"You and Your Dopey Sign"

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

YEARS AGO I asked a PR specialist how I could know if a publicity stunt I cooked up might be effective. He answered, If you re" embarrassed to tell your family about it" In other words, it has to be taboo-breaking, silly, or both.

So in July 2008 the American Humanist Association began planning for a splashy advertising campaign on Washington, DC, buses. But in October a media story went global about how the British Humanist Association was planning to put signs on London buses in reaction to a widely-run Christian campaign there threatening unbelievers with hellfire. The Atheist Bus Campaign "adverts," written by comedy writer Ariane Sherine, would read, "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." The news allowed the BHA to raise a whopping 120,402.00 [pounds sterling] (about $180,000 U.S.) in a single month.

So we on the AHA advertising committee accelerated our work, experimenting with a range of slogans and finally settling on: "Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake" We contracted for the ad space, designed and printed the signs, bought display ads in the New York Times and Washington Post, and held a well-attended press conference November 11.

Then came the deluge. The story immediately hit television and radio. Newspapers from coast to coast and beyond our borders followed the next morning. Associated Press used the headline, "God, humbug: Humanist holiday ads say just be good," and opened with, "You better watch out. There is a new combatant in the Christmas wars" Bishop Council Nedd, chairman of an advocacy group In God We Trust, was harsher: "These ads are a deliberate attack on American traditions, beliefs and customs by a United Nation's affiliated group that espouses a radical anti-American agenda." But AHA spokespeople had made it clear at the press conference that the slogan, accompanied by a shrugging character in a Santa suit, was merely posing a rhetorical question and offering a positive ethic to the humanistically inclined. …