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  • They popped up around greater Philadelphia, captivating and confusing all who set eyes upon them. Our week-long investigation—consisting of one email, one phone call, and six days of doing nothing—unveiled a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top. Or something like that.
By Jacob Feldman
August 29, 2019

The rogue image flashed first like an apparition, a spectral splash across billboards, spreading from Allentown to Wilmington to Trenton. There it would be, before disappearing without warning to be replaced by—I don’t know, probably a beer ad.

*Knock Knock*, the sign read.

Who’s There?

Zeke

Zeke Who?

At first, the message was so subversive it was only discussed in the internet’s darkest corners. A single foreign outlet picked it up. One of the few pieces of primary visual evidence came from a local supporter, who managed to capture an obstructed view of the sign while fleeing the area for a calmer southern region in what appeared to be a truck disguised as a school bus. “Whomever sponsored it is a legend,” the man wrote in an internet comment—posting under the pseudonym El Padrino:

El Padrino’s implied question matched the one now commonly accompanying many evocative works of this era—Who did this!? The MMQB investigative team sought to solve the case, and three clues kickstarted our hunt.

1. The public communiqué’s content narrowed down the suspect pool to enemies of the Dallas Cowboys. Days before the image first appeared, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones responded to a question about running back Ezekiel Elliott’s ongoing holdout with the trite, Zeke who?, before providing a fuller answer. The joke reportedly bothered Elliott, opening a wound that someone clearly hoped to throw salt into from 30 feet above a few mid-Atlantic highways. The specific location of the spotted ads around Philadelphia further narrowed possibilities.

2. A textual analysis indicates that the creator in question was, [checks notes], fluent in digital conversation style. However, he or she appeared to have less experience with the rules of capitalization. (Given the state of American literacy, though, this proved a red herring.)

3. Every Zeke Who? image captured by locals appeared on a billboard marked with a logo for “Lamar.” Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson was spotted in the area, but with no other evidence tying him to the case and no clear anti-Cowboys motive, we turned our attention to Lamar Advertising, a 117-year old company with over 300,000 displays across the US. Investigative editor Gary Gramling, easily recognizable around the office due to his Jim Carrey-as-The-Riddler wardrobe and mannerisms, suggested taking a direct approach with the firm (though he’s been too busy working other leads to further assist).

The MMQB called Lamar, demanding answers. They politely provided them.

Who did the billboard? Lamar did.

“We wanted to show the power of our medium, the digital billboard, how it can go up and go viral,” Philadelphia branch general manager Dave Peacock said, providing confession and motive in a single breath. “The beauty of Lamar is right now we’re in 158 markets, and we have a creative team in each one. Down in Philly, we have the best creative team in the area.”

In fact, that group has struck before, honoring “St. Nick” Foles and welcoming Bryce Harper to the city. This time the team went negative, with similar results. 

“The first day, if you Googled ‘Zeke billboard’ you got nothing,” Peacock said. “Two days later, it was everywhere.”

Attempts to corroborate Peacock’s story with someone on the creative team were stymied when most of the office left at lunch, getting the afternoon off for hitting their sales goals. So maybe virality does pay.

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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