When longtime Richards Group copywriter Matt Bull finished his first highly visible solo gig in Dallas this week, it felt like a pretty big deal to him. And apparently Redditors agreed, giving his billboard for the local Chicken Scratch restaurant a massive boost in publicity by voting it to the site's front page on Wednesday. Part of the appeal was the creepy, counterintuitive tone of the board, which highlights Chicken Scratch's location "between some trailers and a condemned motel." But another key to Bull's success was his clear excitement at creating something on his own after a lengthy stint in agency life. "After 16 years, I quit my ad agency job to work for myself and spend more time with my family," he wrote in his Reddit post. "Thought I'd share my first solo ad with you guys—for a great local restaurant. I've worked with much bigger budgets in every media imaginable, but I've never been more proud of the outcome than this." Created with illustrator Elliott Park, the R. Crumb-esque billboard has quickly launched Bull and his one-man shop, The Department of Persuasion, into the public eye. We caught up with him for a quick Q&A about the story behind this odd bit of outdoor.
How did you get connected with this gig?
Chicken Scratch is in Oak Cliff, which is a pretty tight-knit neighborhood in Dallas. The owners traded a party for an outdoor placement with CBS and needed something to put up. They wanted to work with someone locally, and another neighbor I'd done some work for recommended me. That was all there was to it.
How much direction did they give you?
The initial direction was only, "We're thinking we want something kind of Church of the SubGenius." Which I can honestly say I've never ever heard from a client. In retrospect that was probably them vetting me, to see if I was on the same wavelength. Then later the co-owner, Christopher, was talking about the challenging sell the restaurant has and said, "I mean, we're between a trailer park and a condemned motel!" And I thought, "That would make a pretty great ad, actually."
Were they (or you) concerned about the general creepiness of it?
Not in the slightest. In fact, the only feedback they made when looking at pencils was, "Can we make the guy creepier?"
How about the fact that you don't show the address?
Nah, no concerns. They didn't even ask for it. I've done a lot of outdoor and had given them the basic ad agency party line on what to expect from outdoor. This one was already on the crowded side, and everyone has a smartphone anyway.
What's your take on the Reddit response? Did you ever expect it would blow up the way it has?
I'm genuinely shocked. I only did it on a whim. I expected, like most of my posts there, that it would get swiftly downvoted into oblivion. How much time have you spent there? They hate ads more than they hate organized religion. I imagine there are entire nu-marketing shops packed with interns leading deeply frustrated lives chasing the front page of Reddit for global brands. That we did it for a fried chicken biscuit sandwich place is gratifying.
The best part of the comments is all the ad-strategy criticism. I think because everyone's grown up assaulted by ads from day one on the planet, they end up a) feeling like they're experts by virtue of passive experience and b) carrying a lot of low level resentment around over having no say in being forced into becoming an audience for thousands of pitches a day. Which they then work out on a billboard for a one-off chicken place. But overall, they really seemed to love it.
For more on Matt Bull and to see his previous work, visit DepartmentOfPersuasion.com.