September 3rd, 2008

Electronic Billboards to Appear in Venice's St. Mark's Square

By Emma Hall
Advertising Age

Historic St. Mark’s Square in Venice could soon look more like New York’s Times Square when giant electronic advertising billboards appear for the first time in the piazza’s 900-year history.

Described by Napoleon in the 19th century as the “finest drawing room in Europe,” St. Mark’s Square, like much of the Italian city of Venice, is in need of major restoration work. Venice officials are looking for advertisers to help fund some of the cost and are offering them immense billboards on the scaffolding hiding the ongoing restoration.

‘Simply necessary’
“It is neither ugly nor beautiful but simply necessary,” Massimo Cacciari, the mayor of Venice, said in a statement. “We are forced to move in this way because we have limited resources. We need to take care of the buildings and monuments that make up the artistic beauty of Venice, but to do so we need a hand, and the city’s cultural authorities are looking for sponsors.”

It’s unclear how the city is going about finding advertisers, or how much the billboards will cost, but there appears to be interest. “The screens in St. Mark’s will be a great chance for high-end brands to reach a largely upscale audience,” said Mike Segrue, global chief client officer at Kinetic Worldwide, an out-of-home company owned by WPP Group. “The careful vetting of copy and creative should allow Venice city council to retain some control and, of course, in the end important renovations will be completed. It is probably a relatively harmless necessary evil.”

Restoration work has been planned since the 1950s on the Marciana Library, the Mint and the Napoleonic Wing of the Procuratie, home to dozens of cafes and bars.

Ad-free until now
St. Mark’s Square, also known as Piazza San Marco, is the heart of Venice, famous for its pigeons (which are responsible for a lot of the damage), the Basilica and the 325-foot-high Campanile bell tower. The plaza has been advertising-free until now and is even policed by “decorum” patrols, whose job is to prevent frazzled tourists from removing their shirts or picnicking in the piazza.

Five screens, each measuring 2,250 square feet, will be hung on scaffolding to hide the work that is taking place behind them. No advertisers have been confirmed, as the billboards have not yet received official approval.

The restoration work in St. Mark’s Square is expected to take at least six years to complete and is being carried out by Remedia Limited, a firm based in Malta, and Italian company Gerso Srl. 


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