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Simple Signs Sell Complex Solution

This November will see the most expensive ballot measure campaign in Oregon history.

The tobacco industry is dumping $9 million in an effort to defeat Measure 50, which raises state tobacco taxes to pay for the Healthy Kids Program.  But in a separate ballot measure, a low tech and relatively inexpensive campaign is also getting attention.

Have you seen those black and white signs by the side of the road asking whether you “love Oregon?”  Colin Fogarty found the man behind the signs and has this report.

Love Oregon?Ballot Measure 49 limits the development allowed under property compensation initiative, Measure 37.  It changes the process for reviewing claims, and addresses the measure's legal uncertainties.

It's long, complicated, and emerges from a long and storied history that dates back to the 1970s.  But backers of the measure boiled down their arguments in favor of Measure 49 to a two word question.

You can find it on Highway 43 south of Portland.  It’s on a black and white sign with what look like stenciled letters that read “Love Oregon?”

Those signs started appearing a few months ago.  Then other questions followed – Asphalt or apples?  Grape vines or gravel pits?  Strip malls or strawberry fields?  The signs are the brain child of a vintage car restorer from West Linn  named Dave Adams.

Dave Adams:  "I’ve had help assembling 5500 of these and the other 2000 I’ve done by myself.  So I can knock out about 50 signs in an hour."

Those 7500 signs are up mostly in rural areas.  The Oregon Farm Bureau helped distribute them across the state because it’s backing Measure 49.  Adams says the signs ask for a simple gut check.

Dave Adams: "The first time someone sees one of my signs I can just image in my head the responses.  'What?  Who the crackpot that put that up?'  You see the second one, you probably think well at least that crackpots got a friend.  But what I’m doing here is asking Oregonians fundamental value questions."

University of Oregon marketing professor Mike Dorn says what Adams is doing is known as a classic “teaser campaign”.

It teases with a simple and provocative question and gradually morphs into a call to action…in this case, a vote in favor of Measure 49.  But Dorn says beyond that, the style of the signs cuts through the clutter.

PearsMike Dorn: "They look like they were just sort of locally done.  And so instead being that polished sort of look, which I think most people would just screen out.  That I think created more interest in it.  I think they were good in their simplicity."

The Love Oregon campaign got money from the Yes on 49 campaign, about $25,000.  But it's separate from the main campaign.

Dave Adams says he’s done this kind of work for local elections in the past.  But this is the first time he’s done it on a statewide scale.

And it's on an issue he feels pretty passionate about.  He lives on the Portland region’s urban growth boundary.  Adams says his goal is not only to win this ballot measure campaign, but to win back the larger debate over land use planning.

Dave Adams: "It is a very complex issue.  I hope the messaging has been effective in helping Oregonians understanding what’s at stake.  It isn’t that complicated of an issue if you get right down to it.  The answer’s in your gut.  What do we want this state to look like.  You know, one of my favorite slogans in the whole campaign is 'Oregon…pave it or save it'."

Opponents of the ballot measure have their own signs they hope will get across a simple argument: that Measure 49 appears to be a solution but it's not. The signs show a wolf in sheep’s clothing, with the words “Stop 49”.

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