Marketing Tips I Learned from Burma Shave

September 14, 2009 at 7:15 pm Leave a comment

Burma Shave Sign


I can remember my first exposure to Burma Shave signs. I must have been all of maybe six or seven. I was in the back seat of my Dad’s massive 1950 Buick. As I peered out of the back seat window I would wait in anticipation for the next series of signs as we whizzed down Hwy 67 in the rice and cotton country of Arkansas headed for the piney woods of East Texas. The year had to be around 1959 or 1960 on the tail end of Burma Shave’s dominance of its market.

For those who aren’t familiar with Burma Shave it was the first successful brushless shaving cream. Up till it was invented men had to use a brush, mug and a disk of shaving soap to work up a lather for shaving. Burma Shave used a series of road signs to promote their product during a less hectic period of travel. Once the Interstate System appeared Burma Shave signs disappeared and eventually so did its product.

Yet there are lessons to be learned from this innovative method of marketing. I will touch on a few them.

Burma Shave stayed on message. They had their one product and every series of signs had one message, Burma Shave! They didn’t try to promote anything else unless it was safe driving. They focused on what they did best, shaving cream!

Burma Shave used repetition to reinforce their product. Every few miles you would see a series of five signs with a short little ditty that ended with the last sign containing the Burma Shave logotype. Over and over again they put their product presence in your face. On an average trip you might see these signs dozens of times.

With repetition, Burma Shave, fostered anticipation. I can remember watching from the side window of that immense Buick with anticipation of the next series of signs to read. I wasn’t the only one. Thousands of travelers looked for the signs so they could read them and be entertained.

Burma Shave knew how to entertain. Their signs had a short message that was often humorous or promoted safe driving. Travelers often memorized the signs and would talk about them after a trip. This kept the product in their minds and promoted discussion. Word of mouth would then take hold and continue to spread the Burma Shave message.

The Burma Shave campaign was simple. It consisted of groups of five signs containing a short message that often rhymed, and the logo. What could have been simpler or more cost effective? Remember your potential clients are being assaulted constantly with complex images and messages. Think about going the other direction. By being simple in concept Burma Shave stood out from the crowd and captured the market.

Lastly I learned that by being consistent, Burma Shave kept their message in front of their potential customers. They didn’t change the signs shape or size. They didn’t have messages with seven signs or only two. They didn’t put the signs out in fields, scattering them out in the weeds. Even from a distance you knew when you saw their signs that they were Burma Shave’s not somebody else’s because they were consistent.

So remember these points: stay on message, use repetition, foster anticipation, entertain, keep your campaign simple, and always be consistent in your presentation.

If you are an innovative thinking small businessman or woman looking to partner with an innovative marketing person I’m here ready to help. Give me a call.

Michael Irvin
Creative Project Manager
913.677.7060 cell: 913.530.7030

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