Vassil Vidinsky

The History of a Façade (Notes on the geography of advertising in Sofia)

The History of a Façade (Notes on the geography of advertising in Sofia)
title: The History of a Façade (Notes on the geography of advertising in Sofia)
year: 2006
publisher: East-West
ISBN/ISSN: 978-954-321-584-3
language: english
author(s): Vassil Vidinsky
source: Interface Sofia, 2006, Sofia: East-West, ISBN: 978-954-321-584-3
supported by: relations, the German Federal Cultural Foundation

I am going to tell you two stories brought together by the theme of the image. The first is about a façade and the second (it has only been started) is about the geography of advertising in a city. I should make a warning, however, that this presentation/study has many self-contained parts, notes and digressions which seem not to bear any relation to the story but they are necessary with regard to the narrative.

And since both stories revolve around the concept of the image, perhaps it would be better to reveal my own theoretical prejudices first.

Theoretical framework
1. An image is a picture or/and a label.
2. An image can be drawn or described.
3. An image and its description are comparable but they do not fully overlap.
3.1. The description of an image should be presented as a possible scenario, not as the only possible image.
3.2. The description should incorporate the approach of assuming the opposite of the image (reduction ad absurdum) and of assuming the different of the image (reduction ad differo).
Note: One of the variants of assuming the opposite (or of the different) is the function of substitution.
3.3. The description of an image is socially more significant than the image itself.

Interface – from “interaction” toward “screen”.
And vice versa

Interface. What does interface mean and why does it mean this? The concept refers to many things but most of them contain the common idea of interaction. Here are several definitions: a) a connection between two different things; b) a shared boundary across which information passes; c) the connection between a user and a system (screen-keyboard); d) interaction between two computer programmes whereby translation takes place; e) procedures, codes and protocols which enable two entities to interact by means of information; f) the physical connection between the hard disk and the controller, and more specifically the type of signals that pass through this connection; g) that which is seen on the screen ...

There are more definitions but the most interesting question that arises after one acquaints oneself with them is how does point b) become point g)? How has “interaction” become “screen”? This question is important because “screen” is the everyday, “wrong” and mass use of interface (in practice this use has been strongly influenced by the idea about Graphical User Interface – GUI).
Why has the concept moved from “interaction, communication, translation, sharing” toward “screen, transmission, image”? It seems to me that this transition is so characteristic of the present that it could encompass the problems around every type of technology and it is banal if we express it in the following way: we approach technology with general incomprehension but we use it, hence we are (no longer) agents, we are users.
In the same way, just as we have turned the computer into interface, so have we turned Sofia into a screen. It is this transition (from the idea of interaction to the impossibility to realize it) that lies at the heart of the rupture between the image of Sofia and the inhabitants of Sofia.

Interface Sofia. However, I do not think that what I have described is fully accurate and I would like to show that “behind the screen” something is going on, and what is happening is “interaction” again: Interface Sofia = the Interaction Sofia. One could easily object: is not Sofia really only the central (capital) place for irradiation, a huge screen. After all, we do not have any control whatsoever over the image of the city, we are simply witnesses of the new architecture, of the increasing amount of advertisements, of the odd understanding of hygiene... This is obviously the case but I would like to peek behind the obvious, behind the image and to describe the interaction which I have noticed.

The interaction Sofia. Which is this interaction? Where is it?
Although this is not the subject of my study, I will provide at least two answers. The first will refer to the interaction between the past and the future, between two advertising worlds (part one). The second answer will elaborate on the interaction between advertising and people (part two). This is the other perspective on these two stories.

Part one
The façade and the image

The story. Perhaps sometime in the 1970s on the façade of a building on Georgi Dimitrov Boulevard (close to No 13) an unusual illuminated sign is placed: Bulgarian state cinematography, Cinefication Head Office – See the new films. 10 or 15 later years on the sign's lights do not work any more and the building needs some renovation. After another 5 years this image will stay there forgotten. Unnecessary, visible and forgotten.
It is only after the year 2000 that the sign disappears completely. But another one appears in its place: The world's best-selling lollipops – Chupa Chups. It does not have lights but it is colourful ... and lit up. The place is the same yet it is different. The advertisement already encompasses the neighbouring part of the building (the area is twice as large), but it is not seen any better (instead of Lenin's monument, there is the statue of St Sophia and some new business building). The address is different too – Maria Louisa Boulevard (next to No 13).

