Fake Billboard on NY I-90 Receiving Major Public Attention
A billboard off of New York I-90 near Albany is getting some backlash. The billboard reads, "James will never know what Christmas is like... Drive Sober." Beside that text, there is a picture of a ten-month-old baby. Underneath the picture of the baby are the dates "2/13/21 - 12/18/21." The billboard alludes to that baby James died in a DWI accident before Christmas 2021.
So what is the issues? The story is a fake.
Fake Billboard off of I-90 Receiving Major Public Attention
The story on the billboard was fabricated. The baby pictured in the billboard is not named James, nor did he die in a DWI accident. The baby depicted is now a 10th grader at Shaker High School in the North Colonie School District.
So, how does this high schooler feel that his image is being used in this way? He's totally fine with it. In fact, he came up with it.
Times Union went to look into any news stories surrounding the baby's death, only to find none, and that the child was still alive. The whole story was made up by the high schooler and two other students in a health class.
This fall, their assignment in health class was to design ads on a series of health issues: suicide, drunk driving, domestic violence, and drug addiction. The three high school students were shocked to learn the number of infants killed by drunk driving each year, and that's why they created the ad.
The students worked with Lamar Advertising to get the billboard space for the ad. The students' parents also approved and signed off on the idea.
Is This Considered Fake Advertising or Illegal?
Lamar Advertising was well aware that the story was fake. Vice President of Lamar Advertising, Mike Flanagan said that the message was too powerful to pass up. "I think the message is the point. The power of the message overrides the concerns." Flanagan has stated that they have used models before for other serious content, so this is no different.
Does the use of the photo in this sense break any rules? Is it illegal to use the photo in this way? No, actually. Flanagan says that the only rules of engagement in terms of ads they would publish is that these images can't be in the public domain, which this personal baby picture is not.
How Does the Public Feel?
In cases like this, you often hear that people would be upset, potentially feeling that a serious matter is being trivialized. However, that does not seem to be the case, for the most part.
Despite many real horrific losses in recent years tied to drunken driving accidents, sources the Times Union spoke with said they did not have a problem with a fake story being used to highlight the issue.
One of the biggest supporters of the ad is the group called Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD for short. MADD's national chief development officer defends the billboard saying,
"This billboard could save lives at the most urgent time of the year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) estimates that 30 percent of all traffic deaths throughout the year happen during the holiday season. It's especially important this time of year to create awareness on the dangers and implications of drunk driving. We appreciate young people getting involved and sharing this message in their community."
The story may not be real, but the message is strong. And if it helps prevent one case of drunk driving, then it has made an important impact.