Billboards around town inspire, encourage during social distancing

By , Daily Memphian Updated: April 19, 2020 10:53 AM CT | Published: April 18, 2020 6:14 PM CT

A billboard at Poplar and Mendenhall is typically dedicated to advertising the next show in The Orpheum’s Broadway season.

But with no play to promote, The Orpheum decided to send another message: one of hope.

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They, like many other local organizations, are using outdoor advertising to rally Memphians against the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Orpheum’s creative director, Nathan Ashby, took the advice of the theater group president and CEO Brett Batterson, to mock up a billboard that would resonate with fans of the arts who gravely miss the excitement onstage when the iconic local theater’s curtains draw back.

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“He created several options and the one you see now was the one that members of our staff gravitated towards right away,” said Kristin Bennett, The Orpheum communications manager.

The phrase he chose: “This is just an intermission. Hang in there, Memphis. We will see you again soon.”

“I was trying to think of metaphors for theater, things stopping and being on pause,” Ashby said.

“It just felt like the right message to say that this is temporary and we will get back to business as soon as possible.”

Bennett said the staff discovered the billboard went up from a longtime Orpheum fan’s post on social media. Even with many at home during the pandemic, the billboard reached much of its intended audience through shares on social.

“(W)e join many theaters across the country in sharing this specific message as we all try to look towards the future with encouragement,” Bennett said.

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They also join several other local organizations and agencies who have erected their own sprawling banners with inspiring and informative phrases for passengers along Mid-South roadways.

Memphis Tourism’s I Love Memphis blog presented several digital billboards with encouragement for hospitality employees and first-responders.

“The blog shows love and support for Memphians during ‘normal’ times, so we knew it was important to publicly show love and support during these difficult times and especially for frontline, medical, and essential workers,” I Love Memphis blogger Holly Whitfield said.

“It’s an extension of what I try to share with our readers online: that Memphians are strong. That we can get through this together, and that we support each other, even if it’s virtually or in spirit.”

However, the most prominent among local billboards related to COVID-19 might come from marketing agency Three(i) Creative, which found success with their campaign, “Stay home, mane.”

Three(i) president Kenneth Worles said the phrase, which is found on several electronic billboards throughout Memphis, came from conversations he’d heard regarding COVID-19. Like all of his locally-focused marketing campaigns, he wanted to contribute something authentic and proprietary to Memphis.

“The phrase ‘Stay home, mane’ wasn’t originated by one particular person. It was a phrase that Memphians were saying throughout the city, already,” Worles said.

“As an organization, we believe in magnifying those messages, making sure that we can take the ideas and initiatives of small conversation and make them gigantic.”

In partnership with electronic billboard company, Blip, Three(i) was able to get their phrase up over locations such as the Interstate 240 flyover ramp at Interstate 40 West, within hours of finalizing its design.

“At the end of the day, we want to make sure it connects and attracts the right audience. We knew the target audience would appreciate and take action based off of it,” Worles said.

“But what we didn’t see coming was the excitement and response of demographics outside of that lens. We saw celebrities sharing the post. I think it went to a whole different level with big corporate business owners and huge nonprofit leaders getting behind it, as well.”

The billboard, Worles said, revealed “mane” as a unifying identity for people in a region now deprived of reasons to physically come together.

“What it showed is that ‘mane’ isn’t a black word or a young word. ‘Mane’ is a Memphis word,” Worles said.

“Everyone connects to it and loves to see their city telling stories and talking the way that they talk.”

COVID-19 in Memphis and Shelby County: April

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billboards coronavirus Orpheum Theatre Three(i) Creative
Jared Boyd

Jared Boyd

Jared Boyd is program manager for WYXR 91.7 FM. 


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