If you're anything like me, you were a little freaked out when those weird billboards started popping up around town in recent weeks. You know the ones -- all black and white, with just the image of someone who looks like he's holding a flashlight beneath his face and nothing else but words "Hear Me." On Wed. March 21, that tag changed to "YouShallListen.com." Yet another new radio morning show team? A PSA for talkative ax murderers? But if you visit the website, as I did (I'm a sucker for stealth marketing), you'll learn that the group behind the campaign is -- who'd a thunk it? -- the Charleston Symphony Orchestra.
When did the CSO find either the cash or, frankly, the eccentricity to pull off something like this? Turns out Adams Outdoor Advertising approached them a few months ago with an offer to donate 30 billboards, bulletins, and posters in premium spots around town for a citywide public awareness campaign. Adams made a cash contribution to offset all costs associated with the campaign (roughly $175,000), provided all of the materials, and their creative team designed the concept from start to finish.
Pull up the YouShallListen.com website and you'll see a flash slideshow of the portraits beneath the message: "Hear Me. I am the soundtrack to history. The music that connects the past to future. A driving hurricane of emotion, a quiet voice on a breezy day -- it's the sole essence of everything inside you. Am I in your life? Do you have the soul to find out? Click to discover."
Sure, it reads like a really bad romance novel, but it grabs your attention. Click on the link, and you're directed to the CSO's website, where visitors are prompted to download a PDF of a buy-one-get-one-free coupon good for any one of six concerts between Sat. March 24 and Sat. April 28.
An e-mail from CSO marketing manager John Girault to board members last week explained the campaign and its origin in more detail. The letter noted that the campaign is expected to reach 756,000 people each day traveling in and around Charleston.
"We anticipate a great volume of increased traffic to our website by new visitors who will hopefully print the coupon and join us starting this Saturday," the note read. "The whole look and feel of this campaign is NOT targeted toward our standard audience but is instead designed to try and reach an entirely different demographic in a way that we have not been able to afford previously."
It's a clever, creative concept, and, hopefully, it'll prove an effective one for the CSO. Adams Outdoor Advertising deserves to be cheered for stepping up.
But at the same time, there's a good deal more than pure altruism at work here. This is as much a campaign for Adams as it is for the CSO. They'll likely track the number of people who visit the YouShallListen.com website, as well as those who continue on to the CSO site. That data will give them an empirical measure of the effectiveness of the billboard campaign, and of their outdoor advertising in general.
We've seen it before. Adams pulled a similar stunt a couple of years ago with the briefly famous but fictional Outhouse Springs bottled water campaign, which they invented to measure billboard effectiveness in partnership with Piggly Wiggly. The difference is that this time they're pimping for a real product.
But that doesn't take anything away from the service the company is doing for the CSO -- and by extension the Charleston community. That's $175,000 Adams could have collected from another paying advertiser. The symphony could use more friends like that, even if they're just a quiet voice on a breezy day.