow to agree on the actions needed to pull the earth back from the brink of a climate catastrophe. The most important conference of our lifetime, in response, we are exploring creative responses to the climate crisis throughout the duration of Cop26.

Read the full series

Hero Header

Point of Reference: Empire of Signs (Copyright © Point of Reference, 2021)

Share Article

About the Author

Dalia Al-Dujaili

Dalia is a freelance writer, producer and editor based in London. She’s currently the digital editor of Azeema, and the editor-in-chief of The Road to Nowhere Magazine. Previously, she was news writer at It’s Nice That, after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh.

It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.