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John Morgan 'vandalized' Morgan & Morgan billboards in search of a 'purple cow'

Did you see the billboards around Tampa Bay in which well-known lawyer John Morgan is missing a tooth and rocking an eye patch and pirate hat?

It looks as if someone has vandalized the billboard, with the words "Go Bucs!" and "Tampa Bay" spray-painted in big red and white letters over the Morgan & Morgan law firm ad.

But it was actually the multimillionaire Florida lawyer's latest advertising ploy.

Morgan leads the country's largest personal injury law firm. He has been a figure in the news last year for his ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana in Florida for medical use.

If you live pretty much anywhere in Florida, you've seen his television ads more than once. You've seen his dog, Emma, in the ads and Morgan himself dressed as Santa. When you hear "for the people" on the radio or TV, his plump baby face and Kentucky drawl immediately come to mind.

Morgan took some time this week to talk about the vandalized look to his new slew of billboards from his beach house on the Ponce Inlet near New Smyrna Beach.

The billboards are being returned to normal, but left an impression, especially on social media.

Who came up with the idea for these vandalized-looking billboards?

I was talking with some co-workers about some of the best billboards we've ever seen. We agreed that the best ones were some of the Universal Studios ads you see on I-4 and the Chick-fil-A billboards with the 3-D cows on them.

You know how much those cows cost? $100,000 a piece. That was way too expensive for us, but we wanted to do something that people would remember. That they'd tweet about or write about or post about. So we kept thinking about those cows.

Then I came up with the idea of defacing my own billboard. The first one went up in Orlando and it was themed around the Orlando City Soccer Lions team. People were backing up traffic because they were stopping to take pictures of it. TV news stations came out and did stories about it. People were posting on social media about it. We thought it was great. It was the best money I've ever spent.

So there were two "vandalized" billboards in Tampa Bay. Where are others?

We decided to do two billboards in every market we're in around the Southeast for the month of September, so most of the ads are starting to come down now. But we had them in 24 cities in 10 states. Since it was September we decided to make them sports-related, so every city's billboards were focused on the local teams. We rotated them every two weeks so they were in different spots in the city, too.

Why do you think this campaign was so successful?

These billboards were our purple cow. What I mean by that is say you're driving down the road and see cows in a field. You can see thousands of cows but if you see a purple cow, that is the one you're going to remember. We had to do something to stand out from the rest of the pack. That's my goal in life, too.

My dog, Emma, is a purple cow. (The Morgan family's German shepherd has appeared on Morgan & Morgan television ads.) We still get 50 to 60 people a week who write to her from our website and you know what? Every time Emma will write you back.

So what's your next purple cow?

I do have an idea for my next purple cow, but it can't be obvious. That's why the billboards were only for a month. People were starting to figure it out when they would see them in Louisville and Lexington and Memphis and Nashville and go wait a minute. That means it's time to find the next one. It has to sneak up on you and make you go "what in the world is that all about?"

Contact Justine Griffin at jgriffin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.

John Morgan 'vandalized' Morgan & Morgan billboards in search of a 'purple cow' 10/06/15 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 6, 2015 8:10pm]
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