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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Roadside sheep in middle of Netherlands billboard battle

By Toby Sterling
Associated Press

Sheep act as living billboards for the company Hotels.nl in Joure, northern Netherlands. The Internet business began the stunt April 1 along highways and is fighting city threats of fines for illegal advertising.

AP library photo

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AMSTERDAM, Netherlands A Dutch Internet hotel bookings company said yesterday it is doing its best to make the mayor of a small town look sheepish after he threatened a 50,000-euro ($60,000) fine if the company doesn't remove advertisements on livestock in his district.

Hotels.nl began what it thought was a humorous campaign blanketing sheep with its logo along highways near Amsterdam, Leiden, Groningen and The Hague on April 1.

But when Mayor Bert Kuiper in the northern town of Skarsterlan noticed the advertisements on sheep in his district near Groningen, he said they violated a local ordinance against advertising along freeways.

Hotels.nl Chief Executive Miechel Nagel said the company would respond by increasing the number of sheep it uses in Skarsterlan to 60 and changing the statement on their blankets to "Thank You, Mr. Mayor."

"Now it's a freedom of speech issue," said Nagel. He added the local economy also was getting a boost as farmers were being paid 15 euros to 20 euros ($18-$25) per sheep per month to wear the advertisements.

"Their value as lamb-kebabs is around 60 euros ($75)," Nagel said.

On April 10, Kuiper threatened the company with a 20,000-euro ($25,000) fine. When Hotels.nl, with annual sales $86 million, said it didn't mind paying, Kuiper upped the potential fine if the signs weren't removed by April 24.

"It's very creative and we're absolutely not cranky about this, but it has been our policy for years that we don't want advertisements along our roads," Kuiper was quoted as saying by Dutch press agency ANP.

A receptionist for Skarsterlan's city offices said no one would be available to comment until today.

According to the ANP report, the mayor complained Hotels.nl was undermining the authority of local laws and he had started legal action against the company.

"What's next, cows and horses?" Kuiper said.

Nagel said Hotels.nl plans to distribute free horse blankets to 700 people in Skarsterlan bearing the company's logo if it loses the case. He estimated that 80 percent of the town would be willing to use the blankets and back the company, rather than the mayor.

The Hotels.nl campaign was conceived by a company called "Lease-a-Sheep."

The idea of advertising on animals is at least several decades old, though it gained new attention in the dot-com era. Unusual campaigns such as one by Internet casino Golden Palace to paint 100 cows purple in Florida in the summer of 2005 can still attract attention.

Ice cream makers Ben & Jerry's caused surprise in the winter of 2004 by placing advertisements on human beings in Amsterdam. In that campaign, homeless people received a jacket with a Ben & Jerry's logo displayed prominently on the back.

In return, Ben & Jerry's donated money to a local charity that offers support for the homeless.

Although some criticized the campaign as exploitive, others praised the company for being willing to be associated with homeless people.