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Anti-vaccination funeral home advertisement went viral, but it’s not what it seems

Published: Sep. 22, 2021 at 6:18 AM CDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV/Gray News) - David Oakley’s digital billboard message was likely seen by thousands of people in uptown Charlotte Sunday afternoon. Even more people saw pictures of the billboard on social media.

Oakley, the owner of BooneOakley advertising agency, spoke to WBTV Monday night about why he wanted to have the provocative message displayed throughout the city.

Oakley knows all about creatively captivating an audience. He’s run BooneOakley for more than two decades.

“BooneOakley specializes in doing work that gets noticed, talked about and shared,” said Oakley with a smile.

A Charlotte business owner explained that a viral truck billboard is actually a pro-vaccine...
A Charlotte business owner explained that a viral truck billboard is actually a pro-vaccine message he wanted to share.(WBTV)

Sunday’s billboard message featured simple white lettering on a black background.

It read, “Don’t get vaccinated.” Under the note was the name “Wilmore Funeral Home.”

A web address for WilmoreFuneralHome.com was also listed. While at first glance, the billboard may have appeared to be an anti-vaccination plug, Oakley maintains that it was designed to offer a pro-vaccine message.

“A lot of the advertisements that you see right now for pro-vaccine are very simple like, ‘get the shot’, ‘get vaccinated.’ It’s very simple. We wanted to do something that saw things from a different perspective,” said the business owner.

Oakley then explained how he came up with the funeral home concept.

“The idea came about when we thought about who would really benefit from people not getting the shot, and you kind of go back to the simple fact that people are dying that aren’t vaccinated, so who benefits from people dying? A funeral home,” Oakley said.

Oakley said the faux funeral home is named for the neighborhood where his business is located.

While Wilmore Funeral Home does not exist, WilmoreFuneralHome.com is very much a real website.

The site features the same black background with white lettering.

The website’s message reads, “Get vaccinated now. If not, see you soon.”

The message links to the website for StarMED Healthcare, a healthcare company that has helped to vaccinate thousands of people in Charlotte.

Chris Dobbins, chief relations and response officer for StarMED, sent the following message about the company’s website being linked to the digital billboard:

“StarMED Health has and will continue to administer and support COVID testing, vaccinations, and antibody therapy in response to this ongoing pandemic. While we recognize there are varying opinions and different types of media messages, we support all efforts to educate and motivate our community to prevent and stop the spread of this virus.”

Oakley was asked if he was worried his edgy messaging might rub some people the wrong way.

“I was a little bit worried before we started, but when I really think about it, if this advertisement gets one person vaccinated, it was worth it,” explained Oakley.

A photo of the billboard truck went viral on Twitter Sunday. Thousands of people retweeted the image.

Garrett Crenshaw, owner of Crenshaw Visions, owns the digital billboard truck Oakley paid to use. Crenshaw’s business’s phone number is displayed on the vehicle. He said he’s received nearly 200 phone calls because of the vaccination message that was on the truck.

“(Oakley) told me that it might cause some attention. I was like, ‘You know, as long as it doesn’t go against our morals as a company then we’re fine,’ and I knew the underlying messages of it that he was trying to get so we were good to go with it,” said Crenshaw.

Oakley said he and his team are proud of the billboard, and he said he hopes it will ultimately lead to more people getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

“I think any advertisement that is provocative is going to create a dialogue and when you get people talking, people have action. And I’m hoping that the action is people will get the shot because of this,” said Oakley.

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