Explanation. These two advertisements are symptoms. In fact, they are not typical and it is not very accurate to call them advertisements, but they definitely are a diagnosis of the time period in which they emerged. There is a different motive behind each of them, a different aim, different expectations, a different culture. And the façade itself is the meeting point of these two different yet intersecting worlds, of these two conceptually different approaches both to the visual and to advertising. It is the areas of incompatibility and of intersection that I aim to identify. Or to put it differently – to see how they interact2.

The frameworks. This interaction has two sub-stories, two strands. The first is the one about the transition in advertising: from the slogan3 to the piece of news. The second strand is the transition in the image: from the name to the picture. The bearer of the slogan and the name is the advertisement “See the New Films”, the bearer of the piece of news and the picture is the advertisement “The World's Best-selling Lollipops”.
Both transitions are much more tangled and interesting than what I am going to present but I would like to outline their frameworks4 at least.

A. Framework One – the slogan is something that is chanted.

Of course, for every such chanting there have to be people, enthusiasm and some idea behind them. In addition, the slogan is power because (although it is not necessarily performative) it can be turned into a deed. The situation “speech into deed” holds true precisely because the slogan accumulates energy and contains an aim. In other words if an intention becomes a slogan, it can be turned into a deed as well. It is interesting that the advertisements of the “slogan” type do not believe in or count on precisely this sequence (“intention-slogan-deed”), but believe in and count on its opposite – “slogan-intention-deed”. And this means that just as people can make changes by slogans, so can people be changed by slogans. This type of advertisements believe that power is not simply in people but in the slogan. If an appropriate expression is found, it can change the knowledge (or the conscience) and be convincing. The “slogan” type of advertisement is not as predictable as I have described it but this is its first framework: the slogan contains power.

B. Framework Two – the name as a slogan.

Most outdoor advertisements from the 1970s and 1980s use the name as a mark of distinction and as a message. And nothing else but the name: “State Savings Office”, “State Lottery” (on the corner of Alabin Street and Tsar Kaloyan Street); “Kristal” (on the corner of Shesti Septemvri Street and Aksakov Street, the words are still there); “Valentina Fashion Studio” (58 Alabin Street); “Poultry Meat Shop”, “Reduced-price Goods Shop” (33 Stefan Stambolov Boulevard, previously known as Georgi Kirkov Boulevard); “Bulgarian Sugar State Company” – show-room (19 Ekzarh Yosif Street); “Second-hand Goods” (59 Maria Louisa Boulevard, previously known as Georgi Dimitrov); “Recycled Resources State Company” (on the corner of Maria Louisa Boulevard and Pop Bogomil Street); “Soviet Book” (on the corner of Alabin Street and Vitosha Boulevard); “Electrohome” (Dondukov Boulevard and Malko Tarnovo Street, and what was previously known as the Youth Theatre') and many other illuminated words: “Gifts”, “Repairs”, “Restaurant”, “Fashion”, “Fruits”, “Food Shop and Delicacies”, “Baby Food Shop”... These really are words, signs, and most of them refer to the category of the goods and not to the producer or a specific product (something natural in this type of economic situation). In this way the “Gifts” advertisement refers to a very wide and vague category (“use of products”) and it functions more as a sign of direction than as the advertisement that we are used to nowadays. Thus it becomes a pedestrian sign. Hence the second framework is the framework around the name. The name itself is advertising. The name is a slogan. The rest of the image (if there is a picture at all), does not contain any piece of news. It is sufficient if the side wall of the building has the pro-
prietary symbol (logo) and “Technoimportstroy” written on it.

Note: This second framework (the framework around the name) exists today as well. It used to be dominant but today it is by no means non-existent (see Coca-Cola and other famous brands). Nowadays it is a rare occurrence that somebody may decide only the
name to be present in the advertisement. If the company does not work directly with the consumers (i.e. the consumer is not their client), this is more likely but this kind of advertisement is considerably less frequent in urban environment. Another factor may be fame; then the name is sufficient. As a rule, however, there has to be “a picture” (there are unusual and hence very effective exceptions). “The picture” is not simply an image, it is a concrete depiction and it is this difference that is very significant. “Image” is the name and the place and the picture – all of this taken together and separately. What I would like to announce is that in contemporary advertising there is an increasing presence not of the image-like but of the pictorial.

Hypothesis: Perhaps the difference is that the name used to be a slogan and now the name has turned into a picture....

