The back story for the most brilliant outdoor campaign ever

Angel_8 Many of you, in the comments section and via e-mail, have been asking about the back story of this campaign.  Quite honestly — I didn’t know it.  I had stumbled upon the creative years ago and used it as an example of "go ahead, break the rules" kind of thinking.

But, all of that has changed.

A few weeks ago, I commented that one of my favorite things about blogging is that it allows me to meet some amazing people.  More proof coming up.

I published the post about the Garcia’s outdoor campaign in the morning and by mid-afternoon, I had an e-mail from Rich Spears who was on the original account team (he was the media director) for this campaign.  As the agency’s current Chief Marketing Officer, he generously gave me the entire back story and permission to share it with you.

So, here’s the scoop.

It’s 1990 and Garcia’s and the other area restaurants are in a panic.  A big, fancy, new waterfront club was opening that summer and they were expecting it was going to mean they’d all (the existing restaurants) take a big hit.

So Garcia’s came to Crowley Webb for some counsel and a solution.  Oh yeah, and they only had $20,000 to spend — creative concepting, design, production costs, media — the whole thing.

The William/Angel campaign was conceived and launched.

The plan was for everyone to believe that there truly was a William, Angel, Candi and Frankie.  The media were sworn to secrecy.  Reporters tried to get at the truth as the campaign was unfolding but no one cracked.

Beyond the billboard campaign, the agency also:

  • Had a small radio buy on one station.  Two spots per week.  Someone called in, as William, and did a live "commercial" that sounded like he was this desperate guy, trying to find his Angel.
  • Ran ads in the classified personal ads in the Buffalo News
  • Had a limo driver handing out "have you seen my Angel" fliers throughout downtown, near the Garcia’s location
  • Hired a plane to fly over a Buffalo Bison’s game (baseball), towing a banner with a message from William

All of this culminated right after billboard #8, where Angel agrees to meet William at Garcia’s.  To the delight of the packed house — A beautiful woman in red appeared, fended off the advances of just about every guy in town, waiting for William.

Just then, a limo pulled up (remember the guy passing out fliers?) and William stepped out from the limo and walked inside, scanning the crowd for his Angel.  Their eyes met, they talked, shared some champagne and then danced to "Lady in Red" before William whisked her away in his limo.

Rich said the crowd’s reaction was priceless.  And more than one boyfriend was chided for not being as romantic as William!

The following Monday, the final board was posted, with William professing that he was in heaven over the meeting.

The net result beyond the media exposure and buzz around town?  When the new waterfront club opened, every restaurant in town took a double digit drop in revenue.  Garcia’s business went up. They maintained that competitive advantage for some time and never felt the impact of the waterfront club.

So they exceeded their goals and their revenues grew.  Not to mention all the added value the campaign delivered.

Flash forward to today, some 18 years later — that entire area and all the restaurants in it, including the waterfront club are now gone, having given way to growth and re-purposing of that area.

I’d call that a success story and a half. 

An interesting side note.  When the campaign won best of show at the National Obie awards, it was the first winner ever to receive a perfect score from every judge.

A huge hat tip to the innovative team at Crowley Webb, the courageous owners of Garcia’s and the very fortunate citizens of Buffalo who had the fun of watching this all unfold.

16 comments on “The back story for the most brilliant outdoor campaign ever

  1. BIG Kahuna says:

    Drew, thanks! So it was much more than some billboards which to me = integrated branding. Love it all.

    Good story.

  2. Scott,

    It was indeed. Impressive work by CWA.


  3. Mike says:

    Hey Drew,

    Thanks for the update.

    That info makes the story even more compelling.

  4. Alan says:


    This is a great post. I think the campaign would work even today in an age of online ads. Not that I have anything against online ads. 🙂



  5. franzy says:


    very cool idea – nice ad. Thanks you for update.

  6. It’s the best billboard campaign I’ve ever seen. I have to commute 45 minutes to and from work in a city and I pass billboards all the time.

    I really appreciate you posting this example of such great marketing. It shows me what I need to aspire to when I make a bigger push for my blog.

    I’m glad they had actors come in and play the parts of each of the characters. I think it would have been a big let down for all the paying patrons if they didn’t get some closure.

  7. Justin Levy says:

    What a great concept! As someone who plays a dual role by managing a PR company and owning a restaurant, the creative was clever, intriguing and very successful.

    Thanks for posting about this story!

    -Justin Levy

  8. Alan,

    Yes, someone suggested it was the pre-Twitter Twitter campaign!


  9. Alanna,

    I’m not sure I know enough about either to compare them. But, I’d say the Garcia’s campaign clearly had a start and end, with the intention of letting everyone in on the joke.

    I’m not sure I see that with the Coach campaign. And maybe the times were different. We’re talking almost 20 years ago. Perhaps as consumers, we were more willing to be “teased” by something clever and laugh along with everyone else when we discovered we’d been “gotcha’d!”


  10. Karl,

    I agree — it was brilliant on their part to go all out. And bravo to their client for having the courage to do it all the way as well.

    As we all know, that’s not easy for many clients to sell within their own organization.


  11. Justin,

    Wearing both your hats — I can see why this would appeal to you.

    Hopefully it will trigger some ideas for your own restaurant!


  12. Wow, Drew. This was a magical campaign. And you’ve confirmed it: the most powerful thing about it wasn’t the money invested — it was the effective, compelling story, and the creative team’s willingness to have an enormous amount of fun with it.

    I’ll remember this. Thanks for the update!

  13. KG,

    I agree with you — a good reminder/lesson for all of us in the business.


  14. Joseph says:

    This was an amazing story. These are the types of campaigns that transcend a lot of things. Looking forward to creating a buzz about my company that shares the same vigor and excitement that Garcia’s had. Cheers!

  15. Joseph,

    Agreed — it reminds us all what’s possible with some fresh thinking and a willingness to break the rules.


  16. Chris Nolte says:

    Drew, an excellent post as usual (even if it is a re-post)!

    It reminds me that out-of-the-box never is out-of-style. Should make each of us think a little about our own campaigns and wonder if we can do something equally creative. Hmmmmmm.



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