07 March, 2011

Billboard Campaign Helps Catch Criminal At Large for Over a Decade

My fiancee and I noticed this billboard on I-95, on the east side of Baltimore this past President's Day. So she hopped on the website, eastcoastrapist.com, the moment we got home and visited the site several times over the next few days. This billboard was one of many posted from Connecticut to Virginia, targeting the criminal who'd been dubbed "The East Coast Rapist," and the site had received more than 71,000 hits by Friday night. Well, mission accomplished. Because according to this article (and subsequent follow-up articles) I read on The Sun this past Saturday morning, the suspect, Aaron Thomas, who had been at large for more than a decade, was arrested in less than a week.

How'd they do it? Simply. Law enforcement officials combined a very wide billboard campaign with an informative, but simple website and apprehended a criminal they'd be trying to catch since the 90s. Now granted, this was one particular case that involved an incredibly heinous series of crimes, so people would have a much stronger compulsion to give any information they might have, compared to a campaign for say Arby's or Canada Dry. But the combination of coverage, simplicity and timing yielded exactly what they were looking for--an arrest. Which makes me think you're going to see a lot more of this tactic in years come.

So quickly, why should advertisers be paying attention? (After all, that is what this blog is about.) In this day of digital media and integrated campaigns the multi-tiered approach is by far the most effective way to reach almost any target audience. But most importantly, you need to deliver one simple message, and if possible a message that reaches your audience on a deeper level. Again, "Made with real ginger" and "Big Beef 'N Cheddar" probably aren't going to evoke an emotional response from people (okay, most people, because as you well know the BBNC is awesome), but you can neatly and effectively use outdoor and print to drive your audience to the Web, where you have much more real estate. And being that the consumer has already taken the time to go to your Web site, they're obviously willing to spend a little more time with your product. So that's where you give them the stronger sell. But still don't fall into the trap of making the enormous "Why You Should Buy Our Crap" list. Keep your copy straight-forward, simple and palatable to reader.

And finally, timing. This was an investigation that had been going on since Friends was still on TV. I'm assuming investigators weren't sitting around one day when one said, Hey what about billboards and a Web site? There was a well thought-out strategy behind this, and the result speaks for itself. Any campaign you're going to invest your money in should have an intelligent strategy behind it as well. Otherwise, you're just blindly throwing money at a problem simply because you'd already bought the ad space.

But back to what's most important. Congratulations to the fine people at the FBI. I know many, many people, my fiancee included, will sleep better at night.

--George C. Convery, Copywriter

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