C. Framework Three – the piece of news is in repetition.

Now I am going to present the second type of advertising, which, in my view, is related to the concept of news. The value of a piece of news is that it arouses curiosity and causes activity. In this sense it can be functionally opposed to the slogan as I have described it. A piece of news realizes more easily what used to be expected from the slogan (and what people used to believe the slogan could do) – to generate action. In contemporary environment in Sofia this type of advertising is the most common one. Since many things can be labelled as “news”, the distinctive feature of the advertisement of the “piece of news” type is not the genre (dialogue, statement, poem or whatever it maybe) but the characteristic that the piece of news is announced. It is announceable. The consequence of this statement is obvious: in this case there can be advertising by word of mouth5.

I have also noticed that the piece of news is related to repetition. I would like to outline three kinds of repetition which refer to this type of advertising:

C1. Repetitive repetition

The first type of repetition shows the approach of the news. We constantly see one and the same (repetitive) advertisements that are pieces of news, they have been emitted many times, they have many locations. It is true that after a while they are replaced by others but these “others” also repeat themselves. And probably if the news is not repeated, it will not become news. Here repetition is only a means, and the skill when producing an advertisement shows if the advertisement does not become boring too soon.

C2. Repetition-spreading

The other type of repetition is also clearly visible – this is the very movement of the advertisement among people by word of mouth. The news is spread, multiplied and receives more and more power and trust. As I have already noted, the basis is announceability. The more times the news is repeated by people themselves, the more successful the advertisement. This is also one of the aims of the news.

C3. Repetition-change

The third repetition is the core of the news and this is what differentiates this type of advertisement from others. It is based on a faith6 that everything can remain in the same good position where it is, only if it changes. Let me just remind you of the trivial case of the constantly repeated phrase “new image”: it is precisely the idea of unceasing renewal of the image that is the basis of this type of advertisement. The essence of the news is the new.

And in order for something to be always new, its change should be unceasing. So the advertisement of the news type uses repetition as a means; on the other hand, one of its aims is also repetition, and in its essence lies the idea of repetition as well7. Here is an example – the advertisement is repeated and repeated again and again (C1) and if it is good, people repeat it too (C2). Then it is changed and all of this is repeated (C3).
All this I call the paradox of the news: it is simultaneously related both to the new and to what is repeated. 

Note: I would like to add something important – the piece of news is not only in the text or the name, the piece of news is contained in the whole image i.e. the picture is involved too. The best example of this is the label “new” which keeps appearing on products (it is customary to use bright, yellow or red rays placed around a centre that reads “new”). This is the emblem of this type of advertisement.

D. Framework Four – the story is something that triggers empathy.

I would like to also refer to the third type of advertising (after the slogan and the piece of news)8. Its basis is that the story is more than the piece of news. It can be an instance of empathy so “the real” advertisement should aim to be an event. If something happens, it ought to happen to you. Personally. That is why this type of advertisements seek their success in stories in which the consumer is a character. In things that involve them immediately. Most often these are advertisements in films (songs, books) or in organizing (not sponsoring) exhibitions, concerts, festivals, or award-granting ceremonies. In these circumstances there is no need for something to be turned into a deed (whether a slogan or a piece of news), the task of the advertisement is to create the deed9.

This is what contemporary advertising should be after the boom of love marks. What is necessary is a story or an event which would involve and engage people. And, of course, in this context what is of import is not the repetition or the piece of news but the personal, unique event. Yes, all of this seems more like wishful thinking rather than reality (especially in the context of Sofia), but it is good to have it as a framework. Just to keep it in mind.

The façade of the sign. The transition. So up to now there has been a transition in advertising: from the slogan to the piece of news, and a second transition taking place at the moment – from the name to the picture.

“See the new films” is a powerful image. However, it was powerful in the 1990s. In its context (1970s and 1980s) it has more of a background function and is not as unusual as we would think of it now. Although it must have been noticed (a lit-up sign in the centre of Sofia at a spot with clear visibility), it was hardly that efficient and definitely did not increase the audience of the new films. What is more – its adequacy with regard to the context up to 1990 devalues its effect (although this does not concern efficiency), and, conversely, its inadequacy in the 1990s increases its effect (despite the total lack of efficiency).

This image was really powerful in the 1990s. As part of an already old culture, these words with a lost context stick out more and more. The paint on the wall is flaking but they still call for watching the new films – an old façade with a lot of accumulated time in it. And the image becomes even more puzzling when it no longer functions.

