Last month, a series of billboards began appearing all over the country, including in Times Square. Headlined “Recession 101,” they were dotted with sunny catchphrases and encouraging “lessons” about recessions past: “Bill Gates started Microsoft in a recession” said one. “Self-worth is greater than net worth,” said another. The billboards, of which there are now nearly 2,000, were designed by a Florida-based designer named Charlie Robb, who told the AP he had designed them at the behest of “an anonymous East Coast donor who was depressed about how the country was reacting to the economy’s tailspin.”
“Recession 101 isn’t selling anything other than the American spirit,” the campaign’s website reads.
Frankly, we were skeptical. The only person in America, we felt, who would be selfless, wealthy, and whimsical enough to do such a thing is Michael Jackson, and he’s dead. It has to be someone who would profit from people getting their minds off the recession.
Maybe it was the Outdoor Advertising Association of America itself? Spokesperson Jeff Golimowski swore to us that it wasn’t, that they only donated the space because they thought it was a cool idea and would be a “great way to give back to the country.” Harrumph. Maybe it was the Obama administration, then, trying to turn the tide with an undercover Keep Calm and Carry On campaign? Or a big muckety-muck with a lot at stake, like Goldman Sachs or Warren Buffett? No, no, and no, said Robb, but he wouldn’t say anything else. “I’m not trying to be coy about this but I have a responsibility to honor my client’s wishes,” he said.”The client wants to remain anonymous out of a belief that you don’t do public service for recognition. I found that commendable. Altruism, apparently, isn’t dead.”