Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sign of the Apocalypse?

So last week, driving back from the International District under the tale end of the lunar eclipse, the Lovely Bride and I passed this sign (or rather, one similar to it):

Billboard (ganked from the Stranger, by the way)

The sign reads "When you cast your vote, remember September 11, 2001 - Paid for by Concerned Citizens for a Better America".

And this was weird, seeing such a strange, intensely political billboard pop up in that part of Seattle, with months to go BEFORE November. It was as if Red State Sam had pulled himself loose of his flood-stained Chehalis field and strode north, intent on blowing his FEMA check on releasing his venom to a broader market.

And indeed, I WILL be thinking about Sept 11 when I cast my vote. I will be thinking about how miserable and flailing our reaction has been to it, how we did little to those directly involved while using it as a cudgel to inflict damage on people living in this country, how the families of the victims are still waiting for some sense of closure, and how, after seven years, we still haven't caught the guy who ordered up the attack (Seriously, I saw the comment today - "It will take Obama to get Osama" - and it may be true).

So it's a god-awful weird billboard. And its supposed sponsors, these "Concerned Citizens for a Better America" are vapor-ware, showing up only on the net from people writing about the weird billboards (Which apparently now are spreading). The name of the CCBA sounds like something out a comic book, where you check the org chart and discover the CEO is COBRA Commander.

There could be a number of reasons for these latest blots on the landscape:

1) It is exactly what it looks like - some right-wing group decided to blow the money they would normally spend on public-access TV to take its message to a new audience. If so, why choose Seattle, where the politics shifts to the left and ability to mock is widespread?

2) It is an agent provocateur move, where you put up the boards, see them mocked, legislated against, or best of all, vandalized, and use the event to blacken the "durn librals" who don't really believe in free speech and hate the troops (the right loves the troops - its soldiers that they apparently can't stand).

3) It's an agent provocateur move from the left, seeking the galvanize the rest of the world by reminding us that the right is a bunch of incompetent yahoos. Indeed, if the message was against a Democrat dark blue as opposed to GOP Severe Threat Red, it could be easily interpreted as being from left of center, reminding us of the gross incompetence and venality of the current administration (if that's the case - um, Mission Accomplished!)

4) It's an art stunt. Wouldn't be the first. Back before 2001 turned toxic on us, a guerrilla art group set down a black monolith on Kite Hill. It is just seeking to provoke a response. Maybe sales for ad space are low enough they could afford it (by the way, the boards are Clear Channel, which is known for its own righty agenda, so I don't think so).

5) It is viral marketing. Charge a bunch of people up, then release a new movie or TV show or maybe radio. I'm thinking the last, if anything - Clear Channel is also big in radio, and in particular radio talk. If this is the case, they are playing with fire, but it can pay off.

I'm actually hoping for 5, though 1 seems to be the most sadly logical. If some righty group wants to shoot itself in the foot, be my guest. If nothing else it shows that sometimes it makes sense to get a real marketing guy on the staff before you release the campaign.

More later,