Mufflers and Diapers: The Evolution of Live-Action Billboards

It all began with Murph, the “Muffler Prince,” who posed on his backstreet billboard clad in only a diaper and a pair of fancy cowboy boots. The beloved Aurora Crimpanfortis transformed this hayseed into an international icon by relocating to the busy I-5 corridor and transforming the display into a 350-foot hydraulic lift, just like in the garage. As the gargantuan billboard went up and down, diaper-clad stunt people bounced on bungee cords onto the Interstate. And that was how “Live-Action Billboards” got their start.

Mufflers and Diapers: The Evolution of Live-Action Billboards

Muffler Prince Hits Staggering International Stride

It was only fitting that Murph the “Muffler Prince” would provide the prototype on which the framework of the world-renowned “Live-Action Billboard” concept would be built. The South Seattle impresario, who mainly kept to himself and sold automobile after-market products under the radar with little to no fanfare, was suddenly thrust onto the world stage with a diaper, a fedora and staggering international sales figures. This, of course, was after online retail had already hit its stride, and Murph, hardly an early adopter, was suddenly wondering why he was paying commercial rent and on-site staff when sales were pouring in from halfway around the globe.

Where Showmen Come to Rock their Diapers

Being a showman at heart, Murph was very amenable when Aurora Crimpanfortis (you all can just keep calling her Mama), approached him about taking his billboard campaign to the next level. Mama, bless her, could be quite persuasive. I sometimes wonder where I’d be in my career today were Mama still around. Something tells me she would have dissuaded me from producing that truly unfortunate infomercial in Burbank,

I digress. I try not to think about that now, even though it’s landed me in the middle of Podunk Flats But that’s a conversation for another time.

My Loincloth Ultimately Won Out

Mama took old diaper-clad Murph under her seasoned wing and pledged to make him an even bigger star than he already was. Make no mistake Murph was already doing quite well for himself, thanks to the night I ran wind sprints on his catwalk wearing only a fur-lined jockstrap (my lion loincloth). Murph already fashioned himself a celebrity which was fine, but he was talking about ditching the diaper. He claimed that it had outlived its purposefulness and was demeaning to the social causes he now wished to champion.

Thankfully, Mama talked him out of that nonsense. At the heart of it, Murph was a hard-working muffler salesman from south Seattle. He’d probably listened to some consultant at a long-forgotten trade show and figured it was a good idea to do an outdoor campaign wearing only a diaper and a fedora. The bulldog “Muffles” was a nice touch, and someone should get credit for that, but let’s be clear on this: it took a night of heavy news coverage starring me and my loincloth for this small-time peddler to see the light of day.

Working out the Kinks of a Pure Genius Approach

The plan Mama hatched made Murph go from static to dynamic overnight. In her vision. Murph would lead a group of other diaper-clad men in regular routines on the catwalk. The other men would come from an agency and cover Murph’s blunders with their stage presence. They would do things like line dance, joust with the mufflers, pretend to be playing the mufflers like musical instruments and twirl them like batons. Everything would be synchronized and cut to musical beats that could be heard along that stretch of the 509.

Once they got the kinks worked out, the whole act moved to a far more visible location in Tukwila at the 405 cutoff approaching the Southcenter Mall on northbound I-5. There, Murph’s services were no longer required as the troupe was performing 185 feet up and trading out shifts and bathroom breaks across a nonstop, 24-hour cycle.

The extravaganza garnered rave reviews from various quarters, but it was only the start.

The Crimpanfortis family was just getting rolling, and promised much, much more.

