Park and Read Cause Marketing

Outdoor advertising companies have an expression about signs that are so busy the message can’t be taken in one glance. They call such signs, ‘park and reads.’

The usual rule of thumb for billboard is that they have no more than 8-10 words and fewer than 4 lines of text. Total.

But of course many people either don’t know or think the rule doesn’t apply to them. You see such signs all the time, although the one below probably has a subject matter you’ve never before seen on a billboard.

The ad above, from the March 31, 2011 Fortune magazine, is a park and read from the fashion designer Geoffrey Beene. The ad features Ann and Nancy Wilson of the 70s and 80s rock group Heart along with two cancer researchers, Marion Knott, MD, PhD and Raymond DuBois, MD, PhD.

There’s no arguing with the intent of this PSA campaign or the sincerity of GBGB (Geoffrey Beene Gives Back) from Geoffrey Beene, LLC. All profits from operations fund a wide array of philanthropic endeavors. GBGB is basically Newman's Own, only for fashion. Over the years, the company has generated right around $150 million in charitable donations. Geoffrey Beene, the man and designer, died of cancer in 2004.

Worthy as the effort is, the Geoffrey Beene ad is a park and read, less so because of the amount of words then because of the layout and art direction. There’s just too much going on.

I get the Rock Stars of Science thing with the rock star celebrities asserting the Rock Star qualities of the researchers and their credentials.

But bringing in the Stand Up to Cancer subhead… “This is where the end of cancer begins”… confuses more than it enlightens. Why not just put their logo at the bottom of the ad?

I suspect that Stand Up to Cancer, which can call on so many celebrities for support, provided Ann and Nancy Wilson. But let’s be honest, Heart’s best days as a rock band and as a celebrity draw are behind it.

To be fair, the Rock Stars of Science PSA has other versions with acts including Timbaland, B.o.B, Keri Hilson, and Jay Sean. But they also feature versions with Debbie Harry and Bret Michaels.

Finally, I struggle with the way they draw equivalency between the cancer researchers and the rock stars. I mean if you’re a talented cancer researcher, do you want to be compared with a rock star like Bret Michaels, the former lead singer of the band Poison, who has reached the point in his career when he's mostly famous for being famous? Are you a former punk rocker of a researcher (like Debbie Harry) who eschews the medical establishment? Or are you an up-and-coming R&B artist of a researcher (like Keri Hilson), still awaiting your first real hit?

I have nothing but love for what Geoffrey Beene has done for cancer and heart and Alzheimer’s causes, and many more worthy and deserving causes. Only the redoubtable Newman's Own has given more. But bad art direction and layout makes Rock Stars of Science a cool idea, but a 'park and read' as an ad.

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