Turn on the television to a station such as WKYT or LEX18 during a commercial break and you might see a man wearing a light tan cowboy hat and collared shirt while strumming a Gibson guitar, singing about sheltering in place and having adequate care for pets during emergencies. Despite the grave and serious commercial context, the man’s voice has a gentle warmness and he even smiles cheerfully at the end of the commercials.
Who is that guy?
That’s Brad Williams. He’s a Arkansas-based country music singer, who is a songwriter and lead signer of The Salty Dogs, a country music band based in Little Rock. The 42-year-old man grew up in Marked Tree, Ark., which is in the northeast portion of the state.
In Central Kentucky, many people have probably seen Williams in the CSEPP commercials. But the voice you hear singing is not his. He lip syncs in the commercials.
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CSEPP stands for the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program. The law was created in 1985 when the United States Congress passed a law directing the Army to dispose of its chemical weapons inventory. The goal of the program is to educate about emergency preparedness in communities surrounding chemical stockpiles.
The Blue Grass Army Depot in Richmond is home to chemical weapons such as mustard gas and sarin. As a result, Clark, Estill, Fayette, Garrard, Jackson, Jessamine, Laurel, Madison, Powell and Rockcastle counties are included in CSEPP.
Although Williams is seen in the commercials that air in Kentucky, his connections to the Bluegrass State do not end there. His dad spent time in Fort Campbell as part of basic training for the Army and Williams grew up admiring Kentucky Bluegrass artists, such as Ricky Skaggs, Dwight Yoakam and Bill Monroe.
“There’s always been a huge (constituency) of great musicians coming out of Kentucky,” he said.
Williams was approached to appear in the commercials by CJRW, a public relations firm based in Arkansas. The commercials began airing in January and are scheduled to end March 2018.
“In an emergency, follow this rule. Don’t try to pick up your kids at school,” Williams says in one of the videos. “Protect yourself and stay safe at home. To ensure your kids will never be alone.”
Although a non-Kentucky native, Williams knew about the CSEPP program before the commercials were filmed because Arkansas has a similar program. He was eager to participate in the commercials because it would help people.
“Anytime you can get a message like that out, it’s always a cool deal,” he said.
Becky Heflin, a CJRW employee, said there were three other ideas the public relations agency had before launching the campaign, but the “Singing Cowboy” was picked because it seemed more “down-home” and relatible than the other concepts.
“The power of music as a persuader is nothing new to advertising, but the way we presented such a serious and complex subject — with a friendly, guitar-playing cowboy — is what made this approach so fresh and compelling,” Heflin said in an email.
The lyrics for the first four commercials were written in two days. Filming took place last year at various places in Little Rock and lasted for about two days, Williams said.
Williams said since the commercial has aired, he’s heard a lot of praise.
“I’ve gotten really good feedback from a lot of people,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed the experience and I’m glad that people like it.”
The content of the commercials, which include topics such as how to take care of pets during an emergency, were influenced by past emergencies. For example, John Bobel, Public Information Officer for Lexington Emergency Management, said during Lexington’s last few ice storms, Lexington Emergency Management found that pets were very important to people during an emergency.
“People become very attached to their pets,” Bobel said. “And if there aren’t shelters or if people had not made plans to take care of their pets during an emergency, a large number of them just stay home. They would rather be cold with their pets and without power than to be separated from them.”
Williams said he hopes to bring his band to the Bluegrass State and greet his local fans soon.
“Hopefully sometime soon, I would like to bring the band to that area just to play some shows or something,” he said