The story of the "Liar Liar" billboards.

Submitted by Section 1 on May 3rd, 2011 at 4:01 PM

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.  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.



May 3rd, 2011 at 4:17 PM ^

This is sheer nonsense.

First, you haven't "found" anything. You've merely confirmed that the news sources couldn't have found out from the guy who sold the billboard. That doesn't mean it's not Michigan fans, nor does it mean he's the only potential source.

Second, your theory that MSU fans would buy the board to make Michigan fans look stupid is...absurd.

Section 1

May 3rd, 2011 at 5:30 PM ^

I did NOT suggest that the motive for the billboard was to make Michigan look bad in a sock-puppety way.  I specifically said that.

I didn't even conclude who the real proponent was.  It's only my presumption that the Spartan faithful in the CBS Outdoor office arranged these billboards the same way that they did the MSU boards.

And, I wondered where the whole world was getting the "Michigan fans did this" angle.  The answer to the last point seems to be, "It was made up."

And you just locked down the failure-end of the curve for today's reading comprehension.

Blue Durham

May 3rd, 2011 at 8:16 PM ^

the MSM, this post provided no information that we did not know before. What do really know now that wasn't known before? This was total conjecture. You have no idea what questions he was asked, let alone whether he denied them or not, or the context.

Just what substantive did you find out, and thus motivate you, to post?

Nothing, that is what.

Did a Michigan fan put up the billboards? You do not know.

Did an MSU put up the billboards? You do not know.

Do you know what the motivation of the person who put up the billboard? No.

Just what the hell did you learn with this intensive investigation? That the MSM did not see to it that, perhaps, it wasn't necessarily a UM fan (but is still could be) didn't put up the billboard. Wow, stunning. That's front page stuff.

This post was tantamount to essentially a conversation with your wife where she never denied that you wore her undies (including tampex) to all Michigan home games. Never mind that we don't know if she was ever directly asked such a question, or if the question was totally none of anyone's business (as is my business or my private life with my wife) and was not given the any respect of a response. You have no idea what conversations the owner of the billboard really had.

You have nothing.

Section 1, while I have appreciated your posts in the past, and have some sympathy with your problems with the MSM, you have become what you hate, you are the Free Press.

Section 1

May 3rd, 2011 at 9:19 PM ^

As to your complaints:

  • Interestingly, I didn't really complain about the "Mainstream Media" this time.  Here's a kicker:  Mark Snyder got this story right!  He never once inferred that "Michigan fans" put up the billboards.  He referred to it purely as an "anti-Tressel billboard."  (But he supplied virtually no other information.)
  • The very lovely and charming Angelique Chengelis got it mostly right, sort of.  (Angelique really does try to be fair and does a good job most of the time.  I respect her.)  She reported, I found out after starting this, that indeed "a reliable source" told her that the billboard's lessor was "anonymous."  But she did nothing to clear that up any further, and the story appeared in her Wolverines blog.  (Why not in the Spartan blog, Angelique?  The clear implication, by virtue of it being her story, along with other Michigan news, was that it was a "Michigan fan" story.)
  • It was the "new media" that fucked up this story; the bloggers went wild with this one, and if I could, it might be nice to re-title this NEW MEDIA FAIL.  The leader in the clubhouse for the presumptuous fuckup award on this story -- Dr. Saturday a/k/a Matt Hinton, with this runaway freight-train of a headline:  Michigan finally declares victory over Jim Tressel, via billboard:

  • Kids, we are not the front end of the horse costume in that particular joke.
  • I am not aware of anyone, anywhere on the 'net, who has put the backstory on the late-2010 MSU-Wisconsin billboards together with the current billboards, as I did.  I am not aware of anyone who quoted Bob Brown.  I was apparently only one of a small handful of people who even bothered to ask Bob Brown.  Who knows; maybe this post will shake loose some more information.  As always, nobody has to read it if they'd rather not.  You could always involve yourself in Mario Ojemudia's Tweet.

Blue Durham

May 3rd, 2011 at 9:25 PM ^

what I should have learned from the OP and your response.

Snyder never implied (I assume rather than inferred) that Michigan fans didn't put up the billboard. Am I correct that he also never implied that aliens from planet 9 also didn't put up the billboard as well. Are we now better informed?

"Angelique Chengelis... reported... that the billboard's lessor was "anonymous." This is news worthy? The exposure of an a source as being anonymous is newsworthy?

I just don't get this. What is the big deal when you don't know who put up the billboard, their motivations, and exactly to what extent then media investigated this.

Section 1, I do think you have strong motivations in finding out who put up the billboard and why, and will ultimately do so. I hope (and think) that, even if the billboard was posted it due to pro-UM reasons, that you would still expose it as such.

Section 1

May 3rd, 2011 at 9:45 PM ^

Mark Snyder:  It was an "anti-Tressel" billboard.  (Accurate, not very informative.)

