The humble billboard has been with us since 1867, rising in popularity right alongside our beloved automobile. A constant in our lives, a staple of family vacation road trips, it doesn’t yell at you like radio or TV commercials and it won’t just pop up while you’re reading informative yet humorous on-line articles. Mostly, it just tells you how far away the next restroom is. But make no mistake, that unassuming piece of poster board off to the side of the road has us by the balls. Advertisers spent $6.99 billion dollars on them in 2008, and that rate that is steadily increasing. Billboards have an advertiser-consumer relationship that other media would kill for. They tell us to get off at the next exit for Panda Express NOW! And we do. When was the last time you got off the couch to buy something because the TV told you to? (Except for the McRib of course. But it was only available for a limited time!) If you still doubt the power of the almighty, low tech billboard, consider the fact that they can cause quite a stir (the image above just might be the latest to rock the boat!). After the jump, ten recent, highly controversial billboards.
1. The Oracle Affair How do you let everyone in the country know you’re a douchebag? It’s easy with billboards! This year, three-story-high billboards were put up in Atlanta and San Francisco and New York featuring a photo of Charles E. Phillips (a member of President Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board and co-president of the software company Oracle Corp) and his mistress YaVaughnie Wilkins with a quote from Phillips, “You are my soul mate forever.” The billboards forced Phillips to admit to having an eight and-a-half-year affair with Wilkins, which he has since broken off. He is now back together with his wife, Karen.
2. American Woody. It seems that billboards are making Woody Allen a lot more money than movies these days. In 2007 Allen sued American Apparel for $10 million dollars for posting billboards in New York and Hollywood of an unlicensed, doctored photo of him from Annie Hall. On the billboard he appeared as a Hasidic Jew with a long beard, side curls and black hat. Eventually Allen accepted a $5 million dollar settlement. I think Woody was mainly upset because he’s tried so hard to keep the fact that he’s Jewish on the D.L.
3. Hot Jackass Action! In 2006 Johnny Knoxville took it upon himself to put up a billboard in West Hollywood, the heart of the gay Los Angeles community, for Rainbow Cruise Lines. Under the slogan “Come Board Me Sailors” was a picture of Jackass Two director Jeff Tremaine and cinematographer Dimitry Elyashkevich in a shirtless, fun-loving embrace from a previous piece that never aired. Tremaine and Elyashkevich knew nothing about the billboard until they saw it and realized it was them. But then again, what do they expect working for Jackass? A gay billboard of you is still WAY better than having your testicles electrically shocked with a muscle stimulator.
4. Our Weatherproof President In January the clothing company Weatherproof bought a picture from the Associated Press of President Obama wearing one of their jackets. They made it into a billboard and put it up in Time Square and Queens. Obama himself never gave permission to be used in the ad and the White House forced them to take it down. It was just replaced by one featuring Mount Rushmore (but not before Breaking Bad could spoof it). Now, Weatherproof is hoping that Sarah Palin agrees to take Obama’s spot. On the billboard. Not the presidency. Right, Weatherproof? RIGHT?!?! PLEASE SAY RIGHT!
5. The Thief and his Billboard In 2008 in New Zealand, a thief was photographed stealing 15 electrical transformers used for lighting a billboard. The photographs were then sold to the owner of the billboard who, sick of being ripped off, decided to use them. He put the picture on four of his own billboards with the text, “Who is this Thief? Reward $500.” After hundred of phone calls to the police, the man was quickly arrested. This seems unfair. I posted pictures I took of my ex-girlfriend without her knowledge all over at our gym and got a restraining order. That’s it, I’m moving to New Zealand!
6. Earnhardt’s Dilemma Before Weatherproof drafted our unwilling president, the Texas Motor Speedway Track drafted an unwilling Dale Earnhardt Jr. In 2008 the speedway put up four billboards, to advertise the track’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Weekend, about why drivers want to win. Earnhardt Jr. thought they went too far with his, which said “Reason #88: STEP-MOM,” apparently referring to his strained relationship his late-father’s wife. Mom jokes are never wise.
7. Mooninite’s Invade Boston!!!!! In 2007, the guerrilla marketing campaign for Adult Swim went horribly wrong. Or horribly right if you consider how many newscasters were forced to talk about Aqua Teen Hunger Force all day long. Billboards of the Mooninite character Ignignokt from Adult Swim’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force, made up of 400 LED lights, were displayed in 10 cities. But it was the Bostonians that went nuts. They mistook the wires and batteries for explosive devices, the city shut down completely and spent almost $500,000 investigating. Afterward, the Adult Swim parent company, Turner Broadcasting ended up paying the city $1 million for the upset and another $1 million as “good will” towards homeland security. The best part? After being taken into custody, the two men who put up the Mooninites were forced to give a statement to the press, which they did, talking exclusively about haircut styles of the ’70s.
8. Skull Phone Home In 2008, an artsy stir was caused in Los Angeles when the graffiti artist Skull Phone hacked a digital billboard owned by the major media company, Clear Channel to promote himself. Or at least that’s how it appeared. Three images of skulls talking on cell phones came up between the normal advertisements on a Clear Channel billboard on the Miracle Mile. Turns out, they were paid for. By Skull Phone. A spokesmen for Clear Channel said, “”The party represented themselves as wanting to advertise ads for an art project.” Which made it a kind of social art project within a social art project that lost Skull Phone all street cred. Sorry Skull Phone. Time to get a real job and become Mr. Skull Phone, like your father.
9. That Girl Emily Promotes! In a white trash version of the Oracle Affair, in 2006 a billboard was posted that read, “Hi Steven, Do I have your attention now? I know all about her, you dirty, sneaky, immoral, unfaithful, poorly-endowed slimeball. Everything’s caught on tape, Your (soon-to-be-ex) Wife, Emily. P.S. I paid for this billboard from OUR joint bank account.” It went up in New York, Brooklyn, Los Angeles and Chicago and was associated with the blog That Girl Emily, an unhappily married woman. Emily was even asked by Good Morning America and British Glamour to tell her story. Unfortunately, Emily didn’t exist. It was all a marketing ploy from Court TV’s reality show Parco P.I. to advertise their upcoming season. A cool ploy, but it obviously didn’t work out as well as they had hoped, because I have never, EVER, heard of that show.
10. PETA in general. You can’t have billboard controversy without talking about PETA. PETA has caught flack for so many of their billboards over the years they deserve their own article. Here are just a few of their “shockers.” a. “Got Autism?” This one has an unhappy face in a bowl of cereal and connects cow’s milk with autism. This billboard went up in Newark N.J. which has some of the highest rates of Autism in the country. They people there were very unhappy with it. No kidding! You think those people might be a bit sensitive to that sort of thing? You don’t think they have enough to deal with PETA, what with their autistic kids? You gotta throw a billboard in their face?
b. “Pro-Life? Go Vegetarian” This PETA billboard has people up in arms in Kansas City, MO because it was put up to coincide with the ongoing news story of the killing of Dr.George Tiller, who performed late-term abortions. That is awful, PETA. You really know how to cram salt into the wounds, don’t you? At least the billboard has a bunch of baby chicks on it…I’m just going to try and focus on those cute lil’ chicks and not think about how awful you’re being by trivializing a man’s murder by making it into an ad to go vegetarian….awww, look at those little fuzzy guys!…much better.
And of course, there are all the “I’d Rather Go Naked” anti-Fur billboard ads featuring super sexy women, nude. Hey, pro-fur or not, who doesn’t like sexy ladies? Nude sexy ladies at that! And if you’re asking yourself now, “Hey, where are all the pictures of those billboards?” Go look ‘em up yourselves, ya pervs!