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Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Billboard prompt 911 calls

I-95 billboard 'man and bear' prompt 911 calls

Noelle Frampton

Connecticut Post


02:13 a.m., Saturday, January 16, 2010

BRIDGEPORT -- A local car dealer's unconventional billboard advertising is attracting more than passing attention from motorists.

A life-sized mannequin perched with a teddy bear atop the billboard near Interstate 95's northbound exit 26 is also prompting occasional calls to the emergency "911" number from travelers who fear the figures are about to topple off.

But dispatchers at State Police Troop G barracks tell concerned callers that the "man" isn't real -- and that he and his companion bear have been up there for a while.

A marketing device designed to increase customer traffic for BMW of Bridgeport's overnight test drive offer, the mannequin is dressed in pajamas. The man and bear were lifted to the top of the billboard about two months ago, said Tim Coughlin, the North Avenue dealership's general sales manager.

No one expected the mannequin idea -- which dealership officials brainstormed roughly three years ago -- to generate 911 calls, he said.

"For whatever reason, it's working because people are looking at it," Coughlin said with a chuckle. "It has become distinctive and sort of like a signature."

Before the teddy bear motif, another BMW of Bridgeport billboard featured a dummy with extra long legs hanging down over the sign to signify the dealership's growth, he said.

According to Troop G, there have been at least three calls since the current billboard went up, and they've mostly come after dark.

This isn't the first time BMW of Bridgeport has heard comments on its advertising.

Most of the feedback has been positive, Coughlin said, but there was the time that a man came to the dealership and waited 10 minutes to speak to a manager.

"He says, `I want to know, why do you have that mannequin with the long legs?' " Coughlin recalled. "He said, `I don't get it. I don't think it's funny and I'm offended by it.' "

Still, the dealership has found that putting dummies atop billboards is smart advertising.

The dealer hopes the teddy bear and pajamas promote the message, "We'll take care of you," Coughlin said. Under the program, the dealership allows prospective buyers to take home a new BMW and "let it sleep in your garage for the night" before committing to buying the vehicle.

"It's done very well for us ... We do a lot of overnight test drives because of it," he said, adding that such prolonged "test drives" often result in sales.

And while the man ensconced on the billboard has been seated securely from the start, the teddy bear has been in peril.

The giant stuffed toy even disappeared for a time -- whether he was taken or simply fell off the billboard, no one knew -- and never was found.

The dealership considered offering a reward, Coughlin joked, but in the end, "We just replaced him."

Lt. J. Paul Vance, the State Police spokesman, could not be reached for comment Friday because of a statewide State Police awards ceremony.



A mannequin and giant teddy bear sit on top of a billboard, advertising BMW of Bridgeport, near exit 26 northbound on I-95, in Bridgeport, Conn. Jan. 15th, 2010. (Courtesy: Ned Gerard / Connecticut Post)

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