Stuck in traffic on skyway Israel beckons travelers

If you’re a driver or a passenger in one of the 140,000 vehicles that travel over the elevated section of

I-80 in San Francisco each day, you’ve probably seen at least one of them.

“Visit Israel. Different from the Israel in the news” the huge blue billboards blare in yellow text. One is visible to westbound travelers; those heading east can see the other.

The billboards are the latest advertising by BlueStarPR, and were designed to have a broad reach.

“Our goal is to reach people who would never even consider Israel as a place to visit,” said Jonathan Carey, director of San Francisco-based BlueStarPR. “We took it completely away from politics to reach them with a simple message and a simple image.”

In addition to the text, the billboard features a photograph of five stylish Israeli women laughing as they stroll along Shenkin Street in Tel Aviv.

This marks the second time BlueStarPR has bought space on the San Francisco skyway. More often, the agency places posters at kiosks around the Bay Area or rents billboard space in less expensive areas, such as San Francisco’s Mission District or in Berkeley.

The skyway is home to some of the most expensive advertising real estate in the Bay Area, since every day around 140,000 cars pass over that stretch of highway, often slowed down by traffic.

Renting space on a billboard visible from the skyway can cost up to $60,000 per month. But because BlueStarPR is a nonprofit agency, and because advertising sales are struggling in the economic downturn, BlueStarPR bought two for just $6,000.

“Can you imagine? On the skyway?” marveled Meirav Yaron, associate director of BlueStarPR. “It’s an indication of how much the economy is hurting.”

The billboards have been up since Nov. 7, and though they’re scheduled to end their run Sunday, Dec. 7, they will remain posted at no extra charge if the billboard space is not rented — a not unlikely scenario “given this ad climate,” Carey said.

BlueStarPR is considering a similar billboard campaign in Washington, D.C. to coincide with President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration.

The overall goal is to make Israel skeptics of all faiths reconsider their perspectives on the Jewish state.

“People have very little knowledge about Israel, about life in Israel other than what they see on television, which is very biased,” Yaron said. “We hope to change their perceptions, to show how modern and developed Israel is, and how much Israel contributes to the world.”

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.