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'Be nice': Fargo firm starts billboard battle with HBO's John Oliver

FARGO - A couple of days after comedian and commentator John Oliver told North Dakotans to "be angry" about oil-industry pollution, some North Dakotans are telling him to cool it.

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This ad, seen here in Fargo, rebutting comedian John Oliver's message ran statewide on Sky Digital's billboards. Special to The Forum
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FARGO – A couple of days after comedian and commentator John Oliver told North Dakotans to "be angry" about oil-industry pollution, some North Dakotans are telling him to cool it.

Sky Digital, a Fargo company that owns digital billboards statewide, is running ads with Oliver looking a bit mopey with the message: "Hey John Oliver, don't be angry. Be 'North Dakota' nice (it really works)."

Earlier: John Oliver calls out ND's oil industry on ‘Last Week Tonight’

"Hey, this is what really works in North Dakota, we play nice, we are nice, we're great people," said Sales Manager Paul Hilt, who is originally from St. Paul. "Might not work for you in New York where everybody's an a-----e - and I use to live there for four years - or whatever that might be. At the end of the day, we are a great state and we shouldn't have to be slapped in the face."

He said Sky Digital crafted the message with a couple of clients, who shall "remain nameless." Asked if the clients were in the oil industry, he said he wished he could identify them but can't.

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The ad ran statewide on Tuesday.

Oliver delivered the 20-minute monologue on his HBO show "Last Week Tonight" on Sunday. In it, he referenced a series of billboards admonishing passers-by to "Be Polite," among other messages. North Dakotans are just too nice, he complained, and they're letting the oil industry run roughshod over their environment. To get them motivated, he said, he paid for an ad mimicking those billboards, except the message was "Be Angry."

Oliver's ad appears on a Newman Outdoor Advertising sign along U.S. Highway 2 in Minot, a major population center on the edge of the state's Oil Patch. Pam Dockter, a Newman billboard consultant, said it's the only Newman sign with that ad.

Ironically, Newman founder Harold Newman is the man behind the "Be Polite" ads. His friend, columnist Lloyd Omdahl, wrote in 2014 after Newman died, he paid for those ads himself.

Hilt said Sky Digital supports that message; though, as a rival, the company didn't work with Newman Outdoor Advertising on the ad. "There's enough going on in the world, in the state, that's negative. It's a great message. How hard is it to be kind, to be polite?"

While Oliver's ad runs in one city, Sky Digital's ran in 10. And the latter's essentially requires a person to watch Oliver's show to get it.

Asked if his company isn't giving Oliver even more exposure, Hilt answered indirectly. "We put it up not long ago and I probably had 40 or 50 phone calls regarding this, what's the message for people that didn't see it or what not, but it also goes to show what we have works, another reason why advertisers advertise with us."

To see Oliver's monologue, go to www.youtu.be/jYusNNldesc .

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This ad rebutting comedian John Oliver's message ran statewide on Sky Digital's billboards. Image credit: Sky Digital.

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