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Bye-bye, billboards. Facebook campaign against racy ads gets quick results

Bye-bye, billboards. Facebook campaign against racy ads gets quick results
Photo by Stacy Burns
Gary Schiff
Gary Schiff

Call it the Facebook face-off: In the wake of a protest campaign that took place over the last couple of days almost entirely on the social networking site, at least a dozen billboards that some Minneapolis residents found offensive are coming down.

According to City Council Member Gary Schiff, Clear Channel Outdoors already has taken down several of the billboards, which advertise USI Wireless high-speed Internet service. The ads show a woman who appears to be a prostitute glancing at a headline that promises “Fast, Cheap and Satisfaction Guaranteed.”

USI has a 10-year, $12.5 million contract to provide Minneapolis’ citywide Wi-Fi service.

Aware of this, a resident of Schiff’s south side 9th Ward, Stacey Burns, brought the billboards to his attention yesterday in an email.

“It really went viral really quickly,” she said.
Burns said she first saw a photo of a billboard at East 38th Street and Cedar Avenue South near her house on someone else’s Facebook site two days ago and called USI to complain.
“I thought surely when I tell them this is offensive and why, they’ll take them down,” she said. “There are still lawn signs up along Cedar saying, ‘Keep johns out.'”

Schiff, shocked at what he saw, went to Burns’ Facebook page where several people had commented that they had complained to USI but were told the company did some test marketing “and everybody loved it.”

Schiff then talked to city staff, who told him they had been talking to USI’s founders for three days but had gotten nowhere. Schiff also called USI, but said his calls were never returned.

USI Operations Manager Sam Turner said it was the company’s decision to take the billboards down.
“We didn’t mean to offend anyone,” Turner told MinnPost. “Our response to the overall situation is we didn’t, and don’t, feel that the spokesmodel from the ad looks like a prostitute. We’ve seen way worse.”

“I looked at the photo [in Burns’ post] and saw the Clear Channel logo and remembered that Clear Channel was extremely supportive in donating billboard space for the city’s anti-prostitution campaign,” said Schiff.

He called the advertising company’s vice president and e-mailed him an image of Burns’ Facebook page. “Thirty minutes later, he called back and said, ‘They’ll be down tomorrow,’ ” said Schiff.

Schiff said he knew the company had strong decency guidelines.

Naturally, Schiff posted the news on his Facebook page, where it quickly elicited dozens of comments and “like” votes.

Elizabeth Glidden
Elizabeth Glidden

Council member Elizabeth Glidden said she talked to both of the Internet company’s founders, Joe Caldwell and Kurt Lange, and that after some back and forth, they agreed to take the billboards down.

“My message to them was, ‘I hope you’re taking these down right now,’ ” she said. “Was it persuasive for me to say I’m shocked and disgusted? Yes, I’m sure it was.”

Schiff would like USI to go a step further. Council President “Barb Johnson woke up this morning to this image on a door-hanger,” he said. “I hope USI Wireless does the right thing and cancels this image in all its forms.”

Beth Hawkins writes about schools, criminal justice and other topics.

Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Philip Kelley on 05/27/2010 - 03:14 pm.

    Why are these any worse than the billboards Chino Latino puts up?

    Guess I don’t really see the issue. Was this the only creative for the campaign or were there other billboards with different people?

  2. Submitted by Shannon Drury on 05/27/2010 - 03:54 pm.

    A picture of a tarty woman, labeled as “FAST, CHEAP, SATISFACTION GUARANTEED” doesn’t strike you as equating a woman’s body with the $14.95 price tag? There are many, many Minneapolis women who disagree with you. There are many more Minneapolis trafficking victims who continue to suffer because our culture agrees with you.

  3. Submitted by Matty Lang on 05/27/2010 - 05:24 pm.

    USI also had images featuring a man dressed as a pimp and one with a child with a pipe in its mouth with the headline, “Put this in your pipe and smoke it.”

    Not only are these images also on door-hangers, but I’ve been told that they are on those oh so classy mens room urinal billboards in bars.

  4. Submitted by Sheldon Mains on 05/28/2010 - 02:29 pm.

    From my perspective, it was more the Minneapolis Issues list (an email discussion list) ( that was responsible than Facebook. Also, is Glidden so far down in the article since from what I’ve heard, it was her initial efforts that caused the billboards to be removed.

  5. Submitted by Carol Logie on 05/28/2010 - 04:14 pm.

    Don’t understand why USI believes that people wouldn’t find this offensive. And honestly… what is this ad supposed to say about their service… that it’s as reliable as a 14 dollar whore? Well, actually, that part is probably more accurate than they would like to admit. We fired them twice because their wifi was so terrible. And we only have it now because they gave us a free booster modem. There are still dead zones all over the city.

  6. Submitted by Stacey Burns on 05/28/2010 - 04:33 pm.

    Glidden certainly had much to do with the ads being pulled, but the Issues list discussion started by Chris Stellar ( didn’t begin until 4:10 pm, about the same time that Gary Schiff reported that USI had finally agreed to pull the ads, so was not a factor in the billboards’ removal. The image went viral on Facebook, starting on Tuesday evening by Kriss Hakala and taking off after this text was appended on Wednesday: “USI Wireless is a pimp. This is how they’re selling their wireless service in Minneapolis. Give them a call at 952.253.3262 (Option 1) or email: When I called, they assured me that they did some test marketing and everybody loved it, but the 100,000 American girls sexually trafficked in the US with an initial recruitment age of 11-14 might not guffaw quite as loudly as the focus group did.”

    And Philip, Chino Latino doesn’t have a $12.5 million contract with the City.

  7. Submitted by jim hughes on 05/28/2010 - 05:48 pm.

    Glad to see these ads died a quick death. What was USI thinking, trashing our neighborhoods like this?

    “We’ve seen way worse.”

    Wow. And would you guys like a medal for this public service?

  8. Submitted by Kristine Hakala on 06/04/2010 - 09:17 pm.

    The group that recognized and started this discussion via email is The Action Network to End Sexual Exploitation in Minnesota (ANESEM). ANESEM is a grassroots collaboration of state government, non-profit agencies, community activists and survivors committed to ending sexual exploitation in Minnesota. Women and children deserve to be free and equal in dignity and live where no women is sexually exploited. Hopefully, this billboard got attention, not from degenerates, but from citizens who did not know about sex slavery and who, now that they know, have to do something about it. Flesh is not for sale. Thank you to everyone who makes a difference for these women and girls who don’t have a choice.

  9. Submitted by Don Jacobson on 08/02/2010 - 04:19 pm.

    USI’s service at the $14.95/month level is certainly cheap, but it is definitely NOT satisfying. As a very early adopter during the beta phase, I have a lot of experience (and phone-hours logged) with USI’s customer service. Nice people, but often not effective until several days and hours on the phone.

    That said, I was unwilling to give up. I finally learned that if I pay by the year (not monthly) the 6mb/s service is not much more than the 1mb/s service paid monthly. And the 6mb service is VERY satisfying at approximately $24/month (average).

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