The Ohio Lottery Commission has put up a new billboard on the path of my walk home from work. It features a line drawing of dandelions gone to seed and dandelion seeds wafting in the air, with the saying “Why see a weed when you could see a wish?” The billboard refers to inspiredoh.org and has the Ohio Lottery logo.
“Inspired Ohio” is a website sponsored by the Ohio Lottery. The home page of the website reads: “To many in the outside world we’re simply ‘Midwesterners.’ But we know better. We are selfless neighbors, and decorated servicemen. We are soup-kitchen-altruists and wheelchaired-iron-men. We are inspired Ohioans. And these are our stories.” The home page has links to videos of three Ohioans who apparently “tell their stories.” One of the links at present has the title “Always bet on yourself.”
The obvious message of the billboard is that it is all about perception. Why see something as a negative that you could see, instead, as a dreamy positive? But what is supposed to be the weed, exactly? Is it Ohio, and have the “inspired Ohioans” used their positive viewpoints to turn our state into a place where dreams come true? Or is the Ohio Lottery just trading on positive stories about Ohioans who are doing good to try to shift the perception of the Lottery itself? Do they hope that people who now view the Lottery as a merciless way of extracting money from people who will never beat the overwhelming odds and really can’t afford the lottery tickets they buy every week will see it instead as a harmless way for people to dream about how they might have a better future?
Either way, the billboard message doesn’t work for me. The fact that, for a brief period every summer, little children might blow the seeds off dandelion puffballs doesn’t make the dandelion any less an invasive, destructive, ugly weed. It’s interesting, and telling, that the Ohio Lottery has chosen to associate itself with a weed.
After a quick visit to Michigan to see the Cranbrook senior art show and spend a day with Russell, I’ve concluded — based solely on billboards — that Detroit has a new growth industry. It’s lawsuits.
There are lots of billboards in Detroit, because there are lots of road. (It is the Motor City, after all.) And I would guess that about half of the billboards are for lawyers who are ready to help you and fight on your behalf. There are billboards for the auto accident attorney with a clever if not grammatically correct alphabetized phone number that an accident victim probably would remember even in an immediate, post-accident daze. There are glamorous billboards for a blonde woman attorney who goes by the initials JK and whose picture is everywhere. There are billboards for people who need legal representation for sexual harassment, billboards for people who are getting a divorce, and billboards for people who are dealing with the police.
Billboards used to advertise businesses and their products; now they advertise lawyers. There’s a message in there somewhere.
Highway billboards are the prototypical form of impulse purchase advertising. You’re traveling down the road, you see a billboard for a restaurant at the next exit, and you decide in a split-second that it’s time to pull off to get a cheeseburger.
That’s why it’s jarring and unnerving to see gun sale billboards sprouting up on the stretch of I-71 between Columbus to Cincinnati. Are drivers really making spur of the moment decisions to buy firearms when they see a brightly colored “Guns” billboard? Unlike the vast majority of highway billboards, which advertise the availability of fast food, gasoline, or a place for the weary traveler to stay for the night, guns don’t seem to have any connection to the routine needs of a highway driver — unless the guns sales are motivated by the aggressive driving of their fellow motorists. If that’s the case, I need to be a lot more worried about the jerk who has been tailgating me for the last five miles.
According to statistics maintained by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which give you a rough sense of gun ownership in American states, Ohio isn’t one of the biggest gun purchasing states in the country. In 2012, there were 45.65 NICS checks for every 1000 Ohio residents; the highest NICS check state, Kentucky, had 535.78 (!) checks for every 1000 people. Still, I’d like to think that Ohioans who are buying firearms are being thoughtful about what seems like a very significant decision, and not impulsively buying a gun because a passing billboard put the idea in their head.
Yesterday I was minding my own business, driving north on Route 315, when I saw this billboard. It stopped my in my tracks, and reminded me — as if I or any Browns Backer needed reminding — of just how lost and pathetic the Cleveland Browns franchise seems to be right now.
What are the Browns trying to accomplish with this ad campaign? It’s February, months away from the start of NFL training camps. No one in Columbus knows Mike Pettine, so why would we trust any assurance he provided? It would be another thing if the Browns had decided to hire Jim Tressel and were running ads featuring him, and it might even be different if the Browns hadn’t changed head coaches as often as Miley Cyrus changes into another raunchy outfit. But neither of those things is true, and a picture of a random guy with a shaved head and beard looking like a hard ass isn’t going to change that.
I also don’t remember anyone questioning the Browns’ toughness. Instead, it was all about talent — which the Browns sorely lack. Get some good players in free agency, have a high-quality draft, and tell me I won’t ever again have to watch Brandon Weedon on a football field wearing a Browns uniform, and maybe I’ll pay attention.
I’m guessing that the Browns are worried that their frustrated and embarrassed fans won’t renew their season tickets, and they are trying to build a little positive momentum. They’re as a needy and desperate as a high school geek searching desperately for someone, anyone, who will go to the prom with him.
Driving from Columbus to Indianapolis yesterday, you could see the signs of America’s ongoing economic struggles, without having to look very hard for them.
It’s a straight shot from Columbus to Indianapolis, on I-70 West. That’s one of our main east-west highways, linking cities like Columbus, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Denver. When the economy is really cooking, the road is packed with long convoys of semi trucks that can make the drive a real pain. In America’s heartland, trucks are the true wheels of commerce. Yesterday, there was some truck traffic, but not that much — certainly not as much as in boom times.
Another highway-oriented economic indicator is billboards. The number of billboards dotting the I-70 roadway reflects its status as a major transportation artery. Yesterday, many of the billboards were available for lease, which suggests that some companies may have cut back on their advertising budgets or that the businesses that formerly used the billboards have gone under.
From what I saw on my road trip, I’m not surprised by the continuing bad news — like yesterday’s report of higher than expected filings of new joblessness claims.