Archaeological fieldwork in front of the UofT Bookstore. Photo credit/ Paulina Saliba
Archaeological fieldwork in front of the UofT Bookstore. Photo credit/ Paulina Saliba

From the hallways to the streets, bulletin boards provide a platform for print advertising of an old kind, and almost for free. Designed by a German printer in 1854, cylindrical columns were meant to tidy a city by organizing graffiti and advertising, which had run rampant around poles scattered around.

The content on these columns contend for the eyes of passersby in different ways; they using provocative questions, slick design, or sometimes just plain text. Some columns, like the one outside UofT Bookstore, are noticeably larger, and thus more popular with advertisers than others.

The high levels of pedestrian traffic at the corner of St. George and College has captured the attention of advertising companies, individuals, and student groups. As more people chose this location for their posters, the column has grown increasingly larger, as layers of posters built an advertising history that grew into an oblong onion.

the newspaper decided to figure out just what kind of print history was tightly wrapped around this one pole. With our knives and strong wills we attacked the beast outside of the UofT bookstore and uncovered over a year and a half of posters. The first layer contained the expected: Frosh posters, UofT writing centre ads, and another one of the bookstore’s “Secret Sales.” As the layers unravelled, the posters became less university-oriented. Deeper into the onion were advertisements for job postings, night clubs, and bubble tea grand-openings. As we approached nearly two years deep, the posters became unpredictably dense.

Based on the sheer quantity of posters, it’s evident that advertisers believe students are looking at these boards. From the moment these posters are plastered on, they remain untouched until the next set arrives, which is a basically random occurrence.  An ad can vanish beneath another within the week or within the day—who knows?

While hacking away with my serrated knife, I wondered, do they even work? Research conducted by Yankelovich in 2006 estimates that a person living in a city 30 years ago saw up to 2000 ads a day, compared with up to 5000 today. Linda Kaplan Thaler, chief executive at the Kaplan Thaler Group in New York, argued that advertisers work to overload consumers with advertisement and “find a way to be everywhere.” An ad on the onion competes not only for space on the column, but also vies against more sophisticated forms of advertising found in digital media.

Nevertheless, these onions have been growing and gaining layers every year while history continues to be buried within the time-machine of advertising. They are a chaotic archival system that just wants to be pulled apart.

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