New Hartford, N.Y., won't soon forget Jack O'Trade, JAY-K Lumber's "guy on the boards" and star of its three-dimensional billboard campaign.

Jack O'Trade–christened by a JAY-K employee–was life size and dressed in contractor duds, leading some citizens to think he was a live human being perhaps stranded on the billboards. Jack first appeared in late December 2005, and soon after, Dean Kelly, owner and president of JAY-K, got a phone call "saying there is a guy still working on the billboard. He's been up there a while, is he OK?" Given the frigid temperatures of upstate New York in the winter–New Hartford is about 95 miles west of Albany–people thought Jack might be cold and in trouble. "We informed them it's part of the props, he's fine," says Kelly.

Some people went as far as to call 911 to help the poor guy down. "We were informed by the Utica Police Department that there were calls" about this man who might be stuck up on the billboard, Kelly says. One person stopped and yelled up to Jack to see if he was OK, the police told Kelly.

Jack O'Trade was the idea of Romanelli Communications, an advertising and public relations agency in Clinton, N.Y. Katie Ullman, account manager on the campaign, says the 3D ads focused on JAY-K's "people" connection. "Hometown improvement" was the central theme of the ad campaign, the idea being that JAY-K is the local alternative to the big box stores inundating New Hartford, says Ullman. TV ads featured music from local musicians, while print ads with headlines such as "Right next door," and "In your own backyard," noted the 70-year-old company's role in the community.

But Jack O'Trade was the star of this show. "We were hoping for a little bit of buzz, but we had no idea it was gong to take that route," Ullman says.

For six weeks in 2006, Jack popped up around town. People were encouraged to find Jack to win gift certificates, and to log onto the JAY-K Web site to enter where they saw him. This boosted Web traffic and, as a result, Web sales. People went into the store to see where Jack might be next, which led to new customers and more sales. The ad campaign fueled a $1 million rise in JAY-K sales in 2005-06.

Vital Statistics

  • Company: JAY-K Lumber
  • Year Founded: 1937
  • Headquarters: New Hartford, N.Y.
  • Number of Locations: 4
  • Number of Employees: 90
  • 2006 Gross Sales: $23 million
  • Percentage of Sales to Pros: 55%