A new billboard on the western edge of Brazil blares an odd suggestion at passing drivers on Westbound US 40. The billboard is owned by Lamar Outdoor Advertising in Terre Haute, and is clearly visible from the playground at Cornerstone Christian Academy. The message has created a wave of uncertainty in the Wabash Valley.
A new billboard trumpets a crude invitation to drivers exiting the city on westbound US 40: "Bite me."
Those two words, printed in large, sickly-green letters and unaccompanied by any mention of a specific business or product, have ruffled some feathers in the community since the billboard's installation late last week.
"That message, to me, is really offensive," said Northview High School Principal Jim Church. "It's a disrespect to all of us in the community."
Lamar Outdoor Advertising placed 10 of the "Bite me" billboards in the area, nine of which are located in or around Terre Haute. Because of the nature of the ad, the identity of the individual or firm who commissioned it will not be revealed for some time.
"It's part of what we call a teaser campaign," said Bob Caronna, general manager of the firm's Terre Haute offices. "(The 'Bite me' billboard) goes up and then we reveal the advertiser (later). I can't say who it is because that defeats the purpose of the whole thing."
Caronna refused to divulge the identity of the client who paid for the ads, but said the billboards are not part of a national campaign. He said the ads will be changed or updated to identify a Terre Haute-area advertiser "within the next two weeks," though no specific date has been set.
In the meantime, local school officials are concerned that the language used in the advertisement is inappropriate for student viewing. The billboard is just west of Brazil on US 40, on a main morning driving route for Northview students and in plain sight of Cornerstone Christian Academy.
"It's just so blaringly there," said Cornerstone Principal Linda Somheil. "I just think it's in poor taste. I know we all have freedom of speech, but I think that's going just a little beyond."
Church said that while he understands the intent of such an ad, he feels the language used on the billboard is patently offensive.
"Sometimes I've seen where people do things like that to get people's attention, then follow it up," Church said. "I don't care what they do as a follow up. In the meantime, we still have to look at it."
Caronna said he reviewed the campaign carefully before it was carried out. When presented in context, he said, the ads will make more sense.
"Having seen the upcoming ad, I thought it was fine," he said. "It's in no way intended to be offensive."