And why this advertisement does not function in the 1990s? Is it because from a contemporary perspective it:

a) has never functioned; or
b) the changed context neutralizes it?
Neither of the statements is wrong (I have already supported the first possibility). Now I will look into the second one, into the disappearance of the environment, into the fact that
“See the new films” has outlived its space and time. And in this new chronotope this call is only a trace and simply history. This new state of affairs changes our attitude as well – we will observe the image as a museum exhibit and more as an instance of “art” than of advertising. Perhaps the real power of this image appears after the death of its environment.
Now it is informative because it has turned into an obvious and intrusive knowledge about past images.
But let us consider not just the fact that it has outlived its time but also the situation that it is a neglected image. That it has actually been abandoned by somebody and that this is its most important characteristic. It has been existing for ten years as a dead image in the “new” city but what is more important is that nobody removes it or restores it. This death, just as every corpse left unburied, has many meanings – it has symbolic and nostalgic value. It shows that there is no change but a transition toward change (a very slow and gradual movement). It shows that the old image of the city will disappear painfully. It shows that the crisis lies also in our attitude toward the city images from the past: these, monuments or rubbish, ought to be ... Instead of taking a conscious decision, we give it up and leave it in the hands of time (there are many buildings like that in the centre of Sofia whose fate is left to time, to slow decay). In short, this means that we cannot take a decision. This case can very precisely be described with the phrase “to be left to one's own devices”.

Yes, all of this is banal and is probably not new for the readers. The piece of news is perhaps in the follow-up of this advertisement. When its place is taken by the new, colourful and lit-up advertisement of Chupa Chups, the history seems to break. These two images (of the two advertisements) are incompatible and at the same time they are so close to each other in terms of time (it was just within a period of weeks that one advertisement replaced the other). And maybe the strangest thing is that in the final analysis the new advertisement, despite the different world that it represents, has something in common with the slogan that was buried long ago. The common ground lies in the joint image.
What is this image, what is the common ground of the two advertisements, what is the mat underneath them? I would put it in this way – the common ground is in the image of the 1990s, the old façade. I mean the old façade of the building. Why the façade of the building I am discussing (on Georgi Dimitrov/Maria Louisa Boulevard) has not been plastered, why it has just been painted? And behind (or, rather, in front of) the paint the other image sticks out – that of fatigue and neglect. The image of the flaky paint.
So at first sight one of the advertisements replaces the other but if we take a closer look we will see that they use the same background. And since we discuss the background, let me say a few words about that which is not visible – that which is not visible has no sense.
But it has a meaning. This is precisely what the background is. And I will call this hidden image, this unchanged background, the façade of the sign.
Substitutes. What I would like to present here is a theoretical experiment10. The aim is to understand better these two advertisements. To understand what their boundaries are, how far they reach and how they differ in spite of the shared façade. I will use the function of substitution and I will make imaginary changes to some parts of the picture or the words. The “newly-created” advertisement will be something like an indicator of the corrections, a point of departure through which we will find out about the original.

Substitution is probably the most powerful and boring part of the description that I offer – it presents the image as different and thus it becomes the same even more. I wanted to find tautology in the image. The place from which it repeats itself unceasingly, without variation.

The picture. What would be the difference if:
Substitution one: ..."See the new films" was hand-written? And did not point upward?

The sternness and universality of the image would be lost and instead individual significance would be ascribed to it, as a human and not institutional would be something more frivolous and funnier especially if it was read together with "Bulgarian state cinematography, Cinefication Head Office". If the words were not directed upward, the change would be minor but the good balance between direction and progress would be lost. Still, the latter remains a disputable observation.
Substitution two: ..."Chupa Chups – The World's Best-selling Lollipops" was in sans serif lettering, directed upwards? Again a change in the slant would be small (even smaller than in the previous substitution), but the font would distance the children target audience. Although this is a generalization, the sternness would be superfluous – after all, it is about lollipops and this is by all means the most important thing for the producer.
Substitution three: ...the 1970s advertisement had bright yellow and red circles or flowers?
In other words, let us add the new “background” to the old words. In the 1970s this would have been kitsch. It seems unlikely that a state institution (even if that were Cinefication) would have associated itself with such an image11. Substitution four: and how would the world's best-selling lollipops look only in white and blue and combined with a more stern arrangement and with a more economical composition? In other words, let us add the old background to the new words. It would look more stylish perhaps but this would definitely miss the colourfulness of the lollipop.

