HBO Video’s Scare Tactics

Hearses are kind of creepy. But apparently they’re more frightening than HBO Video thought when it decided to wrap city buses in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco with a hearse image to promote a DVD for its hit program Six Feet Under.

City officials in the two California cities rejected the ad, fearing that it would inhibit riders from boarding the buses. New York and Chicago officials, used to less sunny skies, had no such reservations, and people in both cities are boarding the wrapped buses daily. (The irony is that Six Feet Under is set in California.) “We never thought it would bother people,” says David Oakley, creative director at Charlotte, N.C.’s Boone/Oakley, which created the campaign. “We just thought it would be a cool way to get the message out there.”

HBO Video, a division of the pay network that markets DVD compilations of HBO series, supports the campaign. It is as provocative as Six Feet Under itself, a series set in a funeral home that now is in its fifth and final season, and the hearse is a prominent part of the show, Oakley says. Recent bombings on the public-transit system in London, which included one on a bus, were not a factor in the rejection of the ads in California. Those transit systems made their decisions before the bombings, Oakley adds.

Los Angeles and San Francisco will not escape the campaign, though. Boone/Oakley wrapped privately owned buses to drive routes in those cities.