- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Billboards appearing along the nation’s highways are displaying gentle, thought-provoking messages about God and faith, such as “Feeling lost? My Book is your map.”

“GodSpeaks Again 2005” picks up on the 1999 campaign that placed 18 sayings on thousands of billboards across the nation. The sayings are printed in white lettering on a black background. The billboards are free of any logo or advertisement and are signed simply “God.”

“Since events have occurred that have focused people on God and spiritual matters, like 9/11 and other tragedies, we think the time is right to do it again,” said Mark DeMoss, spokesman for the “GodSpeaks” billboard campaign and owner of DeMoss Group, a public relations firm in Atlanta.

This year’s “GodSpeaks” campaign has nine sayings such as: “If you must curse, use your own name.” So far, billboard companies in 26 cities, including Norfolk, have posted the sayings on hundreds of billboards and bus shelter posters.

The billboard campaigns have impressed advertising professionals.

“When people are driving, they don’t want messages that are too serious,” said Denver D’Rozario, associate professor of marketing at Howard University in Northwest. “It’s a smart campaign, because they’re using humor instead of something serious.”

The first “GodSpeaks” campaign was in 1998, when an anonymous donor contacted an advertising agency — which has since gone out of business — about identifying a creative way to focus attention on God. The agency suggested a series of sayings to be placed on billboards. The donor wanted the sayings to create a spiritual climate and to get people to think about a daily relationship with God, Mr. DeMoss said.

The sayings — most of them fewer than 10 words — began on nine billboards in South Florida for three months in 1998, garnering public attention that eventually included national press coverage.

The Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA), a billboard trade association based in Northwest, contacted the advertising agency working with the donor about expanding the Florida campaign. OAAA offered to use the sayings for a nationwide public-service campaign at the expense of OAAA members owning billboards. With the agency’s permission, the billboard owners ran the sayings as they had space available on more than 10,000 billboards in 200 cities, donating $15 million in advertising space.

The interest of the donor behind the “GodSpeaks” billboards “has been, all along, to put all of the attention to God and to not attach anything else to the campaign or the identity of it,” Mr. DeMoss said. “He has no interest in selling anything, marketing anything, building a mailing list or anything other than getting those billboards out there.”

Each of the billboard sayings aims to represent an attribute or characteristic of God, Mr. DeMoss said.

“Some show the loving and compassionate side of God. Others show the powerful nature of God, and some, perhaps, show judgment,” he said. “The goal is to stimulate people driving down the highway to think about God, to maybe ask some questions … or to encourage debate or discussion or an exploration of God.”

Mr. D’Rozario says the campaign is not teaching anything new about God.

“It’s the same messages they may have heard elsewhere, but now it’s in a little funny phrase. It’s a new twist on something old,” he said.

The OAAA, which has more than 1,000 members, has agreed to run a second campaign this year and is working with the DeMoss Group, which specializes in working with religious organizations and causes.

“We believe this campaign has great relevance to today’s culture,” said Meredith Moller, manager of communications for OAAA. “We thought it was a positive way to contribute to the public discussion on values at a time when our nation is so divided on social issues.”

“The reaction to the first campaign was overwhelmingly positive from religious ends and nonreligious ends,” Mr. DeMoss said. “It was just overwhelmingly positive and certainly encouraging enough to try again.”

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