The power of advertising was already recognized by the ancients, praising their goods and services on the walls and in papyrus manuscripts, but primarily in … oral form. However, we owe even the word “advertising” to exclamations shouted to attract the attention of customers – it comes from the Latin clamatio, ‘scream’. It was these screams that were the oldest form of presentation of goods. Over time, PR went in two directions: printing (press, posters and leaflets) and public space (traditional and neon signs, billboards). If for paper advertising the revolution was the invention of the press, and even greater – the emergence of a public press, then the design of signboards changed with the development of cities in the XIX century.

Trade engine

Cities grew, turning into vast and densely populated metropolitan areas with lively trade and fierce competition. Businessmen crawled out of their way to make their ads more visible and memorable. Signs became larger and larger, window dressing became more and more original, blank walls of houses were diversified by painted large-format advertisements, and soon neon invented in 1910 was adapted for the needs of trade and services. Thus, in the first half of the 20th century, street advertising turned into a mass phenomenon.

City Lights

By the number of outdoor advertising, Polish cities were in no way inferior to European ones. In interwar Warsaw, streets sparkled with neon lights. Luminous signs called for buying all kinds of goods from soap to the radio, reported on trendy cafes, boutiques, confectioneries and furniture stores. Neon signs – more modern and vibrant – attracted much more attention than traditional ones. Slogans for Polish entrepreneurs were written by Melchior Wankowicz, Wojciech Kossak painted posters, and while Julian Tuvim and Anthony Slonimsky fiercely parodied newspaper announcements advertising various products, famous actresses worked as models.

Advertising as part of the city

Despite the fact that the times of People’s Poland are hardly associated with mass consumption or the rapid development of commerce (the number of goods in stores gradually faded away), it was then that street advertising was at its peak. Since the late 1950s, a plan has been implemented to illuminate city streets using neon – Warsaw photographs from the 60s and 70s still amaze with dozens of shining advertisements and signs. Outdoor advertising “cheated” many famous artists. The design of signboards and window dressing allowed them to earn money, bypassing the politicized creative mainstream.

Signboard as a work of art

The signboard was taken seriously even by architects, historians and restorers responsible for the post-war restoration of the Warsaw Old Town. From the very beginning, they included in the district reconstruction project a clause on the need to recreate old ones and maintain the tradition of making new “luminous signboards”. These were signs typical of this part of the city on brackets attached to the facades of buildings (by the way, luminous signs were used in Polish cities as early as the 15th century!). The existence of advertising structures in Poland was not directly related to marketing, but rather to an understanding of the function of which a well-designed sign, traditional or neon, can fulfill in the landscape of a modern metropolis.

On the highest level

In the 1970s, in major Polish cities, their own neon or other characteristic signs set up most of the major enterprises – from shops and restaurants to newspaper offices, hotels and train stations – and all of them served as examples of great industrial design developed taking into account the profile of the company. Each institution took care of its unique, clear and clear logo. Signs on the signs of companies such as Społem, Orbis, E. Wedel, created by the best graphics, today are classics of Polish design. No less interesting are advertising murals. Large-format images on the facades and walls of houses in our time have become extremely popular and recognized as works of art, and then a similar technique was used for advertising messages.

Do it yourself

The development of street advertising in Poland, for obvious reasons, slowed down during the crisis of the 80s, in order to survive a real revolution in the next decade. The political transformation freed up the Polish business talents (or perhaps forced them to “take everything into their own hands”): in 1991-2001, the number of small firms in Poland increased from 494 thousand to more than three million. This alone is enough to understand that the advertising market was growing proportionally, because each company had to fight for a client and look for a way to it. On the one hand, advertising agencies created along the lines of American and Western European experienced a real boom. On the other hand, signs and billboards created by artisanal methods by the owners themselves, their relatives, or hired by low-skilled designers became the symbol of the early years of Polish capitalism.

Esthete’s nightmare

The fruits of amateur amateur production of billboards and signs of the 90s are noticeable today. At the initial stage of the development of a free market economy, the prevailing opinion was that supporting entrepreneurship means the ability to advertise everything and everyone – without formal and aesthetic restrictions, without respect for the architectural and natural ensemble. We are still faced with the consequences of that advertising euphoria when we are fighting for the dismantling of banners blocking the view of the Tatra Mountains, with dozens of artisanal signs hanging around historic buildings, and with giant billboards cluttering the city space. The city authorities and public organizations are trying to somehow curb this chaos, with a mixture of envy and nostalgia, recalling the days of People’s Poland, when there were many advertisements and neon signs in the cities, but they were all beautifully designed and decorated the central streets of the cities.

Advertising chaos

The city authorities are trying to develop a coherent concept and streamline outdoor advertising, but the first to take up the problem were caring designers. Since 2014, the Traffic Design association, based in Gdynia, has been involved in the re: design project, a program for changing external visual identification. In other words, they change all the ugly, banal, oppressive signboards to carefully designed, aesthetic and understandable ones. Designers do all this in close cooperation not only with manufacturers, businessmen, owners of outlets, but also with the local administration. Until now, Traffic Design has put its ideas into practice in Gdynia and Warsaw; their individual projects can also be seen on Leszno, Gostyni and Saint-Etienne streets.

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