The words. Similar (or even clearer) would be the substitution with regard to the textual part of the image. Since I realize that it would not be appropriate to include long lists here, I will only offer the easiest examples without offering comments so that the readers can consider the difference on their own.
What would be the difference if:
Substitution one: “See the most seen films”
Is it possible that these lit-up words appear on 13 Georgi Dimitrov Boulevard (close to Lenin Square) in 1978? And – regardless of the answer – why?
Substitution two: “Buy the new lollipops...” but without any reference to any brand. Can this appear anywhere in Sofia tomorrow?
Substitution three: Just “See Films”. Or the similar substitution four “Chupa Chups – Lollipops”. What would be the difference with regard to real advertisements?
There are several more ridiculous substitutions but they are interesting too.
Substitution five: “20th Century Fox – See the New Films”. The year is, say, 1972 in Sofia. Or the respective substitution six: “Bulgarian Lolli – the World's Best-selling Lollipops”, 2002, Sofia. The fifth sounds absurd in terms of ideology and the sixth – in terms of facts.
And what would happen in this case – substitution seven: “See the New Bulgarian Films” (or “See Bulgarian Films”). Analogous is the eighth substitution – “Chupa Chups are the World's Best-selling Lollipops”. In the last two examples the differences are minimal (these examples are possible), but it is in them that one can see best the boundaries, genres and acceptability of the two advertisements.

The interaction-conflict: in correspondence with the above substitutions, here are several statements that stick out as conclusions and which again present interaction albeit based on conflict.

1. The lollipop vs. films. Both are closely related to free time and leisure. Neither of them is too typical for its time to be presented as a mark of distinction but there is something really significant in the change. I do not mean to say that the time of films has been replaced by the time of lollipops. But now films are (still) not advertised by means of permanent signs on buildings. Nor did lollipops use to take whole side-walls...

2. The product vs. the category. In the first case a category (films) is advertised while in the second we have a product (Chupa Chups). I think that this is not only symptomatic but also typical.

3. The boast against the appeal. Despite all the conventionality, both images function as recommendation. There advertisements but in terms of genres the first is an appeal and the second is a boast.

4. Why vs. Why. Case one: “And why should we see the new films?”. The answer to this question is contained in the name (Bulgarian state cinematography, Cinefication Head office). That is why12. In fact, there are no other reasons except the name and the natural (progressive or fashionable) tendency implying that what is new is valuable13. Case two: “And why Chupa Chups?”. Because they are the best-selling; or in other words, I buy Chupa Chups, because they sell well. The answer is clear and articulated. While in the first case the “why” attempts to reveal the slogan, in the second the “why” is a constitutive part of the advertisement.

Final notes: Finally, I would like to point out one more difference between the two advertisements extrapolated from the substitution. The difference is with regard to the future.

1. Bulgarian State Cinematography, Cinefication Head Office – See the New Films.

This advertisement aspires to being always topical. If it is always lit-up and well-maintained, it will always be “true”. The unforeseen in this case is that when the context is changed, the topicality is archived. At least up to the year 2000. Afterwards this advertisement simply disappears, the archive was burnt. Unnoticeably and somehow naturally, at that. What is more, this advertisement is unlikely to appear again. Yes, every advertisement sooner or later disappears but in this case my feeling is that a whole type of advertising, a whole image of the city disappears...

2. The World's Best-selling Lollipops – Chupa Chups.

This advertisement aspires to being always topical. If it is always lit-up and well-maintained, it will always be “true”.
It seems that there is nothing left unforeseen in this case14. There is a statement in the advertisement, a very certain statement which, with its constant presence there, seems to confirm it. But this advertisement is doomed not by the disappearance of the context (as in the previous case), but by its absence – by competition and the necessity to always have something new. It is another issue that every advertisement that turns into a background, at some point stops reinstating the money invested in it. This “new” place (on 13 Maria Louisa Boulevard), after the respective changes around it, has instantly
become more background in nature, especially considering the shabby garage in front of
it and the flaky wall.

Excourse – the other images of Sofia

There are many other interesting images of the city: if you move along Maria Louisa Boulevard toward Lion's Bridge after the crossing with Ekzarkh Yossif Street (next to Halite) there is an impressive device to the left, on the roof of the buildings, which is a huge set of traffic lights. It has explanations about the meaning of every light. Apparently, it used to work.
Or another image – on Garibaldi Square close to the columns (on the north east sidewalk) for several years a sapling is blooming and growing right from the building (recently it has become a tree). This phenomenon is not to be underestimated – in many places in the city nature has settled in on buildings or pavement stones in the shape of moss, grass or trees.

All these images combine the old and the new together. An oldnew Sofia which simultaneously allows the trendiest to be in immediate proximity with the old and the shabby15.

