By These Signs You Know Him
Motorists across Orange County are witnessing an offbeat religious outreach in the form of billboards and bus-shelter posters bearing messages from God.
The aim of what’s called the God Speaks campaign is to get people to return to religious values--or at least think about them when they’re caught in traffic.
“Keep using my name in vain, I’ll make rush hour longer,” reads one of the billboards, all of which are simply signed “God.”
The campaign uses thought-provoking quips about marriage, children, the Bible and communication.
It kicked off in Florida last fall after an anonymous donor from Miami approached a Fort Lauderdale advertising firm, the Smith Agency, with $150,000 to create a campaign that would prod Americans to think about religion amid their busy lives.
The agency came up with 18 playful one-liners targeting those who don’t attend church on a regular basis.
The messages, each signed by “God,” include:
* “You think it’s hot here?”
* “We need to talk.”
* “I love you . . . I love you . . . I love you . . .”
* “What part of ‘Thou shalt not . . . ‘ didn’t you understand?”
* “My way is the highway.”
* “That ‘Love Thy Neighbor’ thing, I meant that.”
* “Big Bang Theory, you’ve got to be kidding.”
Word spread about the popular campaign, and advertisers across the country have donated money and space for it.
The project caught the attention of the Outdoor Advertising Assn. of America, the Washington, D.C., trade association of the billboard industry, which helped coordinate the national campaign. It debuted in Dallas on March 15.
More than 10,000 messages are now up around the country, including hundreds in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties. They’re posted on and off as advertising space becomes available.
“It’s startling--the ads just jump out at you,” said Sheila Hayes, communications director of the billboard association.
The Smith Agency has been nominated for the advertising industry’s Obie Award next month for the campaign.
In Orange County, 200 bus-shelter ads, 100 posters and 10 bulletin boards have been devoted to the God Speaks campaign. The local effort has been coordinated by Eller Media, a Phoenix-based outdoor advertising agency with offices in the area.
In downtown Los Angeles, Eller is coordinating the first God Wall, which will feature one of the messages on the westbound Interstate 10 loop over the Santa Fe Avenue exit. It will be up by next week, said Dash Stalorz, public relations director with Eller Media’s Los Angeles office.
“The God campaign is a reminder to not forget about God and not forget about your fellow man,” said Stephen Freitas, senior vice president of marketing at Eller Media. “In fact, many of the consumers who’ve contacted us about the campaign say it’s helped reduce their road rage.”
The organizers of the campaign say that the people are ready to see something noncommercial while they’re in their cars, something that gets them thinking or talking.
“The Littleton shootings were a reminder of the violence going on in the world and why it’s the right time for messages like this,” Hayes said. Fifteen people died in a gun rampage in a Littleton, Colo., high school.
Another event that factored into the timing of the campaign was the ban on outdoor advertising for tobacco products on April 23. Huge billboards reserved for tobacco ads became available. Many of them--very expensive spots--didn’t get taken, so a God poster went up.
Hayes said that the God campaign has generated more than $15 million worth of donations of space from the association’s 900 members. The outdoor advertising industry devotes about $20 million worth of space annually to public-service campaigns, which include messages warning against drunk driving and child abuse.
Every message created by the Smith Agency was distributed by the billboard association except for one that mentioned Sunday and therefore seemed to target only Christians: “Let’s meet at my house Sunday before the game. --God.”
“The creators tried to avoid references to a particular religion--although you could argue that the messages are Judeo-Christian in nature,” Hayes said.
The popularity of the campaign is comparable to only two others, , Hayes said--Smokey the Bear and the Vince and Larry seat-belt dummies.
Everyone’s favorite so far, according to the advertising agency: “Don’t make me come down there.”
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