Angelique Chengelis:  The billboard was initiated by an "anonymous" individual, according to a "reliable source."  (Also accurate; not much more informative.)

Dr. Saturday (Matt Hinton):  "Michigan fans" put up the billboard.  (Unfounded; probably false; wholly misleading.)

Section 1:  The guy who knows about the billboard is Bob Brown, of CBS Outdoor.  Bob knows who put it up, but says it is "Anonymous."  He has NOT told anyone that "Michigan fans" put it up, so any of those reports would be false.  Moreover, there may be reason to think that Bob put it up himself!  Because he and the guys at CBS Outdoor have a history of doing that, ("34-24") and Bob has certain ideas about how the Big Ten Championship might have been resolved if OSU had been sanctioned/forfeited/vacated/whatever last year.  In 'cop parlance,' Bob Brown had motive and means, and it fit his m.o.!

Now I never claimed to have a definitive answer; unless Bob Brown talks, it won't be known.  But I'd say my version was the best of all...

oriental andrew

May 3rd, 2011 at 4:52 PM ^

You're correct that this doesn't mean it isn't Michigan fans who sprung for the billboard.  However, the point is that everyone "reporting" that the buyers definitely ARE Michigan fans have no source for that assertion.  

They could have written "probably Michigan fans" and the entire Section would be happy.  As it is, all the stories I've read state rather conclusively that it is Michigan fans.  


May 3rd, 2011 at 5:06 PM ^

He says he doesn't think that.

Otherwise, yeah, the person who paid for them wants to stay anonymous. Not surprising, that.

True that the fact MSU fans used some of the same locations in December proves nothing. If you ask Bob where would be a good place to put up a football-related billboard, those spots are what he's going to recommend. Could easily be a Michigan fan.

Section 1

May 3rd, 2011 at 5:24 PM ^

places that are unleased for a couple of months.  Better, for CBS Outdoor, to put something up rather than nothing.  And who knows better which boards are available, than Bob Brown and Tom Carroll at CBS Outdoor?

As I told Bob, this is actually a very interesting case-study in the intersection of billboards and social media, and might make for a good luncheon speech for the Adcrafters.  (Is there still an Adcrafters Club?).


May 3rd, 2011 at 4:15 PM ^

Interesting sleuthing, Section 1.

To be honest, I have absolutely no problem with the fact that when a football-related event occurs and it happens to take place in the state of Michigan, the minds of most people in country jump to the University of Michigan rather than Michigan State.

Section 1

May 3rd, 2011 at 4:24 PM ^

Except Brian seems to have been sucked in (who could blame him) on the idea that "Michigan fans" put this up.  As I say, that might be true.  But I'm betting not.  So there just might be no reason for Brian to worry about too much derpishness:

We have done derped. We have lost our superiority when it comes to not erecting embarrassing billboards:


One: Paul Reiser probably came up with the text. Two: it's on I-94, which goes from Canada to Indiana without even brushing up against Ohio. Three: it's derp enough to put up a billboard after you win something. It's extra super derp to do so after not winning since 2003. Five derps out of five.

Section 1

May 3rd, 2011 at 4:35 PM ^

I guess there are two sorts of Michgan fans.

One group thinks the billboard rawks; that it's funny and tO$U has had it all coming.  And so they'd be, like, happy, dude, to take credit for it.

As for me, and our host/proprietor, it is a bit of an embarassment to get into the fan-billboard game.  And that it is especially confounding to be, uh, 'credited' with this idea if it didn't originate with "Michigan fans" at all.

Hell, you'd be right about one thing; the owndership of this idea belongs to no one but some unconnected fan in any event.  Mark Hollis didn't put up the MSU-Wisconsin billboards, and David Brandon didn't put up these current ones.

I just look at all of the flaming sent Michigan's way over this matter, and it seems to me that some basic reporting might be something like, "It is not known who, if anyone, paid for the message."  As I say, I don't think that anybody paid for these boards.  The guys in CBS Outdoor probably get a pretty good discount on their own billboards.


May 3rd, 2011 at 4:45 PM ^

that thinks the billboard is stupid and couldn't possibly give less of a shit about who put it up whether it is attributed to UM fan or not. 


May 3rd, 2011 at 4:49 PM ^

This is not to condemn Section 1's crusade against the MSM or this particular piece. I just haven't given two shits in any direction about this whole billboard thing. Don't give a shit if some think "Michigan Men" are above, below or right next to this kind of thing.


May 3rd, 2011 at 4:46 PM ^

The "Who Cares?" group, who might not have done it themselves, or might find it mildly amusing, or just don't get their panties in a bunch over it one way or another. Because it's just a freakin' billboard. People have spent money on stupider things.

Section 1

May 3rd, 2011 at 4:28 PM ^

And Bob won't say.  And he hasn't told the media "It was Michigan fans."  And, there are the nearly-identical string of billboards put up by the MSU-grad guys who happen to run the CBS Outdoor office for metro Detroit.  Get it?


