What Could Make the Atheist Billboard Campaign Even More Powerful? October 28, 2009

What Could Make the Atheist Billboard Campaign Even More Powerful?

As the Chicago Coalition of Reason billboard went up last week, I thought about how many different atheist bus ads and billboard campaigns have gone up in the past year.

Some have achieved a ton of media attention. A few have slipped under the radar.

So, I wondered:

How much stronger would all the various publicity campaigns for atheism have been if all the ads had appeared during the same week?

It would be difficult to coordinate such a massive campaign — you’d have to get the money, the advertisers, and possibly the various local groups in coalition all around the same time. But it is somewhat realistic. Advertisers do it all the time.

Do you think there’s anything to be gained by doing all these campaigns one after another instead of all at once?


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  • Andrew Morgan

    Do you think there’s anything to be gained by doing all these campaigns one after another instead of all at once?

    Yeah — it keeps it in the news. Given that money is probably a finite resource, I’d rather have them pop up all over one at a time than have a big blast that we can’t afford to repeat for the rest of the year. If we get media coverage each time, or even nearly each time, that’s more coverage.

    It also makes it more of a “movement” and less of an “event”.

    With regard to the stated goal, though — alerting closet atheists to that their locality has an atheist population — it doesn’t matter which method you choose.

  • Claudia

    Somewhat related to the first comment, I actually think there’s another interesting question:

    How much LESS effective would these signs be if no one complained about them?

    If I compare the number of stories I saw about the signs being about to go up to the number of stories on complaints about the signs or companies trying to avoid putting them up, the answer is obvious. In this case, the notoriously thin skin of some religious folks works to our advantage. Without them, only people passing by the signs would hear about the campaign. Thanks to complaints and squeamish companies, the signs get on the news and many more people hear about them.

    So spare a thankful thought for thin-skinned easy to outrage theists, m’kay? 😉

  • i think that having them spread out is more effective as well — but with one big blast, the thing that would be gained is that someone would have finally herded cats.

  • Todd

    +1 for spread out. I’ve been sharing news articles about these billboards/bus ads/etc on my Google Reader. Friends and family didn’t seem to notice/pay attention at first, but after a while I started getting emails asking me about them.

    And being spread out almost looks like it’s coordinated.

  • It also makes it more of a “movement” and less of an “event”.

    I agree with this logic.

    Hemant, Is there a way to donate to the United CoR or the Chicago CoR towards funding more of these billboards?

  • As someone who works in the advertising business, I will say that it’s typically better to spread your message out. If all the signs went up the same week, the media would treat them as one campaign. As it is, each new board or campaign starts the conversation anew. One thing I would suggest is to put some people in the ads, especially racial minorities. People tend to relate better to advertising that features photos of real people. Also, what’s with the blue sky/cloud backgrounds? They look too much like the Christian fundamentalist ad campaigns.

    Unless that’s the point, to piggyback our ads on the success of Christian ads?

  • REX

    Personally, I am loving the nearly continuous roll of the advertisements. It keeps the pot churning. I also am beginning to wonder if we should start slowly making them a little more provocative, you know rock the boat a little more.

    The billboard vandalism is a great indicator that people are thinking about and struggling with all of it. I LOVE that!

  • Luther

    Somehow we have not quite made it yet.

    There is not huge complaint, as far as I know, that this a worldwide conspiracy.

  • Could you have a continuous roll out with a small event? Say three or four groups across the USA/world putting ads out on the same day as an “event” that would get news coverage for a couple of days. If nothing else, that would give us more clips of people overreacting.

  • Hemant, Is there a way to donate to the United CoR or the Chicago CoR towards funding more of these billboards?

    The best way to help out is by connecting with your local Coalition and speaking to their leaders.

    If you’re just wanting more local billboards, the member groups would need to lead the fundraising drive!

    — Hemant

  • Sam

    another +1 for spread out. Best to just make little blips and slowly make bigger blips as time goes on. That way, by the time the cats are finally somewhat herded, there is already some general acceptance built up.

    I am an environmental advocate and I think big events is something environmentalists focus on and I think it fails far too often. We get one day with a single news story instead of 1 story every few weeks like atheist bus seems to.

  • Alan E.

    I think that for the first few years a staggered rollout is most benificial, but it should not be used exclusively indefinitely. There should be a tiered increase that eventually leads to regional and national campaigns and individual groups. The churches and faith groups have a good ad system that are mixes of large groups and individual churches. They’ve already done some legwork that has worked, only the “little” people have become more outspoken in their doubts to the downfall of religion. We can’t forget our roots and the smaller groups that have built up to the big campaigns.

    As we become a more “respected” vocal minority-one can hope for a majority-there will be a demand for centralization and unity. We have the opportunity now to set where we agree and disagree, and the things that we can agree on should be a backbone while hopefully allowing room for bipartisan, civil debate on other issues. I also feel like we shouldnt push a strictly Democratic party agenda to give comfort to conservatives who have based their opinions not from religion or irrationality.

    (side note – if this seems to just blather, it’s difficult to review my writing on an iphone while riding the bus (even with a FFRF ad on it))

  • JimboB

    Do you think there’s anything to be gained by doing all these campaigns one after another instead of all at once?

    Well, if we’re really lucky, Bill Donahue’s head will explode.

  • Lobar

    As long as our mere existence remains controversial, such measures won’t be necessary to draw the attention of outrage media. Once that starts to pass (and these campaigns could hardly be called a success if it didn’t), we should have a plan in place to escalate our ability to generate publicity. I don’t think just having tons of billboards will cut it, though, I think we need to be watchful for the Next Big Thing and be ready to vigorously capitalize on it.

  • I agree with Andrew. It keeps us in the news spread out over time, and we look like a movement as opposed to a publicity stunt.

    But Andrew, you’re also right, if it’s about building our community and finding atheists who want to join us, it doesn’t matter.

    Maybe, Hemant, it’s something the different coalitions should consider in the near future! I’m coordinator of the Morgantown CoR. I think it’s a neat idea to keep in the back of our minds.

  • I have to agree with the first comment. Ever since the first campaign in London started however many moons ago it was barely a week has gone by without some other campaign being in the news. It’s been an ongoing rolling wave of publicity that has been so much more valuable than a single hit that would have been quickly forgotten.