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Geico Gecko Tags Richmond

Martin Agency rolls out guerilla ad campaign for First Tee.

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If you give a Geico gecko an aerosol paint can, he'll want to graffiti tag a billboard. And if he's tagging billboards, he might want to hit one directly across from the Richmond Police Department headquarters on Grace Street.

That's exactly what happened last week when the Martin Agency — the brains behind the famed little television gecko — implemented part one of a pro-bono guerilla advertising campaign designed for the otherwise goodie-two-shoes national kids' golf club, First Tee.

The campaign encourages kids to learn important life lessons at First Tee with about a half-dozen signs scattered across Richmond. Each sign appears to have fallen victim to graffiti vandals.

Lamar Outdoor Advertising donated the signs, including the one in full view of Police Chief Bryan Norwood's office. A surprised representative with Martin says he was unaware that his company had unwittingly tagged the police chief's office view.

“Next to a police department? That's great!” says Travis Jones, an account coordinator working on the campaign, promising that the second phase steps back from simulated civil disobedience.

The signs include no indication that they're sponsored advertisements, appearing as yet another city surface defaced by thugs as a way to catch the eye and grab attention. In coming weeks, Jones says, the ads will evolve to include information about First Tee.

But the campaign has failed to grab at least a few high-profile sets of eyes whose keen crimefighting skills are focused elsewhere. Before being contacted by Style Weekly last week, police officials say they hadn't noticed the sign that looms over a surface parking lot they use on a daily basis.

Brent Schneider, executive director of First Tee's Richmond and Chesterfield golf courses, also was surprised to learn his organization had used the billboard near police headquarters, but was excited about its high-profile location. Schneider says he was warned by Lamar, long accustomed to being targeted by street art, to expect drivers to raise a fuss.

“Usually when they do get tagged — the signs get a lot of calls,” he says, “and [a Lamar representative] sent me an e-mail last week when the signs went up that said ‘Let the calls begin.'”

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