One day, residents of Minneapolis woke up to this billboard, and were offended. And not just by the painful pun, horrible art direction, or tasteless concept. It turns out that residents of one particular neighbourhood where the ad was erected had just gone through a major community purge of street prostitution. "There are still lawn signs up along Cedar saying, 'Keep johns out,'" explains 9th Ward denizen Stacey Burns in MinnPost's coverage of the incident.
Now, Stacey hadn't even seen the billboard in real life yet. She saw a photo of it on a friend's Facebook page, and realized it was near her house. She then called the service provider, USI, to complain, but didn't get anywhere.
So she re-posted the image on her own FB page:
There are many comments on there from friends who said they had complained to USI but were told the company did some test marketing "and everybody loved it."
This viral action eventually got the attention of City Council Member Gary Schiff. He talked to city staff about it, and they told him they had been talking to USI's founders for three days but had gotten nowhere. He called USI himself, but said his calls were never returned.
USI, by the way, has a 10-year, $12.5 million contract to provide Minneapolis' citywide Wi-Fi service. But since the Councillor had no more luck getting client service than the average ISP customer, he decided to go after the media supplier.
"I looked at the photo [in Burns' post] and saw the Clear Channel logo and remembered that Clear Channel was extremely supportive in donating billboard space for the city's anti-prostitution campaign," said Schiff.
He called the advertising company's vice president and e-mailed him an image of Burns' Facebook page. "Thirty minutes later, he called back and said, 'They'll be down tomorrow,' " said Schiff.
Schiff said he knew the company had strong decency guidelines.
Knowing he was on to a good thing, Councillor Schiff posted his triumph on his own Facebook page, where it quickly elicited dozens of comments and "like" votes.
Another Council member, Elizabeth Glidden, made sure she got a piece of the action by calling on USI as well:
"My message to them was, 'I hope you're taking these down right now,' " she said. "Was it persuasive for me to say I'm shocked and disgusted? Yes, I'm sure it was."
USI pulled down the boards, but Operations Manager Sam Turner claims they did so voluntarily. Although he is hardly contrite:
"We didn't mean to offend anyone," Turner told MinnPost. "Our response to the overall situation is we didn't, and don't, feel that the spokesmodel from the ad looks like a prostitute. We've seen way worse."
So what's the moral of the story? You have a right to offend people, to some extent, when you buy mainstream media. But just be aware that when you piss off today's fully-connected vox populi, political action through Facebook outrage is fast, cheap and satisfaction guaranteed.