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106 years and still going.
Image: Reuters/Stephen Hird

London’s Piccadilly Circus is one of the most iconic spots in the world—almost 72 million people walk past it every year. Millions of them have their attention grabbed by Piccadilly Lights, an advertising display that has been showing off the names of some of the world’s biggest brands since Perrier illuminated the first sign in 1908. Now, the centerpiece of the lights is up for grabs for the first time in 24 years.

The contract of the current occupant, Japan’s TDK, is now up. The price for advertising in the spot—21.1 meters, by 4.8 meters—is roughly £4 million ($6.3 million) a year. Such prime positions rarely become available. This is only the second opening in the last 20 years. (The last one to come free was in 2011). Sources tell the Evening Standard that the owner of the advertising display is considering a long-term plan that might transform the 767 square meters of illuminated advertising into a single giant screen, in order to charge one or two advertisers a premium.

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There are currently six slots taken up by the following companies: Samsung, McDonald’s, TDK, Hyundai, One Piccadilly, and Coca-Cola. (Coca-Cola has the longest continuous presence at the Lights and has been at Piccadilly Circus since 1955.)

In fact, the roll call of companies that have advertised as part of the lights, parallels the rise and fall of some of the largest consumer brands of the 20th century:

  • Schweppes (1920–61)
  • BP (1961–67)
  • Cinzano (1967–78)
  • Fujifilm (1978–86)
  • Kodak (1986–90)
  • Canon (1978–84)
  • Panasonic (1984–94)

Piccadilly Circus is most often compared to New York’s Times Square as some of the world’s most expensive outdoor advertising, especially since the formerly gritty sex shop-filled junction in midtown Manhattan has been  cleaned up in recent decades. It costs between $1.1 million and $4 million a year to rent one of the billboards in Times Square, and the sign on the Reuters building is the largest digital display system in the world, spanning 22 stories and 7,000 square feet at 3 Times Square and can be twinned with the seven-story Nasdaq sign opposite.

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