A new series of catchy billboards is dotting the highways and byways, delivering God's message to untold numbers of drivers and pedestrians.
A GodSpeaks billboard in Milwaukee.
"The real Supreme Court meets up here," reads one of the new billboards, which is signed, "God." That's just one of nine new messages from GodSpeaks, the anonymously funded corporation behind the popular 1998 campaign, as well as the new one that began in March this year.
"Much has happened in America since that initial billboard campaign, with events like those of September 11, 2001 turning our attention to faith and consideration of spiritual things," says a statement at the campaign's Web site, www.GodSpeaks.com.
"Billboard owners liked the campaign enough that even now, some six years after the initial campaign, GodSpeaks sayings often appear as a public service when there is available space," the statement continued.
The famous billboards originally appeared in Broward County, Fla., where a member company of the Outdoor Advertising Association of America had donated ad space for the campaign's mysterious backer. The initial campaign included 18 sayings, all signed, "God." One read, "We need to talk." Another asked, "Have you read my #1 best seller? (There will be a test.)"
The billboards' popularity eventually caused the OAAA to latch onto the idea for one of its public service campaigns, Meredith Moller, communications director for OAAA, told EthicsDaily.com.
Soon, more than 10,000 GodSpeaks messages were around the country, with the OAAA estimating the value of that outdoor ad space at roughly $15 million.
An OAAA press release referred to the GodSpeaks billboards as "one of the most attention-grabbing ad campaigns ever presented."
The anonymous donor behind GodSpeaks recently commissioned nine new sayings from an Atlanta-based public relations firm, the DeMoss Group. The Florida-based agency that delivered the first 18 sayings for $150,000 in creative and legal costs has since dissolved.
The DeMoss Group, however, specializes in faith-based organizations and enterprises. Its clients include the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Campus Crusade for Christ International and Prison Fellowship.
"A mutual friend introduced us to this client a few years ago when they were contemplating the possibility of a second campaign," said Mark DeMoss, the firm's president, in an e-mail. "I believe their interest in us was our work on behalf of Christian organizations and causes—our niche."
DeMoss added that the donor is a Christian family that wants "to use public media to draw attention to God. They have remained anonymous because they are not interested in attention for themselves, nor are they raising money for anything or promoting any organization or church or denomination."
Several of the new sayings tie in directly to popular culture and the culture wars. For example, one billboard plays off the tagline from NBC's "The Apprentice" with, "As my apprentice, you're never fired." The brouhaha over the Pledge of the Allegiance is referenced with, "One nation under me."
"These billboards are designed to draw attention to the God presented in the Bible in a creative, thought-provoking, relevant way," said DeMoss in a press release.
The campaign's Web site at www.GodSpeaks.com has been redesigned for the 2005 campaign. It delivers more information about the billboards and, especially, about a relationship with God in the form of accepting Jesus Christ.
"Obviously, we are limited to about 8-10 words of copy on a billboard for it to be effective and readable," DeMoss told EthicsDaily.com in an e-mail. "The web site provides a forum for someone to read a lot more information about the God of the Bible and that is its primary purpose."
Site visitors can explore defenses of Jesus and Christianity, search for churches by zip code, read stories about how GodSpeaks has affected lives, sign up for daily devotionals, and get permission to use the GodSpeaks sayings. Visitors can even print the entire Web site's content into a 59-page PDF.
As before, the OAAA is asking its members to consider donating ad space for the campaign. About 500 outdoor messages from the new GodSpeaks campaign are already up in roughly two dozen cities, and DeMoss said he occasionally hears about a billboard from the original campaign still appearing in some part of the country.
OAAA members who embrace the campaign not only donate the ad space—be it billboard, bus shelter or kiosk—but they also pay for the production costs. Bus shelter posters, for example, cost $40 each; a 14' x 48' billboard costs $350.
Some of the largest outdoor advertising companies, including Lamar and Viacom Outdoor, participate.
"The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive," the OAAA's Moller told EthicsDaily.com. "I just got two messages today from people saying thanks for putting this up. We expect the same in the future."
The OAAA, founded in 1891, and its members have donated ad space for public service announcements since 1913. In addition to the GodSpeaks campaign, it currently supports initiatives by UNICEF, the NAACP and the Department of Homeland Security, among others.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.