In 1925 Allan Odell convinced his father Clinton Odell that by using small signs along the roadways of America they could promote their shaving cream company, Burma-Shave.
Thus from that simple beginning was born, what could conceivably be called, the first social media advertising campaign. And while there was no internet, no TV, nor even cell phones used to promote this campaign it will forever be remembered as one of the most unique, original, advertising campaigns ever seen.
For amazingly as the world watched this simple idea, started for $200 dollars, turned Burma-Shave into one of the largest shaving cream companies in the United States at that time.
And with over 7,000 Burma-Shave signs at its height no American could travel for any distance without seeing the fruits of Allan and his brother Leonard’s work. Thus throughout the depression and into the early 1960’s Burma-Shave continued to bring joy and anticipation to a whole generation of travelers on the byways and highway of this country. And, of course, along the way they made Burma-Shave a house hold word.
What does this teach us today about advertising? Are there lessons can we gather from this simple yet powerful idea that still apply?
I think so!
The first of which is that advertising is at its best when it’s simple. For just as Burma-Shave could with 5 little signs (containing nowhere near twitters 140 character limit) catch the imagination and attention of Americas traveling public we can do the same today.
And second, an advertising campaign to grow and achieve success, must bring some measure of worth to those involved. It can be anything from the simple entertainment of a Burma-Shave sign to the joy we experienced with the old Kodak picture ads. But somehow it must touch the people watching in a way that moves them and holds their attention long enough to deliver its message.
We just have to choose our words wisely, keep our message simple, and bring value to the people who we present our message too. If we remember to do that the wonder of the Burma-Shave signs, and what they taught us, will live on.
You can see many of the old Burma-Shave sign ads here at: Burma-Shave Slogans