By Eric Slagle
March 23, 2013
In the outdoor advertising business, billboard creators have seven seconds to get their point across.
If there are too many words or images, passing motorists won't get it and the opportunity to influence them will be lost.
Art students at Elizabeth Forward High School vying to have their designs grace an anti-drinking billboard this prom season had the opportunity Friday to get some expert advice from professionals in the industry.
Lamar Advertising sent three of its team members to the school to counsel eight students whose designs have been chosen as finalists in a contest sponsored by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.
The four winning designs will be featured on Lamar billboards in the area during late April and May. Sessions with each student lasted about 15 minutes.
Elizabeth Forward High School junior Sam Boden, seated, has the design he submitted for an anti-drinking billboard contest. At the table with Boden are Lamar Advertising creative director Jeremy Boston and graphic designer Phylicia Mendenhall. Looking on from behind are Lamar account executive Lou Cipriani and district superintendent Bart Rocco.
“I'm impressed,” said Lamar account executive Lou Cipriani, who visited the school two years ago when it last held the contest. On that earlier visit, Cipriani noted the students' designs were a lot busier and thus violated the seven-second rule. This year, he said, the artists came with simplified imagery and scaled-back language.
“I can tell the difference,” he said.
A design featuring the Internet sensation Grumpy Cat submitted by junior J.T. DeMarco was one that sparked a lot of discussion during the consulting sessions.
“The kids are all about this,” said technology education teacher Megan Smith, who noted that she and art teacher Malvene Harris weren't familiar with Grumpy Cat until after J.T. turned in the design.
“That means we're getting old,” added Harris.
Lamar graphic designer Phylicia Mendenhall told J.T. if his poster connects with students, it's a good thing.
“It made me laugh,” said Mendenhall. “If you can get a reaction out of somebody on a billboard, you've done a good job.”
But Lamar creative director Jeremy Boston cautioned using the popular character could present copyright problems. He said it's good to take a conservative approach when it comes to using material that might be protected property.
The instructors advised J.T. to contact the creators of the character and ask permission to use it.
“I would do that ASAP,” said Harris.
It was a morning of constructive criticism.
Junior Anthony Mooney submitted a design that was a cautionary acrostic of the word “prom.”
“I just figured I'd keep it simple,” Anthony said.
The advisors asked him to simplify it even more.
Stemming from the “M,” Anthony's design said, “Make sure you have fun.” After some discussion, Anthony said he would shorten that to “Make memories,” to create a less-cluttered design.
Junior Sam Boden was advised to move the text on a poster he created of a silhouetted man taking a drink from a wine bottle.
The Lamar consultants also suggested senior Lauren Dull ditch the image she had of a brain in a beer stein on her poster.
Smith noted that in the early stages of design, “We got a lot that said, ‘Don't drink and drive.' I said (the message has to be) ‘Don't drink at all.'”
The distinction between drinking and drinking and driving is one that the PLCB will be looking for, too, noted director of student services Glenn Schell. Schell, who helped coordinate the grant-funded contest, said the state agency will give final approval to the winning entries.
The $12,000 PLCB grant pays for the cost of the four billboards and funds an online alcohol awareness program in which all students participate. The winners of the billboard contest each will receive an iPad while the four runners-up will win gift cards.
Students have until April 2 to turn in their final drafts.
The location of the signs has not yet been determined but spots along Route 48, Route 51 and Lebanon Church Road are being considered. The objective is to have the signs seen by the local community and also by students on their way to the prom, which is at Marriott City Center in Pittsburgh on May 18.