'Miss me yet' billboard shows power of outdoor ads in Internet age

A single billboard in rural Minnesota with the words 'Miss Me Yet' and a photo of President Bush was enough to start a national conversation.

Courtesy of Bob Collins/Minnesota Public Radio
This billboard along Interstate 35 outside Wyoming, Minn., was one of the most-searched items on Google Tuesday, generating news articles and attention that most advertisers could only dream of. The creators of the 'Miss Me Yet' billboard want to remain anonymous.

In the TV-Internet battle for eyeballs, will billboards emerge as a big winner?

Quite possibly. This week, a single billboard in rural Minnesota caused an Internet buzz that any ad executive would salivate over. The billboard showed a picture of former President George W. Bush with the words: "Miss Me Yet?"

By Tuesday, the billboard along Interstate 35 outside Wyoming, Minn., was one of the hottest searches on Google, generating news articles and nationwide attention. It's mystery just added to the allure.

The creators are a "group of small businessmen and individuals who just felt like Washington was against them," according to an employee of Schubert & Hoey Outdoor Advertising quoted by Bob Collins of Minnesota Public Radio. The group also wishes to remain anonymous.

Aside from the clever message, the buzz over the billboard is a clear indication of how vibrant outdoor advertising can become, even in an Internet age.

"They are arguably more relevant than they ever were," says Dave Etherington, worldwide marketing director for Titan, which handles advertising on transit systems around the US. "A key thing about a billboard or a large ad ... it has the power to stop you in your stride that comes from the incongruity of seeing something in a public space where you're not conditioned to expect something."

Billboards with atheist messages like "Don't believe in God? You're not alone" caused strong protests from Christian groups when they popped up in cities last year. Late last year, Britain's Outdoor Advertising Association put up provocative billboards to prove the effectiveness of the advertising medium. "Career Women Make Bad Mothers" generated so much protest the group agreed to take them down.

It's no longer enough for advertisers to put out their logo, Mr. Etherington says. Instead, "it's about stimulating ideas."

The idea that voters in rural Minnesota and elsewhere miss President Bush generated lots of comment from the right and the left. Several people from around the country claimed credit for putting up the message, according to Mr. Collins of Minnesota Public Radio.

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