We still do a remarkable amount of advertising on billboards because frankly there's not much else to do while the city apparently tries to better 290 by smashing it with hammers. Most of these are amusing and simple. Cows misspell words so you'll eat at Chick Fil A and Jim Adler will glare at you until you sue someone for something just to get that stare out of your head.
Then there are ads that were more or less like trying to sell your point with a wasps' nest.
SnoreStop Green Pharmaceuticals is a company that makes sleep aids called SnoreStop, and in 2013 it started a campaign called #betogether designed to show rarer forms of loving couples in America embracing and presumably living more harmonic lives now the that ear-shattering mouth rattles of their partner had been silenced. The campaign ran in Los Angeles, San Diego, Houston, Salt Lake City, New York City, and more. One of the billboards in the campaign showed a young American soldier cuddling with a Muslim woman wearing a wedding ring. They were based on a real-life veteran named Jamie Sutton and his wife, Aleah.
If you've been on Facebook these last several months then you know that depicting Muslims as anything other than wild-eyed beheading maniacs will unleash the Kraken. As one commenter on a KTRH story about the billboard put it, "Like a military man is ever going to love a woman who's own people kill him in their own country. What liberal lala land do the people that made this live in?"
Stop the Invasion Not to keep drawing from the same well or anything, but bigotry is going to come up a lot in this article. Back in 2006 Grassfire.org, a now-defunct conservative non-profit group, spent an undisclosed six-figure sum to put up billboards in four Texas cities, including one along I-10 in Houston. The billboards screamed, "Stop the Invasion" and "Secure Our Borders". Juan Alvarez, head of the undocumented immigrant-rights group Organización Latinoamericana Pro-Derechos del Inmigrante de Houston, was interviewed by the Houston Chronicle about the signs when they debuted and sad that the signs made him "sad and sometimes angry." He also added that he felt they were racist, and the word "duh" was redefined as we all stood back in wonder and awe.
LoveSex Down in Richmond off of 59 last year a mysterious sign went up thanks to the River Pointe Church. It said, "You're are invited to: LoveSex, a series on love + sex + dating + marriage." It was a weird advertising gambit that more than a few passing motorists mistook for something to do with pornography. What was actually being advertised was a series of sermons with a "connections expert" named Johnathan Sprinkles (No, really) that would help you stop focusing on the negative primal urges in your live being cheered on by the media and look for a more positive one on one relationship with Jesus. In retrospect, making statements about media gotchas involving sex when you pulled a bait-and-switch with a billboard seems a little hypocritical.
Pray For Obama Up in Victoria there appeared what looked like a perfectly innocent billboard asking that people pray for President Barack Obama in 2012. Underneath the billboard was "Psalms 109:8", and if you know your Bible you're probably blinking in horror. The passage reads...
May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.
Now, a lot of people said that the quote simply meant that we should pray for Obama to leave office as soon as possible. However, considering the next several verses read...
May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes. May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children. May his descendants be cut off, their names blotted out from the next generation.
And so on and so on, it's hard to interpret the billboard as benign.
Black and Unwanted Do you feel that the fact that 25 percent of abortions are performed on African Americans despite making up only 12.7 percent of the population is a troubling statistic that should motivate us to look into the problem? Congratulations, you're a decent human being. Do you believe that the reason that number is so high is because Planned Parenthood is secretly trying to abort blacks into extinction? Congratulations, your mom had the last lead crib in existence! That was the premise behind the Radiance Foundation's billboard campaign that was headed to Houston in 2010. We reported on this madness when it happened, but if you'd like to learn more about the old conspiracy theory then just Ctrl+F "Margaret Sanger" in the comments below and I'm sure someone will enlighten you.
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FishingHurts.com You knew the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals was going to make the list. In a sense, creating outrageous and controversial ads is their whole bag. In 2004 they put up the billboard to the right of way along the way to Galveston in order to condemn fishing. Eventually complaints to Viacom caused the company to take down the sign and refund PETA most of their money.
Voice of the Homeless This one is more sad than controversial. In 2013 artist Jessica Crute in conjunction with a group show at Deborah Colton Gallery called Collective Identity put up a billboard just south of downtown that read "Even the pigeons don't see me." and was signed as the Voice of the Homeless. Crute's own father had experienced homelessness inspired her to tackle the problem of awareness for people. It's the sort of thing that should remind us all of our obligations to our fellow man, but take a walk down to the comments of a Swamplot story on the subject if you want a more graphic reminder of how necessary an awareness campaign is. My personal favorite reads...
The Street people whom some call homeless. The street people refuse to go to shelters they prefer sleeping on the sidewalks and begging. The difficult question is what do we do with folks who refuse to go to shelters or residential placement but want to live on th streets? How is this fair to the downtown residents and the visitors who wish to enjoy quality of life in the central businesses district?
Pretty sure the habit of those aren't homeless to see those who are as eyesores in the background was sort of Crute's point.
MLK Was a Republican In 2009 a local Republican group called Raging Elephants tried very hard to reach out to black voters and win them to the GOP in greater numbers. After presumably crossing "watermelon", "friend chicken", and "In Living Color" off their list of things that African-Americans like, they settled on claiming Martin Luther King was a Republican. It was part of a larger campaign around the time all over the country where conservatives tried to paint the famous civil rights leader as one of their own.
The sign met with backlash from Quanell X. and other activists, and was eventually taken down. As for the claim itself, it's been debunked by Dr. King's son, Martin Luther King III. He's gone on record saying, "It is disingenuous to imply that my father was a Republican. He never endorsed any presidential candidate, and there is certainly no evidence that he ever even voted for a Republican."
Wonder Bra Somehow in 2010 a picture of a woman in her bra is still enough of an issue to incite cries of moral corruption. Believe it or not, a Wonder Bra advertisement on Interstate 45 near the Woodlands Parkway exit made actual news because some people said, and I quote, "the first step in our community's moral decline."
A woman in a bra... I think the real controversy here is just how far we still have to go before we no longer complain about this stuff.
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Stop Billion to Israel In January of 2013 a non-profit group decided to protest President Obama's plan to send $30 billion in foreign aid to help Israel bolster its military security over the next decade. The group behind the sign celebrated with a victory rally under the billboard erected on Richmond west of Fondren, saying on its website that its purpose was to end oppression of the Palestinians by the Israelis.
Needless to say, the Jewish Herald-Voice saw things a little differently...
According to online records, the local nonprofit that purchased the billboard is registered to a longtime anti-Israel activist who politically identifies with the extreme left. This fellow, over the past several years, has helped organize various public demonstrations and other events across the city that routinely demonize Jews as Nazis, that perpetrate anti-Semitic blood libels and that single Israel out as an illegitimate, criminal state, whose lifeline is American tax dollars.
Just another example of Houstonians fighting wars with words above the roads of the city.