Live-Action Billboards: How It All Began

Join us as we talk about the first night that “Live-Action Billboards” came into existence. Like a lot of other things in life, it was neither planned nor staged. It just sort of happened. And it grew organically until becoming the phenomenon it is today. Indeed, you can’t travel far on our nation’s freeways and Interstates without being exposed to the wonderful, whimsical, enchanting, enlightening, illuminating and breathtaking displays. The Crimpanfortis family does things right, pulling out all the stops in getting creative and daring above our nation’s highways and byways

Live Action Billboards: How It All Began

Getting Creative above our Nation’s Highways and Byways

The concept of “Live-Action Billboards” came about quite by accident one stress-filled evening in the Duwamish tide flats south of Seattle. I had just screwed up royally as mascot for our high school football team. It was the conference championship and a real tight game that went right down to the wire. Lo and behold our halfback got sprung for a touchdown in the waning seconds of the game. I was so jubilant that I guess I stepped onto the field early or something. The refs threw all these flags at my kinked lion’s tail and the fans started booing something fierce. I thought my teammates were going to kill me. And they were some big dudes slotted for scholarships in the PAC-28.

Needing time to be alone and lick my wounds, I hitched a ride with some opposing fans on their way back to West Seattle to catch the Fauntleroy ferry. By the time they dropped me at the 509 cutoff, they were feeling pretty sorry for me. They wondered why I was venturing into no-man’s land in my bedraggled lion’s garb.

I didn’t plan on making it out alive. Bears supposedly hung out in these parts.

I watched the taillights disappear in the forest of blue spruce that swayed softly in the warm night breeze.

Then I looked up.

Getting a Wild Hair that Changed the Course of Advertising

Directly in front of me was one of Daddy’s massive billboards, It was an advertisement for car mufflers. Murph the “Muffler Prince” stood proudly with one of his products slung over a bare, meaty shoulder much like a cleanup batter in baseball heading from the on-deck circle to the plate. For reasons known only to Murph and the creative department, he wore nothing more than a fedora and diaper. His hairless pink gut prominently hung over the white cotton napkin fastened with a garish gold-plated safety pin. “Muffles,” his slobbering bulldog sidekick, also wore a fedora and diaper. He carried a miniature muffler in his mouth like a prized bone.

With nothing to lose, I clambered up the base of the enormous structure. I didn’t know what I was going to do when I reached the catwalk. I just figured I’d play it by ear.

The rest is history.

Just Doing What Came Naturally

I guess I had a lot of pent-up energy or something. Stripped to my ratty lion loins, I started hamming it up, doing wind sprints on the catwalk along with bizarre calisthenics and impressive handstands. I wasn’t really aware of anything, I was just blowing off steam, but I guess I soon started to attract a little bit of attention.

Well, actually . . . a lot of attention.

It didn’t take long before there was a full-blown incident in the works.

I had already stopped traffic on the 509 in both directions; local stations had started teasing their eleven o’clock newscasts with live cut-ins of me performing crabwalks across the catwalk. News vans assembled at the base of the monopole and helicopters hovered overhead. Blinding lights stabbed the succulent night sky in all directions.

And Then It Really Started to Get Insane

Let’s get something straight: I come from a family long on drama and short on patience. When it finally registered what was going on, members of my family leapt into action.

And of course overreacted.

Daddy, as usual, was on the road but nonetheless barked orders long distance. Mama, as usual, didn’t listen to Daddy and took matters into her own hands.

Then everything started happening all at once.

Dirkie Tirk, a stunt professional extraordinaire and old family friend, galloped onto the scene aboard his co-star palomino and attempted to lasso me on the planks.

Our licensed billboard workers, dressed like rodeo clowns (the moonlighting job from which they’d just been summoned), stormed the bulkhead and chased me around the billboard, across the catwalk, up the ladder on one side and down the other.

My high school marching band showed up and boarded the catwalk in formation, trying, through a brassy heartfelt serenade, to literally coax me off the ledge. They were followed by star members of the football team, some clad only in jockstraps, as well as the homecoming queen, who had just been applying varnish to the aft deck of her family’s yacht. She wore the tiara.

Referees brought up the rear, tossing an endless supply of bright yellow penalty flags.

Mama culminated the night when she repeatedly buzzed the billboard with a leased Pure Deluxe Barnstormer Special.

