Advertising Age

Billboard Shout-Out Gets Through to Oprah

Personal Appeal Leads to Investigation of Puppy Mills

By Jeremy Mullman 

adage1CHICAGO ( — How’s this for ROI: Buy a single billboard, get your cause hyped during a full hour of “Oprah.”

A nonprofit Pennsylvania animal shelter managed exactly that in its ongoing crusade against puppy mills. And now the author of a motivational tract is attempting the same trick.


Last spring, Main Line Animal Rescue bought a billboard four blocks from Ms. Winfrey’s Chicago studio, hoping to draw the attention of one of the world’s most influential celebrities (and animal lovers), and to wield that influence to educate her massive audience about the dire conditions in some puppy mills.

“OPRAH — please do a show on puppy mills; the dogs need you!” the billboard read.

Lo and behold, it worked. The show’s producers quickly contacted the shelter and enlisted its help in a hidden-camera investigation of various puppy mills and pet stores, led by Lisa Ling, the show’s investigative reporter.

Considering how hard armies of publicists typically slave to score even the slightest mention on the show, the animal shelter’s low-cost, low-effort success was a coup. “Getting on ‘Oprah’ is like winning the lottery,” said Susan Harrow, author of “The Ultimate Guide to Getting Booked on Oprah,” who said she’d never heard of anyone getting on Ms. Winfrey’s couch so easily. “The awareness it will raise for them is priceless.”

Double the exposure

The program featured Ms. Ling’s footage, an interview with Ms. Ling expanding on what she found, profiles of rescued puppies and a tribute to Ms. Winfrey’s late cocker spaniel, Sophie. It ran first on April 4 and then was re-aired May 29.

“So I’m driving in to work, I see the billboard ‘Oprah, do this for the dogs, because they need you.’ It got my attention,” Ms. Winfrey said on the air while interviewing the shelter’s founder, Bill Smith.

Mr. Smith, for his part, said, “We were trying to come up with some ideas as far as who could reach more people than anyone else, and I thought of you and I just thought that you would be able to spread the word and educate a lot of people.”

Will ploy work again?

It worked, and apparently inspired at least one imitator. Motivational speaker Jiulio Consiglio bought a billboard one block from Ms. Winfrey’s studio to hype his book. “Dear Oprah: Please read ‘Challenge Your Thoughts’ by Jiulio Consiglio,” the bright purple and yellow sign reads.

Mr. Consiglio’s odds of success may be long, though: The show is currently on hiatus and neither Ms. Winfrey nor her producers are regularly in the building these days.