Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Billboard backlash enboldens vandals

A couple of years ago, one of my client's billboards was defaced by someone with a can of spray paint and way too much free time. We were pretty lucky for a couple of reasons: the message painted on the board was just random graffiti not directed at the advertiser, and we had a second vinyl in inventory that we were able to get up within hours.

Other advertisers aren't so lucky. Last week, for example, the Billboard Liberation Front, a California-based group that has been "'improving' outdoor advertising since 1977," changed this board...:

into this:

The BLF's tounge-in-cheek press release stated that the goal was "to promote and celebrate the innovative collaboration of these two global communications giants."

NSA gets the data it needs to keep America safe," the release continues, "telecom customers get free services, and AT&T makes a fortune. That kind of cooperation between the public and private sectors should serve as a model to all of us, and a harbinger of things to come.”

In case you didn't notice, they're being sarcastic.

Now there's part of me that thinks the BLF's efforts are funny and smart. After all, it's hard not to laugh when the joke's aimed at a corporate behemoth and the governmental equivalent of Big Brother. But it's easy to see the humor when it's at someone else's (literal and figurative) expense. I'm guessing I wouldn't be laughing as much if the joke was on one of my clients.

Part of the problem is the ongoing controversy surrounding outdoor advertising (see this post for more). Billboards aren't very popular, and they can be pretty ugly and obtrusive. As a marketing strategy, however, they also can be pretty damn effective.

My take is that like most other things in life, the key is moderation. Citizens and municipalities should work together to develop common sense ordinances that allow for some outdoor advertising, while limiting the kind of proliferation that blights the landscape (and also makes individual messages less effective).
That's easier said than done, but even striving for this type of compromise would be a step in the right direction.

In the meantime, I'll try to stay off the BLF's radar, while keeping a backup vinyl at the ready, just in case.

Hats tipped to AdFreak, boingboing, billboardom
Photos from the Billboard Liberation Front's photostream on Flickr

1 comment: