Bleeding Blue Billboards

University of Kentucky

In the Bluegrass State, getting fans excited about the University of Kentucky’s (UK) basketball program matches the difficulty of selling water to athletes after their competition. Since legendary coach Adolph Rupp brought the program to prominence in the 1940s, the hardwood Wildcats have stirred the passions of blue-and-white-clad denizens.

This fervor hasn’t often translated into enthusiasm for the UK football team. The gridiron squad’s success approached the hoopsters when Paul “Bear” Bryan coached the team in the late 1940s and early 1950s, but it hasn’t often been replicated since. However, since the 2006 season, the Wildcats have enjoyed a modicum of success with Rich Brooks at the helm. The team has won its bowl game in three consecutive seasons, a feat not achieved since Bryant’s tenure. This success has also translated into more turnstile traffic; UK has sold out its allotment of football season tickets.

The athletic department’s seized on this success as an opportunity to create an energetic billboard campaign. Whereas they’d devoted the primary message in past campaigns to providing information about purchasing tickets, the project now focused on creating buzz and “converting casual consumers into die-hard consumers,” according to Jason Schlafer, an associate athletic director at UK.

“In a down economy, we felt it was a good time to move the needle,” he said.

To push the envelope, UK enlisted Cornett Integrated Marketing Services (Lexington, KY) to develop the campaign, which launched in April. For the billboard content, Cornett created nine unique images; each incorporates one line from UK’s nine-line football fight song with a photo of the Wildcats in action. Lexington-based Right Place Media studied billboard sites throughout Kentucky and selected 32 boards throughout Louisville, Lexington and several smaller cities in order to maximize impressions.

Miller Print Group (Louisville, KY) printed the boards on Circle Graphics’ (Longmont, CO) recyclable Eco Poster and Eco-Flexx material with automotive-grade, pigmented inks. CBS Outdoor, Lamar, Southeastern Displays and Majic Media installed them on their respective displays. After the campaign finishes in September, Tietek and Avangard Innovative will recycle the substrate, which will ultimately be converted into railroad ties.

However, colorful, action-photo billboards only comprise part of the campaign. Cornett installed radio transmitters that broadcast a recording of the UK cheerleading squad signing the fight song over dedicated AM frequencies that emanate from Lexington and Louisville. Cornett also created a website,, that alerted rabid Wildcat fans where to find the frequencies. Christy Hiler, Cornett’s media planner, said the audio idea emerged from a misunderstanding.

“We were telling one of our staff member’s wives about using the fight song in the campaign, and she thought we meant the billboards would play the fight song,” she said. “We thought about it and realized it could be done."

The website also informed visitors about a “scavenger hunt” that invited fans to use camera phones to photograph the billboards and upload them to the site. UK provided two football season tickets to the first contestant to submit photos of all nine billboard designs. Cornett also used Twitter and Facebook to further promote the program.

Hiler said the campaign received phenomenal feedback: “We created buzz in Lexington and Louisville, but people in the smaller towns were especially appreciative. They’re glad their devotion to the blue and white wasn’t forgotten.”

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