A single billboard with a birthday wish for dad proves – once again — the power of out of home media to ignite global fame.
Brothers Michael and Christopher Ferry put up a billboard in New Jersey, asking people to “WISH MY DAD HAPPY BIRTHDAY.” Their dad Chris Ferry got so many calls that he ordered a new phone line (he estimated 20,000 calls in the first week, from around the world). After deleting 3,000 texts, he said he got about 2,500 after more broadcast news stories.
As the birthday billboard went viral on social media, press coverage included The New York Times, network TV, and foreign news outlets.
An insurance agent from New Jersey got the birthday surprise of a lifetime after his sons put his face and phone number on a highway billboard https://t.co/F2JbzxcBzV
— The New York Times (@nytimes) March 14, 2019
When the billboard went up, along Black Horse Pike stretching toward Atlantic City, son Christopher Ferry, 30, posted on Facebook a selfie his father had taken with the billboard. It quickly generated 200+ shares.
Six days later, dad Chris Ferry was on the phone with Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest on live TV. The first time Kelly and Ryan called, to say Happy Birthday, the voice mailbox was full.
By conservative estimate, the “media reach” of the birthday billboard was 303 million, valued at nearly $3 million in earned media. The billboard cost $2,000 through April 6, the sons said.
Billboards Gone Viral
This impressive return on investment is not unprecedented.
In rural, snowy Minnesota, a local group with a gripe against Washington put up one billboard along I-35 with a picture of former President George W. Bush and a question: “Miss Me Yet?”
That single billboard “caused an Internet buzz that any ad executive would salivate over,” said The Christian Science Monitor in 2010.
More recently, the simple, black-on-red billboard design featured in the Oscar-winning film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is an enduring worldwide icon of political expression.
A billboard-gone-viral can prompt a response billboard. In Texas, a GoFundMe site sponsored a billboard that said “TEXAS IS FOR EVERYONE” after a previous billboard near Vega said liberals should leave the state.
Billboards-gone-viral showcase the symbiotic connection between the out of home medium and other media (print, broadcast, digital, and social).
When Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest broached the idea of calling birthday dad Chris Ferry on their TV show March 12, they held up a newspaper clipping to explain their interest.
Putting down the newspaper article and picking up a cell phone, Kelly and Ryan said Happy Birthday to Chris Ferry on live TV.
Son Christopher Ferry, self-described passionate addiction recovery advocate in Boca Raton, FL, knew what to do next: he posted video of the telecast about his billboard on his Facebook page, which has been viewed thousands of times.
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