Norm Kelly Meets Don Draper

Photo by Pedro Szekely
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If you watch enough city council, you’ll know that Councillor Norm Kelly (Ward 40, Scarborough-Agincourt) likes to make enough book recommendations in meetings to rival Oprah.

Some of these books are questionable, like the time he recommended one by the author of The Bell Curve, but today it was a good one: Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic.

Now, Councillor Kelly has a penchant for interpreting books differently than I do, as his frequent citation of The Warhol Effect to defund the arts attests. So today he used Vanderbilt to argue for the installation of LED advertising billboards, arguing that this wouldn’t have an impact on traffic as drivers ignore these external signals. (The motion passed 25-16, and the billboards won approval.)

This is a peculiar argument: defending advertisers by saying their industry is ineffectual at reaching drivers. While advertisers tell us their electronic billboards aren’t distracting, they also tell clients they’re really effective.

In the absence of thorough research on the matter, one blogger wrote the following on the subject:

And I can also imagine that [the Zeigarnik] effect might be served up by marketers as a bit of psychological juju to help sell their product: As opposed to a static billboard, whose message one would instantly absorb and then discard (as with one’s memory of traffic signs they’ve passed), some sort of narrative-in-progress might leave the driver/viewer hungry for a kind of resolution, “wanting more,” and thus dwelling more on the subject than they might have. But again, it’s hard to argue that the same stickiness that’s good for marketing would be good for driving.

In other words, if advertisers are being more truthful to their clients than the city, then these billboards are likely harmful to both safety and traffic flow (as well as light pollution and intangible arguments).

Oh, that blogger I cited? Tom Vanderbilt

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