The Birth of the “Live-Action Billboard”

The publicity generated from that unplanned stunt was, needless to say, monumental. It got really insane the following week when some dude from outside Reno ordered five thousand high-performance, direct-fit mufflers. Daddy, who was definitely not born yesterday, sniffed out a real opportunity and the “Live-Action Billboard” was born.

The takeaway is this: if you want to grab people’s attention, you’d better let the message literally leap from the signage.

And oh, by the way . . . in the event you’re wondering: did I get any credit for developing this radical new form of advertising?

Not on your life. You really don’t know my family, do you?

Family Values – The Winning Crimpanfortis Touch

You hear a lot about interactive these days. Everything is seemingly interactive this or interactive that. The deeper you enmesh the audience into your sales proposition, the better the company’s bottom line. The Crimpanfortis media empire was built on interactivity, starting with the newspaper network way back when. Find out how this stable of media-savvy editors started embedding clues into stories so that readers could realize vast riches from national prizes based on having the correct answers. And then came television. Progress takes a back seat to nothing – except television . . .

Family Values – The Winning Crimpanfortis Touch

You Gotta Be Different to be Worth Mega-Billions

For generations, the Crimpanfortis family ruled the newspaper biz with groundbreaking promotions, lotteries and contests. That was what fueled the present-day flames of media supremacy.

Great-great-granddaddy Crimpanfortis had a plan. His newspaper empire stretched across this magnificent land far and wide. His publications covered towns and cities big and small. There was not one segment of citizenry in this burgeoning country that lacked exposure to the unique reporting style of the Crimpanfortis News Agency.

The Patented Crimpanfortis Interactive Component

What made Crimpanfortis newspapers different from the others was the gaming aspect. Each edition had a front-page crossword puzzle below the fold. Clues to the crossword puzzle were embedded in the news stories. So you had to read the newspaper in order to get the answers. The puzzles even had clues that were found in advertisements.

In what amounted to primitive interactive strategies, readers mailed in their completed crossword puzzles to be eligible for the weekly drawing. Prizes were awarded based on market size. Some of the smaller newspapers didn’t have readership that amount to much more than neighborhoods. Then you had your behemoths like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco. Whereas the weekly drawings in a place like Lodge Grass, Montana might yield a prize of cooking utensils, in some place like Cleveland the weekly grand prize may be a shiny new Ford Super Deluxe convertible.

Amounting to the National Lottery

That was nothing, however, compared to the annual drawing that occurred each year at midnight on December 31st. If anyone thought the ball dropping in Times Square was a big deal, they knew nothing about the “Pulling of the One.” Approximating a national lottery, one packet of crossword puzzles was plucked from a row of ten gleaming cement mixers with clear barrels. The contestants’ packets included completed copies of the previous year’s crossword puzzles. Each puzzle was tested for accuracy and authenticity.

The winner’s prize would be insane: some years it was a custom-built mansion; other years it was a yacht the size of a small ocean-liner; sometimes it would be straight cash–the equivalent of a cool five million in today’s scattershot money market. One thing was certain: everyone in the country was hungrily tuned to their radios to learn if they were the nation’s big winner.

Progress Takes a Back Seat to Nothing–Except Television

Over the years, the Crimpanfortis News Agency grew bigger and bolder. Forget about the fact that their reporting left much to be desired. They had to angle their stories in order to conform to the daily clues of the crossword puzzle. A rather steep monthly subscription price aided the bottom line–which people were willing to pay to get premium coupons as well as access to the crossword puzzles.

With the inception of television, the Crimpanfortis family saw the handwriting on the wall and dumped out on print to pursue new media ventures. But the newspaper left a vast footprint, a lasting legacy and a corresponding fortune to build on.

Then came the sunspots, and everything got jumbled up for a while.

But it wasn’t too long before the Crimpanfortis crowd roared back.

That’s what they always seem to do . . .