Snipe advertising is the commercial form of graffiti and is sadly all too common around town. Luckily, at least a few local activists are doing something about this, including my dad in the Como neighborhood of St. Paul, by cleaning up the commercial litter:

Dad with Snipe Signs

This is not a new issue, but it does seem like one that’s worse than usual these days due to the popularity of We Buy Houses and dating site advertising. Here’s an excerpt from a 2001 post by Minneapolis’s Director of Solid Waste and Recycling, Susan Young, describing the problem:

Yes, Solid Waste and Recycling has removed snipe advertising in the past—it is sort of like stopping the ocean tides, but we have persevered. As any other blight (litter, graffiti, dumped tires)the best defense is to require the blight not to occur. We, and Regulatory Services, have had meetings with the folks whose names and phone numbers are prominently displayed on the signs. They contend that they contract with “companies” to place the fliers, that they specify that the fliers can only be placed in “appropriate” places (for instance display windows of willing retailers), and that they have no control over the actual placement—we’d need to go after the “distribution” companies. When we trace those folks, THEY contend that they “hire” individuals to make the placement, and that they specify that the fliers can only be placed in “appropriate” places (sound familiar?) and that they have no control over the actual placement, we would need to go after THOSE individuals. When we ask for names and addresses—well, they were “jobbers,” paid in cash, nobody knows who, where, etc.

Sounds a lot like the yellow pages industry to me. Start with a slimy company, throw in cut-rate contractors, then use downright hostile distribution tactics to build a business with community blight as an externality.

John Hoff and Jeff Skrenes are working on this same issue up in North Minneapolis by taking what looks like a broomstick to the signs posted high on light poles:

I love seeing people taking time to improve the quality of their neighborhoods by removing these signs. As my dad’s mentioned to me before, the neighborhood my parents live in is not overrun with foreclosed properties, but people driving through the neighborhood may get the impression that it is if they see a snipe ad for We Buy Houses on every corner. That’s a darn good reason to keep on top of this illegal form of spam.

I’m not sure if this is a problem because it’s hard to solve or whether it’s just a low priority for the city. Regardless, one tactic that could make snipe a little less valuable for advertisers is to call the numbers on the sign. If you drive past a sign, give it a quick ring and see how long you can keep the person on the line. Show some interest in what they’re selling. Ask tons of questions. Then when you finally arrive at your destination, tell them that you’re not interested and only called because they have been posting illegal snipe advertising in your city. If enough people did this, they’d simply move on to cities where people care less than people in the Twin Cities do.