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7,000 Signs or 1 SuperBowl Ad?

7,000 Signs or 1 SuperBowl Ad?

January 30, 2014

The Slow & Steady Approach: The Tortoise 

It is considered one of the greatest advertising campaigns in history.  It lasted nearly 40 years and spanned the country, starting before television even existed.  I’m talking about the Burma Shave signs.

Let me explain. The idea, which started way back in 1925, was not to splash a billboard in people’s faces, but to build anticipation. Information needs to be dripped, not poured out all at once.  And that’s exactly what the Burma Shave folks did with road signs. They spaced out five signs roughly 100 feet apart to create clever rhymes to sell their aftershave. The signs were painted red to draw attention, and the letters were all in caps so motorists could read them as they drove by.   

People loved the signs. Burma Shave, a small company, became the second-hottest brushless shaving cream in the nation. It also became a part of American culture. Travelers looked forward to seeing the rhymes along the highways, and homesick American soldiers even posted their own Burma Shave signs all over the world.


Other signs of Burma Shave:

A whiskery kiss

For one you adore

May not make her mad

But her face will be sore




Was Such a Boom 

They passed the bride

And kissed the groom 








So Why did the Best Campaign in History Stop?

The death of small business thinking died when big corporations took over.  Philip Morris took over Burma Shave and decided to end the sign campaigns in 1963.  By 1966, Burma Shave lost visibility and completely disappeared.

What a pity; what a shame. They killed entrepreneurial thinking!  I see many successful advertisements and campaigns suddenly stop.  When I ask marketing executives, “Why did you stop such a great campaign?” the answer I get is, “We got tired of it.”  That’s a whim -- not a reason to halt success.

I’ll give you a simple example. Let’s say you spend $10,000 on a direct mail campaign that generates a 3% response rate, and every time you send it out, it generates a net gain of $25,000. It would seem like a no-brainer to continue sending it out, wouldn’t it? But many quit. You wouldn’t stop selling to a customer whom you’ve nurtured for years, so why kill a marketing campaign that’s working?  It’s like throwing hundreds of thousands of dollars away.  Advertising works best when you keep on hammering away.

Had Philip Morris followed that strategy, the Burma Shave signs might still be along the roadside today.

The Rapid Approach: the Hare

One of the worst business gaffes in history only lasted 30 seconds, but it put the company out of business within one year.  Pets.com decided to air a commercial at the 2000 Super Bowl for the hefty price of $1.2 million. That cost was more than the total price tag for all 7,000 Burma Shave signs combined.

Launched in 1998, Pets.com sold pet supplies to customers via the internet. Their advertising mascot was a sock puppet, which became famous and was “interviewed” by People magazine and appeared on Good Morning America.  The sock puppet was a hit, but sales were still lagging when they created the Super Bowl campaign to promote shopping for pets online “because pets can’t drive.”

USA Today ranked the ad as the most highly received commercial of the 2000 Super Bowl. It was talked about for days… and then forgotten.  They splashed the information and then went on with business as usual, without a solid follow-up strategy in place to monetize their marketing investment. By the following Super Bowl just one year later, only 268 days after launching their IPO on the Nasdaq, Pets.com was out of business and the famous sock puppet was unemployed.          

The Tortoise Wins Again

A creative splash is great when it works, but it’s only part of the equation. Depending solely on super (or Super Bowl) creativity is like relying on a Hail Mary pass to win a game. It may work, but that can’t be your full strategy. Instead, when it comes to successful marketing, the slow-and-steady tortoise usually wins the race. Even in our “faster, quicker, now” world, customers respond best to the drip-drip-drip of information that lets them absorb your message over time.

The Drip Drip Drip Approach in business today


For 85% of businesses, the money will come from the meat-and-potatoes approach of the solid but curious drip versus the singular splash approach.

Slow and steady

Wins the race

That’s why we chose it

As our pace

Brand Launcher


Taking you from where you are to where you want to be,