Part II
Initial notes on the geography of advertising

This second story about the image looks into the different types of outdoor advertisements (side wall advertisements, billboards, pavement panels, printed paper sheets, etc.) and the aim is to offer an initial general perspective on the geography of advertising in Sofia.

I approach this study as the foundations on which a map of the visually sensitive places in Sofia can be drawn. I hope that the fact that the study is in its initial stage would not seem like a justification but like a warning. What is characteristic (and banal) about the external advertisements is that they are not evenly presented in the urban environment. In fact, it is the residential areas that determine the type of external advertisements and it could even be said that areas differ among themselves and form hierarchies according to their common advertising environment, and with time they acquire a local advertising image.

In an attempt to make a preliminary scheme of advertisements in Sofia, I came across a lot of cases that fell in a similar category – some seem comic, others look simply cheap, yet still others seem overdone and somehow pretentious. I wanted to systematise the advertisements according to areas (I had a hypothesis about where we could find what kind of advertisement)... But this study turned out to be much more complicated than I had anticipated. It was not complicated in terms of gathering material but in terms of explaining it. Still, this preliminary scheme might be useful.

Working vocabulary. Here I include several advertising “terms” together with their definitions because I would like to stick to some clear terminology.

Billboards – these are illuminated constructions (4x3 m) in urban environment; see for example Eagle's Bridge and Tsarigradsko Chaussée.
Pavement panels – these are billboards for pedestrians, they are internally illuminated advertising boxes on sidewalks or pedestrian zones at human height level (1.2 to 1.8 m); see for example Vitosha Boulevard.
Outdoor advertisement of the europoster type – non-illuminated billboards (5x2.4 m) whose medium is paper and which are mounted on the façades of residential buildings; see for instance Graf Ignatieff Street and Rakovski Street (the intersection with Gurko Street).
Side wall advertisements – advertisements which are painted directly on the side walls of buildings; see especially the Lyulin and Mladost housing estates.
Printed paper sheets – huge paper advertisements that are glued to the fences around construction sites; see the Stochna Gara area and any large fences.
Textile posters – textile advertisements hanging usually on strings or wires; they can be seen at any large crossroads for example at Pette Kyosheta.
Plates – ordinary plates, usually on the shopping and smaller streets.

... and others – all the other free cards, stickers, posters, advertising graffiti, signs, patterns; they do not have special places and usually they squeeze in among the other advertisements which is of considerable significance for the image of the city.

General map. This is how I think Sofia looks after several tours:

A. Centre, or first radius – about 2-3 km from the so-called largo (to the north – up to the Stochna Gara canal, to the south – up to the Vassil Levski Stadium, to the west – up to Opalchenska Street)
B. Second radius – it encompasses the residential areas after the first radius (up to the Ivan Vazov area to the south, Serdika area to the west, Banishora area to the northwest, Hadzhi Dimitar to the Northeast up to the big housing estates Mladost and Lyulin, and to the south up to the upper part of Lozenets. In the northern part things are different because there this second radius is missing...
C. íhird radius – the housing estates – Lyulin, Mladost, Studentski Grad, Obelya, Ovcha Kupel, Nadezhda...
D. Fourth radius – the suburbs of the city, before and beyond ther ring road, and Benkovski area to the north.

Much more precise would be a description which is less geometrical (although I will try to show the relativity of this “geometry”), but rather typological (visually it would look like an asymmetrical jigsaw puzzle)16. Otherwise, realizing the spotted nature of this geography, I will take the liberty to include in every radius several characteristic spots – spots with different levels of advertisement saturation.

Initial variant: First I will offer several general statements and then several specific observations on the radii of Sofia.

1. As in other big cities, the road arteries to the centre have the characteristics of the centre itself and their image does not depend on the degree of remoteness (for example, the strange highway called Tsarigradsko Chaussée which reaches the very centre of the city!?).

2. Street advertisements are placed where people pass by not where they live. (This contrast is especially clear in the second radius).

3. The outdoor advertisement is in the street – this is mostly street culture (this is why it contains some interaction unlike the TV or radio commercials, which are pure radiation without the possibility for feedback).

A1. Obviously, the centre is more saturated with advertisements.

A2. The advertisements there are varied in terms of genre but a distinguishing feature is the light, they are either lit-up or emit light. Typical are: billboards and panels; also – posters and plates.

A3. All the bigger scandals take place mostly in this radius.

B1. This radius has residential areas where there are almost no advertisements. I do not mean billboards (as a rule, these are not placed in residential areas), but the lack of side walls, advertisements of the europoster type, printed paper sheets and even visibly less posters and plates.