May 3rd, 2011 at 4:49 PM ^

And there was never any MSU billboard there, even when they beat us.  So how is it the same locations?

I think you're doing the same assuming that you accuse everyone else of, but for more convoluted and less likely reasons. The most simple answer is that a Michigan fan did it. While there's nothing to PROVE that, there's nothing to prove an MSU fan did it, and it takes a lot more convoluted logic to come to that premise.


May 3rd, 2011 at 6:14 PM ^

Ohio State's arch rival is Michigan. The first billboard was put up not by Lansing or Columbus, but in route to Ann Arbor. There's just as much circumstantial and logical evidence to support the reasonable thought a Michigan fan did it. You're right, that doesn't prove it. But there would have been merit to the post if you had actually gotten the guy to say a Michigan fan DIDN'T put it up (even without identifying who did). As it is he's just playing coy to create interest which really doesn't support your assumption anymore than it refutes anyone else's.


May 3rd, 2011 at 5:19 PM ^

Yeah... kind of agree with Section 1 on this one. He sort of did get "data of absence" by having Bob tell him (data) that they have not told anyone who the anonymous party was (absence).

That being said, Bob's not the only one who's in the know. The next time I buy a billboard for fun, I'm DEFINITELY telling all my friends.

I agree with the basic premise though: social media has a propensity to self-verify "facts".

Cultural Enrichment

May 3rd, 2011 at 6:11 PM ^

Yes, we got data about Bob.  But we have no new information on the motivation for the billboards. The people who reported the billboards were from Michigan fans may have the story right and this post doesn't address that - all it really says is Bob didn't tell them (or rather Bob told Section1 that Bob didn't tell them.)

I'd like to know the motivation for both the billboards, but I don't see this thread getting us any closer.  

(And I'm suspicious of my comments helping much, besides perpetuating a pedantic discussion.)

Hardware Sushi

May 3rd, 2011 at 5:04 PM ^

I disagree completely that this post is a waste of time. I think there are several reasons why this subject merits a post.

  • This is about those damn stupid billboards that are being associated with our university. Whether you care about them or not is not the question as other people clearly do. I hate that we are being associated with some stupid slogan that isn't really funny in the first place and looks like Michigan fans are bragging that, although we haven't won since 2003 and recently had a humiliating episode of our own with the NCAA, Jim Tressel lies, which was obvious to anyone that semi-follows OSU football. If I'm going to be an arrogant Michigan fan I can't be erecting stupid billboards when we beat OSU, let alone when we're on an all-time losing streak.
  • Strongly worded reason #2
  • We have been suffering a dearth of new MGoBoard material lately. I mean, seriously, it's extremely slow. We had that damn Bin Laden post up at the top of the board for an entire day (I realize I'll probably be negged for this but they don't count and I stand by my statement that it was left up WAYYYY too long on the MGoBoard). If someone wants to post a conspiracy-theory story about the billboards, more power to them. I thought the South Park over-the-top hard-hitting investigation style post about such a trivial subject was actually pretty funny.
  • I believe that MSU fans paid for the billboard in a dual-purpose attempt to shame Tressel and make us look like a buncha foos. I also believe in Santa Claus, that Nebraska deserves the '97 title, and an apple a day keeps the doctor away.
  • See how it wasn't a waste of time? I've spent my wait at the train station typing out a response to your Section 1 hatin' when instead I would've just been making unsubstantiated wild guesses about passersby as I peoplewatch on the platform. Writing this post was slightly more constructive, IMO. Was it still a waste of time?...maybe...

Hardware Sushi

May 4th, 2011 at 4:44 PM ^

No, I don't think Nebraska deserved the national title. I think they got the coaches' vote because Osborne was retiring... goal was to say that I don't believe in Santa Claus (which would be the obvious identifier), then you would know I don't believe Nebraska deserved the title, and also that the apple a day thing is just silly (although I love apples).

After I re-read my post today, I realized I just got on a roll screwing around yesterday and it probably wasn't that clear....

True Blue Grit

May 3rd, 2011 at 4:40 PM ^

CBS Outdoor created and paid for the billboard to build a lot of social media buzz to get more advertising $$$$.  See their logo prominently at the bottom of the billboard?  That could also explain Bob Brown being so evasive about the "anonymous" purchaser.   Just a possibility.  I'd imagine the billboard ad business is pretty slow these days, especially in the midwest.


May 3rd, 2011 at 4:43 PM ^

Wow you guys are being tough on OP. I take this as more of a shot at social media's unwillingness (or inability) to do research into these things, as OP did speaking to who put them up. I don't think he was addressing Who put them up as much as 'why do people assume it was us? '

That being said, this may have been more fitting as a diary topic, but regardless, thanks for this. I, for one, see the interest in this post.