Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Sanctions Dull Tehran's Image

Blank billboards betray lack of investor confidence.
By
  • This billboard over Tehran’s major highway has stood unused for months. (Photo: Farshid Alyan)
    This billboard over Tehran’s major highway has stood unused for months. (Photo: Farshid Alyan)
  • A message to companies from the mayor’s office in hope of winning back advertisers  – “We miss you!” (Photo: Farshid Alyan)
    A message to companies from the mayor’s office in hope of winning back advertisers – “We miss you!” (Photo: Farshid Alyan)
  • Another empty billboard, this one on the Tehran-Karaj highway. (Photo: Farshid Alyan)
    Another empty billboard, this one on the Tehran-Karaj highway. (Photo: Farshid Alyan)
  • Commercial advertising has been partly replaced by religious messages. This one, on a road in northern Tehran, reminds Shia Muslims of the words of their first Imam, that “amiability is a free act of charity”. (Photo: Farshid Alyan)
    Commercial advertising has been partly replaced by religious messages. This one, on a road in northern Tehran, reminds Shia Muslims of the words of their first Imam, that “amiability is a free act of charity”. (Photo: Farshid Alyan)
  • This one quotes the third Shia Imam – “Hail to those who are killed for God!” (Photo: Farshid Alyan)
    This one quotes the third Shia Imam – “Hail to those who are killed for God!” (Photo: Farshid Alyan)
  • Banners offer a cheaper alternative for cash-strapped firms. (Photo: Farshid Alyan)
    Banners offer a cheaper alternative for cash-strapped firms. (Photo: Farshid Alyan)
  • More modest forms of advertising deface many a wall. (Photo: Farshid Alyan)
    More modest forms of advertising deface many a wall. (Photo: Farshid Alyan)
  • These stickers advertise plumbing services. (Photo: Farshid Alyan)
    These stickers advertise plumbing services. (Photo: Farshid Alyan)
  • A handwritten personal ad for the sale of kidneys, on the wall of a private renal clinic in Tehran. (Photo: Farshid Alyan)
    A handwritten personal ad for the sale of kidneys, on the wall of a private renal clinic in Tehran. (Photo: Farshid Alyan)
  • A selection of offers here – from internet installation to the sale of kidneys. (Photo: Farshid Alyan)
    A selection of offers here – from internet installation to the sale of kidneys. (Photo: Farshid Alyan)
  • This note offers to sell on an existing bank loan; doing so would be illegal.  It is posted near a bank branch. (Photo: Farshid Alyan)
    This note offers to sell on an existing bank loan; doing so would be illegal. It is posted near a bank branch. (Photo: Farshid Alyan)
  • An advert from the publicly-owned national agricultural bank departs from past practice by showing dancing women. (Photo: Farshid Alyan)
    An advert from the publicly-owned national agricultural bank departs from past practice by showing dancing women. (Photo: Farshid Alyan)

When Turkish reporters asked President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently what impact international sanctions were having on Iran, he replied, “What sanctions are you talking about? If you come to Iran today, people will tell you that sanctions have had no impact on their lives or on their country’s development.”

Yet even to the casual observer, the effect of sanctions on the Iranian economy is made only too obvious by the distinct lack of commercial advertising around the capital Tehran.

Only a few years ago, billboards across the city advertised Swiss watches and other luxury goods from Europe and beyond. It was all part of a drive by the mayor’s office in the early 1990s to earn revenues from the newly-allowed import market, and also to brighten the city up after the gloom of the eight-year war with Iraq.

These days, much of the advertising space along major thoroughfares is empty. As further sanctions were added last year, many foreign investors began pulling out, even if the measures did not directly affect their business.

In recent months, recession has caused many Iranian firms to go bankrupt.

Companies that are finding it hard to meet their wage-bill are naturally in no position to afford the 20,000 to 80,000 US dollar monthly cost of a billboard. With the owners of advertising space unwilling to lower their prices, the mayor’s office has come up with a new scheme – banners, which are a lot cheaper.

If some billboards stand forlorn, others have been taken over by government agencies, which have reverted to political slogans and religious exhortations. One noteworthy innovation is the use of pictures of women in this public-service advertising.

At the other end of the advertising scale, the proliferation of home-made flyers also tells a story of hardship.

Even the outer walls of hospitals feature with handwritten offers of bodily organs, including kidneys at 10,000 or 20,000 thousand dollars at a time.