Well, most of you know the basic story. There is this billboard on eastbound I-94, near Wayne Road (that's in the neighborhood of Detroit Metro Airport):
There is another one, I am told, in the Grand Rapids area. Chime in if you know of any others.
So, naturally, this provocative billboard is seen, and photographed by somebody using a cellphone camera (see grainy photo above) and sent to a Twitter account, where it quickly finds its way to a blog (Kegs 'n Eggs) and from there...
A current Google search of "LIAR LIAR VEST ON FIRE" turns up 15,500 hits as of right now. An even better search is "LIAR LIAR VEST ON FIRE" + "michigan fans". Because that search gets to the heart of the matter.
You see, the whole freaking world presumes that "Michigan fans" have created this billboard. SBNation. DrSaturday. ElevenWarriors. Local tv in Cleveland. Big Ten Illustrated. CollegeSportsNation.com. Huskerboard.com. Why? Well it is certainly not because anybody has really reported that fact. It is just one of those social media level presumptions that has taken on the status of "well I saw it on the internet, so..."
The assertion -- that "Michigan fans" created this signage -- might just be true. But it probably isn't. Here's why.
Many of you remember that southeast- and west-Michigan had some similar billboards back in late 2010, around the time of the bowl season. They looked like this:
And naturally, the local media wanted the back story on that endeavor, which definitively did not involve "Michigan fans." What was the real story? Well, it was kind of interesting:
Asked who is responsible for the boards, Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis responded in a text, "Not me ... know nothing about it."
The idea actually came from a Michigan State alum, who also happens to be the local sales manager for CBS Outdoor advertising.
About 10-12 of the boards are expected to be put up around the state, most with sponsor names on them.
Two are already in place -- on northbound I-75, north of I-94, and another in Grand Rapids. There's also one coming to the Lansing area, and the rest will be located in metro-Detroit.
"I have several State alumni and State fans that work for me," said Tom Carroll, vice president of the Michigan Region for CBS Outdoor. "The billboard is our response to Michigan State getting snubbed."
The following e-mail was sent to potential sponsors: "MSU fans are wondering how their football team can 'convincingly' trounce Wisconsin 34-24 during the regular season, tie with Wisconsin for the Big Ten Championship, and still not receive the prestigious invitation to the annual Rose Bowl.
"CBS Outdoor has designed the attached billboard that lays out all the pertinent facts. We are offering a very special chance for you to ask the world 'what's going on?' ... Go Spartans!!!"
Credit Carroll's sales man, Bob Brown, for hatching the idea.
"As a MSU alum, I kind of felt some of the frustration," Brown said. "I thought there's probably other people out there like me, that own businesses, that would like to participate."
So what did your old buddy Section 1 do? I called Bob Brown, who is a friendly and agreeable chap. I asked Bob who was behind the "Liar Liar" billboards. "That's an Anonyomous purchaser," was Bob's answer. Gosh, I replied, had he been asked about this before? Because half the college sportsnews outlets in the country were running with the unfounded story that "Michigan fans" were behind this billboard. "That's kind of funny, " Bob replied. He continued, "Really? Because we've only had a couple -- well maybe a few -- media inquiries." "Bob," I asked, "You haven't told anybody in the media that 'Michigan fans' put up the billboard, have you?" "No," he said. "We're not commenting on that."
This is a funny, wonderful case-study in how social media can promote an inaccuracy, isn't it? I actually urged Bob to make this second act public, as a marker of the power of a catchy billboard. What strikes me is that I don't think that this was any form of intentional sock-puppetry by a Saprtan alum. I don't think that they wanted to put up a "fake Michigan-fan" billboard. No; I think the subliminal message was, hey MSU should have gone to the Rose Bowl for the way we hammered Wisconsin, and MSU should definitely have gone to the Rose Bowl if the Buckeyes had all of their 2010 wins vacated. Uh, ya know?
The strange part is that the whole world skipped right over Sparty, and presumed that "Michigan" (like, the Buckeyes' one true rival of any consequence?!?) must have been repsonsible for this public act of Tressel-hate.
I don't think so.