Four tweets later…
Our church’s offices and worship services are housed in a beautiful loft on Broadway in the emerging neighborhood known as NoMad (North of Madison Square Park), in Manhattan. New Yorkers simply know our Church’s specific location as 27th and Broadway while more tourists might know “the stretch of Broadway between Herald Square and Madison Square Park.” We’ve been gathering in this location for almost three years.
Directly across from Gallery Church is a four story billboard on the side of Broadway Plaza Hotel. The billboard is changed out it seems every month or so, with usually a new Coca Cola ad. The billboard is seemingly owned by Coca Cola evidenced by a small unchanging icon badge underneath billboard. Tuesday morning, I looked out of my Gallery Church office window only to see a four story sized half-naked woman on the billboard advertising Vitamin Water. The billboard took the breath out of me, not in a good way. I had begun to look forward to the different billboards each month, but this one stopped me in my tracks. I was angry, and brokenhearted. I try to distract my boys whenever we walk by magazine stands in the city, some of which have no filter on what they display right in the front. There was no way to distract anyone away from this billboard. I was brokenhearted for the woman who was on the billboard, knowing thousands of men every day will pass by looking at her picture as an object to be lusted after, not a person to be valued. I was brokenhearted that my little girl, Lillie, after hearing the message that she is loved and valued by God will walk out the doors of her church only to receive another message by the four story billboard, maybe if you look like this, or take your shirt off and sexually tease men, maybe then you’ll be valued by them. I’m sure the goal of Coca Cola and Vitamin Water’s PR campaign wasn’t to degrade women and to tempt men to do the same. Unfortunately, that is exactly what this particular billboard had done. I wonder how comfortable the women on the advertising team at Coca Cola and Vitamin Water would have been modeling what this billboard was supposed to look like in the board room. My guess is not too comfortable. It is sad to see companies practice lazy art and innovation in their advertizing only to fall into the disrespectful “sex sells” strategy.
I decided to take a little action. I sent just a few tweets @CocaCola and @Vitamin water telling them my brief thoughts about the billboard and asking them to take it down. Here were my Tuesday tweets to them:
“@cocacola @Vitaminwater I’m a Pastor in NYC & u just put this larger than life garbage up across from @GalleryChurch”(and I included the picture of the billboard)
“@cocacola @vitaminwater the billboard is degrading to women, unhelpful for men. #takeitdown”
“@cocacola @vitaminwater is ur product so bad that you have to put a half dressed woman on a building sized billboard to sell it? #pathetic”
“@cocacola @vitaminwater On behalf of the families in NYC that are seeking to raise respectable & wholesome families, take it down.”
I didn’t mince words.
I was surprised when @Vitaminwater tweeted back the next day “@FreddyT we’d love to discuss your concerns, freddy. can we call you @gallerychurch, or can you dm us your contact information?”
I responded by Direct Messaging Vitamin Water (Vitaminwater) and included Gallery Church’s phone number. (They had begun to follow me on twitter by this point.) Later that day, they called while I was on the other line and left a name and number. I called that number back and left a message and called one more time but was not able to reach them.
I came into the office this morning, looked out my window and saw this:
Vitamin Water took the billboard down! I’m not entirely sure if they covered it, or took it down all together, but man was I thankful, impressed and excited.
I’m thankful to Vitamin Water for listening to and caring about my concerns and complaints. This alone is impressive. But that’s not all they did, they actually took the time to call me. And though we’ve been playing phone tag for past couple of days and haven’t yet actually gotten to talk, Vitamin Water chose, on the basis of four tweets, to take the billboard down. This is a respectable, honorable, and classy decision on the part of Vitamin Water. I am not sure of the relationship of Vitamin Water with CocaCola, but major shout out to you both for doing the right thing. I offer Vitamin Water and Coca Cola my sincere gratitude and congratulations!
I couldn’t help but to think, the billboard is now an appropriate solid black for Good Friday. “And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour…And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.” Mark 15:33 & 37
If you walk four blocks south on Broadway past the Gallery Church, the image that was on the billboard can be found much, much smaller on the outside of bus stop shelter. Perhaps this billboard incident will spur on a conversation at Vitamin Water that results in the removal of these inappropriate images from all their ads. If they do this, and restore the focus of their ads back on their product, Vitamin Water the drink, wont be the only thing that is refreshing. Their ads will be too.