“I am a billboard on the move,” says S.Shanuvas, an autorickshaw driver. His vehicle sports a promotional advertisement board of an arts festival in the city, on its rear.

“I get about Rs.40 a month. It is not much, but is a free source of income,” he says. Autorickshaws in the city on an average clock around 100 km a day and in the clogged, congested roads, offer vast scope for visibility.

With the Chennai Corporation banning the use of posters, murals, and hoardings on most arterial roads in the city since 2009, autorickshaws are emerging as an unconventional yet cost-effective medium for advertising.

The result is that slogans such as ‘Pennin thirumana vayadhu: 21' or “Do not pollute the air' have given way to strip ads that sell computer parts.

While setting up a hoarding on Elliot's beach might cost lakhs, an advertisement can be put up on an autorickshaw that frequently plies on beach road for as little as Rs.50 to Rs.100.

P.Suresh, an autorickshaw driver, says that festivals such as Deepavali and Pongal offer a lot of opportunities. “Garment outlets such as Co-optex come forward to replace the black top on our vehicles with a covering which showcases an Ad. In exchange, drivers usually get bit cloth (sic) for uniform or even T-shirt and jeans sometimes. If you put up a Vasanth & Co. Ad, you get a hot pack lunch box for free,” he adds.

However, drivers such as M. Palanival say that most do not bother to go collect the monthly payments. “Initially, a nominal amount is paid to put up the Ad. No one bothers to waste fuel and go after the advertising agencies after that. Many don't pay anything anyway. Advertisers are just using us.”

As for the legal framework, advertisement on vehicles is permitted only if it is authorised by a Motor Vehicle Inspector. He can grant permission, for a period of one year, based on the condition that the advertisement does not decrease visibility and hinder road traffic.

J. Seshasayanam, general secretary of Madras Metro Auto Drivers' Association says that advertisers have got it covered on that front. “Transport Department officials rarely fine us. Even if they do, we take the payment receipt to the agency and the fine amount is reimbursed.”

Roos Gerritsen, a cultural anthropologist at Leiden University (Netherlands) who is currently doing a study on Chennai's visual culture, says that with the Corporation prohibiting advertising on 3,000 stretches of public walls, the response from advertisers is “interesting”.

“They are exploiting cheap digital printing technology and finding creative means. As Chennai adapts itself to fit into political visions of a ‘modern' city, modelled after Singapore, a battleground is emerging in the use of public spaces,” she adds.

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Arts, Entertainment & EventsMay 14, 2012

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