C1. After the centre, this is the second radius in terms of saturation. First, this is because of the architecture of the housing estates (there are some wide open-space areas), and second because of the target group (the illusion for the larger volume and younger target audience).

C2. Studentski Grad has an image which is similar to that of the first radius. The difference is in the relatively larger presence of “night” (light-emitting) advertisements compared to the other representatives of the third radius (C).

D1. Plates are dominant here. Billboards are missing, in fact we are still in the city but already outside it.

D2. In the last radius the advertisements are more recent compared to the middle radii of Sofia. In other words, the last radius and the centre have a similar recent history. This seems interesting.

D3. In the last radius there are many more old (neglected) advertisements compared to the middle radii of Sofia. íhus the image of the last radius (see D2) becomes one of the most interesting. 

BCD. The advertisements in these three radii are mostly not lit-up. And when night comes, the housing estate is shrouded in darkness. This is why in fact there are only daytime advertisements and daytime interaction.

CD. Advertisements on façades are in places where people live but mainly after the first (and second) radius of Sofia.

The interaction. The most strongly manifested is the interaction between people and advertisements in the first radius17. Most often, however comic it may seem, is the interaction between people and “panels” – scrawling, writing, drawing or breaking. Sometimes there are even systematic counter-campaigns. For example, the Mary Jane – “No Marijuana” that used to be so topical had a graffiti part (the graffiti were mostly in the first radius of Sofia), which was at some places very skilfully turned into an appeal for legalizing marijuana. Often there are responses to the Flirt vodka advertisements, mostly by denudation or “denouncing” of sexuality. Responses have been caused also by the new “external” media – free cards. Now most advertisers have even started using precisely the idea of interaction and seem to expect the consumer to be active toward the advertisement.

What is more, in recent years an advertisement sometimes cannot take place without participation of the consumer. Something has to be pulled, placed, cut – and it is this game of interaction that creates the advertisement itself.
This whole enumeration has only one objective – I think that the advertisement itself aims at interaction and tries to get the consumers to participate in it. In this way Interface Sofia is a product of advertising too – not as a screen, but as interrelation18.
It is precisely this type of interaction that I am talking about and not about the possibility for social control over the image of Sofia. In other words, the interaction takes place according to the rules of the advertiser, and the consumer only has the opportunity to ruin the game by not taking part. Or to change some of the rules by resisting (breaking, tearing and scrawling can serve as examples for such changes).
As far as the social control over the image of Sofia i.e. whether we have the opportunity to
choose how our city (would) look or whether others will choose for us, I would ask “Who are we?”19

Excourse – final plates

Earlier I wrote that “...every advertisement sooner or later disappears but in this case my feeling is that a whole type of advertising, a whole image of the city disappears...”
And since this is obvious, I would like to doubt it. Has the image of the city really that changed?
Besides the common image of the old façade (which unites the end of the 1980s with today), there is another common thing – the survival and in fact the revival of the plate. All institutionalized sign-advertisements (as part of the slogan type of advertisements), now have turned upside down and exist as a multiplicity of private images. The city is packed with colourful signs of directions with different fonts, placed on top of one another, over-
lapping, outgrowing one another, sticking out20... It is the invasion of the plates that is one of the symptoms of the new Sofia and I even think that it is one of the most significant visual changes which we come across in everyday life.
Finally, I would like to say that the plate and the old façade are (the symbols of) the transition itself.

A summary of the main points of the two stories

1. There are two transitions that I perceived: the first is the transition in advertising – from the slogan to the news. The second is the transition in the image – from the name to the picture.

1.1. The “slogan” type of advertisement believes that power is to be found not in the people but in the slogan.

1.1.1. A large part of the slogan type of advertisements have survived so far but they are slightly changed as plates. They are more like pedestrian road signs (like in the old time).

1.2. What I would like to announce is that in contemporary advertising, in the advertisement of the “news” type, there is an invasion not of the image but of the pictorial.

1.3. The event type of advertising is yet to appear.

2. The crisis of the image is a crisis of our attitude toward it and most of all toward the urban images from the past. Do they have to be monuments or rubbish?

2.1. The process accompanying this crisis can be very precisely conveyed by the expressive phrase “to be left to one's own devices”21.

3. In the final reckoning all these images combine the old and the new simultaneously. An oldnew Sofia that simultaneously allows the most modern to be next to the old and the shabby.

3.1. This oldnew Sofia has two main images – the plate and the old façade. And these are, in fact, the images of the transition.

