Red or blue? Hanoi's advertising billboards and a most curios case of urban planning

By Pham Van, Kim Thuy   May 18, 2016 | 07:35 pm GMT+7

Talking about Hanoi is talking about the organized chaos that makes the city stand out: the traffic, the billboards, the alleys and the people. An urban jungle in the truest sense of the phrase, with ruthless rules of its own, makes any attempt to re-organize it nearly a mission impossible. However, the latest initiative to clean up the advertising industry is perhaps a step too far, as reflected by the outcry it has caused among local businesses.

Le Trong Tan Street. Photo by VnExpress/Ba Do

Le Trong Tan Street. Photo by VnExpress/Ba Do

There was a time when no specific regulations applied to the position or size of signposts and shopfront advertising. Businesses were free to use their own inventiveness and tourists were left awed at the intricacy of designs found nowhere else on earth. But now Le Trong Tan Street, newly renovated in Thanh Xuan District under the extravagant sponsorship of Vietnam’s biggest real-estate company, Vingroup, has succeeded in making all the signposts uniform.

‘Surprised’ is the dominant emotion that appears on the faces seen along the street, both on residents and passers-by. But the biggest surprise lay in store for the businesses that line the street.

Le Trong Tan Street. Photo by VnExpress/Ba Do

Le Trong Tan Street. Photo by VnExpress/Ba Do

Red or blue, s’il vous plait!

After nearly two months of construction, Le Trong Tan Street now features 7.5 meter wide pavements, LED lighting systems, trees, flowers and a line of advertising boards available only in two colors.

Photo by VnExpress/Ba Do

Photo by VnExpress/Ba Do

VND1.7 billion ($76,000) is the sum generously poured into the street by the sponsor to make it look like it’s been designed with 3D glasses on, with each blink equal to a billboard hung. 

A vote was reportedly held with the attendance of all residents over the decision to make all shopfront signs either blue or red. Despite that, cafe owner Hoan Chau was more than a little astonished when local officials visited her shop to ask what color she would prefer, happily announcing that the plan had been approved by the people. 

Centralized planned creative industries?

The prospect of a future void of designers has also provoked an awkward fear among the design community, who will be the first group to take a pounding if the pilot project takes off.

Fear leads to defense, and the artists, of course, turn to art as their first means of expression. Heavily photoshopped pictures filled with all kind of sarcasm flooded the internet the week the street opened, ranging from Time Square riddled in red and cyan billboards to luxury brand tryouts under a 3D filter. 

"Model" cover and "movel" avatar. Photo: Facebook

"Model" cover and "model" avatar. Photo: Facebook

Time Square invaded by binary billboards. Photo: Facebook

Time Square invaded by binary billboards. Photo: Facebook

 
These brands haven't landed any deal for a place on this street, but if it happened...

The brand hasn't landed any deal for a place on this street, but if it happened...

Keeping their own identities!

Regulations make it crystal clear and "much more specific than needed," said Hoan Chau.

To keep her cafe's original billboard, Chau had to shuttle between different agencies for nearly two months.

The cafe with original billboard. Photo by VnExpress/Xavier

The cafe with its original billboard. Photo by VnExpress/Xavier Bougois

"I am sick of inspectors who storm in to convince us to follow the regulations."

Chau had to resort to intellectual property law to protect her coffee billboard.

"I support the city's policy to make the billboards uniform. But I think the city should only regulate their size and where we can hang them, not the color and the content," she said. "Many residents are joking that there will be more accidents on the street as people zero in on the billboards to find an address without paying attention to the road,” the cafe owner added bitterly.

One fashion shop owner complained that they are welcoming less customers because people think the store is a fake one because it no longer has an original and distinctive billboard. "We plan to move to another street if we are not allowed to hang our sign back up," he said.

Hanoi has already tried to apply a regulation to make all billboards uniform but the project failed miserably as no one complied with the direction.

Hanoi has plans to apply the model to other streets and even the whole city if this archetype can convince the city that it's not a flop. Can you imagine a day when Hanoi streets are adorned only in red and blue? You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. And that's what John said, not me.

Le Trong Tan Street. Photo by VnExpress/Ba Do

Le Trong Tan Street. Photo by VnExpress/Ba Do

 
 
go to top