All advertising is created to get your attention, to speak to you. But one ad in particular, a billboard living for the moment in Las Vegas, can actually carry on a conversation. Bob talks back.
BOB GARFIELD: In my day job as a critic for Advertising Age, I spend a lot of time talking about advertising, but ‘til now haven't had the chance to talk with advertising. The next guest is an ad, a billboard, to be exact, 160 feet wide, facing the Las Vegas strip.
Like any billboard, any ad, it's there to grab your attention and get a message across, but let's just say this one is a bit more personalized than what you're accustomed to.
So with that, hi, Bill. BILL [NATHAN]: Hey, Bob. How's it goin'? BOB GARFIELD: Great. You're a billboard. BILL [NATHAN]: Well, what I do is I'm up here on this billboard and it's my job to make sure that everybody can read it okay, see everything they need to do. And let me take this opportunity to let you know that your beard looks particularly handsome this afternoon.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] Okay. How you could possibly know that we'll get to in a moment. But tell me, what are you advertising? BILL [NATHAN]: Here in Las Vegas, my billboard is sponsored by Acuvue. But I show a lot of different types of advertisements up here. For example, we've got an advertisement for Blue Man Group, and the Blue Man Group actually comes up here and hangs out a little bit, makes sure their billboard looks okay. BOB GARFIELD: Oh, that's nice. Now, how does it work? I'm walking along the strip and pass a billboard for the Blue Man Group. And what is especially interactive about this experience? BILL [NATHAN]: Okay. Well, let's say there you are at the Fashion Show Mall in fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada, and you look up and you see this large video billboard. I'd be up there, because that's where I work, and I could look down at you and say - [ON LOCATION] - you right there in the red shirt leaning against the rail? Yeah. You right there. Yeah. How's it goin'? That's what I'm talkin' about. Hey, man. Where you from, sir? Tucson, Arizona? That's located down [FADES OUT]… BOB GARFIELD: So I'm on the strip and I spot the billboard, and I'm looking at you, and next thing I know I'm hearing you say, you in the blue shirt. How do you do that? BILL [NATHAN]: Mm-hmm. Well, it is remarkably spectacular that I can look down and see you. And the experience for you is that I'm looking down directly at you. I'm making eye contact with you, so all you have to do is look up in my eyes and speak in a normal voice and I can absolutely hear everything that you're saying.
And it's really just like talking to another person, but in this case you're talking to someone who's on an advertising venue. BOB GARFIELD: Now, that must mean that you have cameras trained on me, and some sort of high-tech microphone that can pick up my voice. Has anybody freaked out under these circumstances, realizing that, you know, they've blundered into a 2007 version of Candid Camera writ large? BILL [NATHAN]: I think a lot of people have freaked out. And then, you know, some people are perfectly comfortable, just showing up, looking up and saying, hey, Bill, how's it going? And if I've met them before, I could say, hey, Reggie, you know, you still here for a couple of days? And we chat about his vacation. We chat about the fact that he's from Tupelo, Mississippi, whatever it is we talked about the day before. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] MAN: Bill, I want the hat. BILL [NATHAN]: What's that? MAN: I want the hat. BILL [NATHAN]: You want the hat? MAN: Absolutely. BILL [NATHAN]: I'll see what I can do about that. I'm giving away a couple of things in a little bit, but first I've got to show you some awesome advertising. For those of you who don't know about the ads, My name's Bill. BOB GARFIELD: So I get how you do it when you're live on the site, but when you're not there, how can recorded Nathan be Bill for the live audience in the street? BILL [NATHAN]: Well, there's a lot of different ways to talk to people, Bob, and Bill has the ability, if he's not there, to actually talk to people, and they might think that he's actually live and interacting with them.
For example how you guys doin' out there? . . . . Awesome. Most likely the audience said, great or good in there somewhere, so it becomes a conversation, and that's part of the magic trick that we do with Bill, the Living Billboard. Bill made a lot of friends. BOB GARFIELD: Okay. Now, as a matter of full disclosure, I should say that you are not, in fact, Bill, but you are Nathan Phillips, an actor/entertainer. I don't really know how to ask this, but as an actor, how much better is this gig than, say, you know, dressing up as a hotdog or whatever and handing out flyers for Nathan's? BILL [NATHAN]: [LAUGHS] BOB GARFIELD: Is this where you envisioned your career going? BILL [NATHAN]: Well, as someone who has dressed up as a hotdog, I can guarantee you that this is a better gig. This is an improv show and a one-man show where I get to experiment with every single type of skill. I can make up funny songs. I can draw pictures. And that is a really singular opportunity.
If you are in a hotdog and if there's anyone out there in a hotdog, I know how warm it is in there. I know that it's a very hard job. The opportunity to be in a show where you get to do anything that you want, and talk to people from all over the place, is really cool, and this is about as good as it gets. It's kind of a perfect gig for an actor like me. BOB GARFIELD: Well, Bill, or Nathan, or [LAUGHS] whoever the hell you are, thank you [LAUGHS] very much for joining us. BILL [NATHAN]: [LAUGHS] Thanks a lot, Bob. Thanks for having me. BOB GARFIELD: Nathan Phillips is Bill the Billboard for Counts Media. BILL [NATHAN]: Okay, guys. Take it out a little bit. All right? Okay. I want everybody to spread out, sort of spread out. Okay? Can we get some cool rhinestone letters with my name on it? Thank you. All right. Yup, that's nice. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] BOB GARFIELD: That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Megan Ryan, Jamie York, Mike Vuolo, Mark Phillips and Nazanin Rafsanjani, and edited this week by Megan and me. Dylan Keefe is our technical director and Jennifer Munson our engineer.
We also had help from Jessica Magaldi, Ian Whitehead and Nevada Public Radio. Our webmaster is Amy Pearl.
Katya Rogers is our senior producer and John Keefe our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. This is On the Media from WNYC. Brooke Gladstone will return next week. I'm Bob Garfield.