Business & Tech

NY ad agency behind those cryptic sofa billboards you keep seeing

What’s up with those “sofa king” billboards?

Boston-area commuters may have noticed some quirky highway signs pop up this month, promoting couches at furniture store chain Bernie & Phyl’s. They each feature a cryptic slogan: “sofa king affordable,” “sofa king stylish” or “sofa king comfortable.” Looks nonsensical — until you read it aloud. Yes, it’s the latest handiwork from New York ad agency DeVito/Verdi.

Ellis Verdi, co-owner of the agency, says the only debate in his shop was over whether there should be a comma after “king” on the signs, not whether the signs themselves would be considered offensive.

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That irreverence will be on display again on Tuesday, when the agency’s new Legal Sea Foods ads debut. There’s ominous piano music, and a somber narrator reads what sounds like an obituary, describing how some salt-of-the earth person died just before something wonderful was about to happen to them, like winning the Lottery. The punch line: If only the person ate more fish, he or she might have lived just a little bit longer.

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Verdi says Legal is still running more of its satirical “Berkowitz for President” ads, referring to Legal CEO Roger Berkowitz, this year. But his agency also wanted to find a light-hearted way to promote seafood’s health benefits.

“The last thing you want to hear is some health message from a fish store,” Verdi says. “I could live longer without that but I could live a lot longer with a little sense of humor.”

Berkowitz first hired DeVito/Verdi nearly a decade ago, after his firm received a cold-call from someone at the agency. The agency has since worked for several other Boston-area clients, including Suffolk University, Herb Chambers and Fallon Health.

Berkowitz says he likes the agency because he’s a big believer in ads that don’t blend in and that start discussions — even if not everyone is happy with them.

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“The beauty of what DeVito/Verdi does,” Berkowitz says, “is they have the ability to go into that sweet spot where people aren’t sure whether they should be angered or humored.”

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.