4. The geography of advertising is not radial (subordinated to the radii that I have defined), it is more of a jigsaw puzzle. And one of the important features of the jigsaw puzzle is that there is a gap between the image and the elements that make it. This is where the game lies.

4.1. Street advertisements are placed where people pass by not where they live.

4.2. The road arteries to the centre have the advertising characteristics of the centre itself.

4.3. The advertisements in the housing estates are mainly “daytime advertisements”.

5. Interaction is part of the advertisement itself and consumers can choose whether to interact or to change the rules (in the latter case they are no longer consumers but agents).

6. Sofia is “interface” – both as a screen and as interaction. It is a screen because the image is power, and it is interaction because this type of power seeks interaction. This is how power grows stronger but at the same time it is denuded too.

6.1. The civil control over the image of Sofia is most probably a myth. And this can be seen even in the question: Who are we who want power and control over the image?

And the answer I leave to you.


1. I would like to thank the team of New Moment New Ideas Company (Saatchi & Saatchi), where I spent two memorable years between July 2002 and June 2004. I learnt a lot there about advertising, about design, about visual hygiene, about the fight with clients, about the technical aspects, about the backstage of advertising. I would like to thank in particular the people from whom I stole professional knowledge and who tried to teach me how to use it – Ida Daniel, Assya Mineva, Anetta Denovska and Emil Zakhariev. I thank Boryana Zheleva for clarifying some technical details and concepts. I thank everybody else – I am glad that we were together. In this text I wanted to combine the two fields I work in – advertising and analysis. As well as to add to this my continuous interest in Sofia.
2. In this presentation I am not interested in whether the advertisement is good or not. It is a fact that neither of the two can be found in a catalogue of excellent ideas. Naturally, this does not mean anything about their value but it is a symptom too.
3. In this case the social-political sense of the word is relevant and it is the German word Losung that can express the meaning best. It is important to note that Losung is not used as a term in advertising.
4. The transition can be one – from a slogan to a piece of news – but there can be several frameworks of this transition.
5. For the sake of comparison – chanting a slogan by word of mouth would be rather eccentric behaviour.
6. It is important to note that this belief is not shared by everyone who creates advertisements.
7. Or in other words, the advertisement ought to be repeatable in order to become a piece of news; it ought to be repeated by people in order to be efficient and besides its change ought to be repeated in order to be topical.
8. As it is clear, these advertisements can also exist simultaneously although it is possible that one of them is more widespread or typical.
9. In this case the advertisement will not be a piece of news – it will be a profound experience.
10. I have presented substitution as an analytical method in the article “What did the author mean to say?”, published in Kultura weekly, 25 August 2000.
11. One cannot help noticing the aggressiveness of the slogan and the discretion of the picturein “See the New Films”. This is how this image as a whole is less obliging.
12. No, it is not easy to give just one answer because the question is not one: why should we see films? Is it because they are new? Or because they are offered by Cinefication Head Office?... But there is no place for this game here.
13. This is a very interesting proximity to the news type of advertisement which has placed the new on a pedestal. So the slogan type of advertisement is not far from this ideology although it does not observe its basic visual principle – the constant (trivial) renewal of the image.
14. Such is the illusion of the present. After all, it is the unforeseen that cannot be foreseen.
15. Perhaps it is these two things together (the new advertisement and the old façade) that create the sense of kitsch...
16. But in order for a good typological description to be made, a longer and more competent study is necessary. Here I mean the special competence of the sociologist.
17. Outside the people-advertisements pair, the interaction with the image of Sofia is visible through the periodical and systematic drawing of graffiti. Here dialogues, conflicts or pure decoration can be seen. This is an inseparable part of Interface Sofia, but it is outside the area of advertising with which I am dealing. Otherwise this is an obvious interaction with the images around us.
18. Let me also remind that together with the love mark, there is the idea about advertising as event. It is on this basis that the interaction is generated.
19. To be more precise who are we who want power but do not have it?
20. The plates are not a trademark of the first radius only but their presence there is certainly the most
saturated, especially on the side streets off the main ones.
21. If from “to be left to one's own devices” a concept is constructed, instantly the reasons for generating the new hierarchy will be expressed as well as the neglect of the past and the lack of orientation in the system and the power of “going with the flow”. But this is in the scope of another study.

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Vector. ICA-Sofia: Motives, Analyses, Critique is a project by the Institute of Contemporary Art - Sofia.
The project is realised with the financial support of the National Fund Culture, Critique Programme