A new guerilla marketing campaign is taking advantage of an election season loophole in Arizona, and leaving some Phoenix-area residents wondering: Who is “Homie,” and why is he or she running for the U.S. Senate?
Homie is actually a Utah-based real estate company that expanded into the Phoenix market in January. Their digital ads are a frequent sight on streaming services such as Hulu, but their latest attention-seeking venture features a slew of teal signs posted on street corners and other public right-of-ways that read: “Vote for Homie… Significant Change.”
The sign refers interested voters to HomieforSenate.com, which declares that “significant change is coming… to your pocket.”
But it’s not crystal-clear who, or what, Homie is without a lengthy read of the website, which goes on to declare that “Arizonans want change” – the monetary kind, that is.
“They want change in their taxes, change in the political climate and, most importantly, they want change… in their pockets,” the website states. Homie purports to save homebuyers and sellers money by charging a flat fee for its real estate services and by offering loans.
Officials with Homie could not be reached for comment.
The presence of the non-campaign campaign signs in Phoenix is reminiscent of a similar advertisement for Stingray Sushi. In 2011, marketing consultant Jason Rose capitalized on the mayoral election to draw attention to the restaurant. Signs posted around town showed the Stingray logo, but also included clever phrases to tie sushi to the two mayoral candidates, Greg Stanton and Wes Gullett.
Pulling off the campaign trail marketing stunt meant clearing several legal hurdles at the time, Rose said. Now, due to a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, those hurdles no longer exist, according to attorneys for the League of Arizona Cities and Towns.
In 2011, Rose registered a political action committee with the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office. And a majority of the Stingray Sushi signs posted around town had language directly tied to the election: “We had legal advice that said 51 percent of the signs had to be devoted to political speech,” said Rose, who added he’s not involved in Homie’s campaign
“While the signs had the Stingray logo on them… they were engaged in the election,” he added.
Rose went on to repeat the strategy during the 2012 presidential election, posting sushi signs tied to presidential candidates. That required registration as a political committee with the Federal Elections Commission. That’s because commercial signs were, and still are, regulated by local ordinances. Cities and towns have their own laws dictating when, where and how signs may be posted, and can remove signs that violate local laws.
Not all those laws apply during election season, according to Ken Strobeck, executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns.
State statute on political signs supersedes local ordinances, allowing the slew of candidate signs and posters dotting Arizona street corners beginning 60 days before the primary election and ending 15 days after the general election.
For that five-month period, political signs are free from the restrictions normally enforced by municipalities.
That’s why Rose went as far as registering as a political committee with the Secretary of State, to ensure that the Stingray advertising campaign was political enough to protect the signs from local laws. Those legal gymnastics are no longer required, Strobeck said, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Reed v. Town of Gilbert. The court ruled that governments cannot impose “content based” regulations on signs, which are a form of free speech.
Attorneys for the League interpret the ruling to mean that during election season, when state law dictates cities must allow political signs on public right-of-ways, they must allow other types of signs, too.
For example, Phoenix zoning ordinances have a permitting process required for most signs, but political signs are exempt in accordance with state law. During campaign season, that means political and non-political signs are exempt from the requirement, since they must be treated equally, according to Strobeck. The only ordinance that still applies in Phoenix is one that requires campaigns to provide the name and number of an official who can be reached to remove a sign if needed.
“The Legislature has carved out this period of time during election season when political signs are legal and can be placed anywhere and everywhere, and so under that same doctrine, any other sign can be placed anywhere and everywhere that are similar in size and placement… you can’t discriminate on the basis of content,” Strobeck said.
Rose said the campaign signs are incredibly cost-effective given the amount of exposure they provide – a sign and two pieces of rebar cost a fraction of what it would take to purchase time on a billboard or bus stop.
In fact, given that the ads don’t even need to be election-related to be protected from local ordinances during campaign season, Rose questioned the value in Homie launching such an “obtuse” ad.
“You’re trying to interest someone in the U.S Senate race, who then is going to actually take the time to research who the hell the candidate is, and then go, ‘Oh, it’s not actually a candidate at all, it’s a mortgage company,’” Rose said. “So the percentage of people that might actually do that and then go, ‘Oh my god I’ve been looking for a mortgage company,’ I think is infinitesimal.”
On the flip side, at least Homie got someone to write about its ads.
“I like it from an earned media standpoint, for the reasons that we’re having this conversation,” Rose quipped.