Great Conference; Not-So-Great Billboard March 31, 2011

Great Conference; Not-So-Great Billboard

The American Humanist Association is promoting its conference (taking place next weekend) with print ads (PDF) and a billboard featuring Richard Dawkins:

As far as a billboard goes, it doesn’t do much for me. Too many words… and not a great accompanying picture.

Hell, it looks like Richard Dawkins walked out of a windstorm into the path of the sun.

Compare that to the American Atheists’ conference-promoting billboard — which is a designer’s nightmare (according to most of you), but far more controversial, much simpler in its wording, and catches your eye in an instant:

I know a lot of you hate that message for a whole variety of reasons, but my point is that only one of these really grabs your attention.

There’s an art to picking a billboard design that works — whether that means just getting publicity or really getting your message across.

And that’s really surprising when you consider some of the billboards AHA has sponsored which were controversial in a positive way:

They know how to make successful ads. The Dawkins billboard just isn’t one of them.

In their defense, the billboard is located near Harvard Square, where there’s probably more foot traffic than driving traffic. So there may be more time to read the print. And the fact that Dawkins is featured on it at all may be enough to generate publicity, but that has yet to be seen.

Despite my complaint, this conference really does look amazing, with speakers including Dawkins, Steve Wozniak, Rebecca Goldstein, Bart Ehrman, Jeff Sharlet, Cecil Bothwell, Roy Zimmerman, and Steven Pinker.

If you’re in Boston next weekend, you’d be crazy not to attend this. (Student registration for the whole conference is only $49.)

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  • S

    Too many words?! …… Sorry you had to read all that 😉 I get what you are saying. Ads are meant for the 2 seconds you look at them as you drive by. Unfortunately I don’t think there is a bumper sticker way to say “I don’t think that the idea of a god is plausible but I don’t want to be a total a-hole about it because I hope, eventually, I can slowly convince you to abandon your notions of an all knowing, all seeing, all powerful yet absentee invisible father figure in the sky because it shouldn’t affect our public policy.”

  • Tristan Lawksley

    The Dawkins Billboard makes me want to read it… The Iowa Billboard is just cluttered and colorfully irritating. In terms of too many words… I really don’t want to be associated with people who don’t like to take the time to read, do you?

  • The picture of Dawkins isn’t the prettiest, and yes, there are a lot of words… But at least it’s not a fugly eyesore :/

    Besides, where is the billboard located? If it’s somewhere with a good bit of pedestrian traffic, it’s not such a travesty to have a few more words than your general highway billboard. People who aren’t in cars see advertising, too.

  • I read wordy billboards…. I just… do. Even when I’m driving. I can’t help it.

    Maybe they think the windblown look will go over well in Cambridge. All those joggers jogging along the Charles, and all.

  • I like the print ad. Not so fond of the billboard. And what’s with that “The Beacon of Humanism” seal? The wording strikes me as vaguely cultish.

  • Danielle

    I’d put a couple of atheists in a group on one side, and an quick quote saying: “We are all atheists about most gods. We go one step further” in large text.

    Keep the bottom the same, but add the date and location where the logo is.

  • Ash

    Eh. I almost prefer the Dawkins one anyway. The yellow one is just SO messy and unprofessional. I’d rather be portrayed as a bunch of particularly verbose professionals than a ragtag band of colorblind maniacs.

  • ACN

    I’d rather be portrayed as a bunch of particularly verbose professionals than a ragtag band of colorblind maniacs.

    I largely agree with this 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Steve Wozniak, huh? Interesting!

    Here’s their Facebook page.

    They’re going to have a co-author of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” there?
    Good booking.

  • Anonymous
  • Christie

    I’d rather be portrayed as a bunch of particularly verbose professionals than a ragtag band of colorblind maniacs.

    Two words: Hawkeye Colors.

  • I actually really like the Dawkins billboard. He looks rugged and confident. Almost like a movie-star.

    If any problem is there it is that the initial picture of him isn’t larger.

    This may be an indication that I’ve just been reading too much on Conservapedia about how the evil atheists are all effeminate and lack machismo. So I’m amused by a picture that makes Dawkins look like a rugged movie star. Maybe the next thing we need is a video of Dawkins walking away from an explosion.

  • gsw

    I’m with Joshua Zelinsky on this one, he looks ruggedly handsome and ready to kick ass seriously prod buttock**.

    “Why settle for being 99% atheist – come join us and be whole.”

    **Terry Pratchett

  • Maybe the next thing we need is a video of Dawkins walking away from an explosion.

    the explosion of reason!

    but you know what would happen. the churchies would claim it was a shot of him bombing a temple, and thus proof that we’re all violent radicals.

    the movie we need to pitch: ruggedly handsome Dawkins and say, Meryl Streep as the nun with doubts. together they go on an exciting journey of deconversion and reason together and eventually turn an abandoned catholic church into a secular community center. a ‘feel good’ movie, not an action flick.

  • As someone in the marketing industry. This was a very poor campaign.

  • Rieux

    As someone not in the marketing industry, I think the Dawkins billboard has a perfectly nice message, but the words are so small they’re basically illegible. That’s a failure.

    The American Atheists one—meh. It doesn’t have that particular problem, anyway.

  • My issue is why pay for an entire billboard preaching to the converted? Harvard Square? That’s a lot of atheists walking by.

  • Heidi

    @Anna: “The Beacon of Humanism” name for the conference is a play on words. The building on the seal is the state capitol building on Beacon Hill in Boston. Everyone in Cambridge will get that. LOL.

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