You are on a road trip. Up ahead, a red & white sign appears and it is “your turn”. You straighten up to be ready with your best recital voice and read aloud: “HIS FACE WAS SMOOTH” three seconds go by and the next red & white sign is in view and again aloud: “AND COOL AS ICE”…another three seconds…”AND OH LOUISE!”…three seconds more…”HE SMELLED”…another three seconds and this time the whole carload chimes in with glee: “SO NICE”. Fortunately, I am just old enough to remember these Burma-Shave signs as an integral part of our road trips when I was a kid. I was nine the year the decision was made to pull the signs. I view them as signs rather than ads but they were, in fact, among the most successful ad campaign at least for this type of product from 1925 on up through about the age of television.
THE VERSE BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD, The Story of the Burma-Shave Signs and Jingles is a slim 68 pages that goes behind the signs to reveal a company that delivered customer satisfaction, service and used plain good business sense; turning a struggling little family startup into a successful family company. All the spots the signs were planted belonged to somebody, often farmers, and Burma-Shave paid for each spot. Burma-Shave had a maintenance plan for the signs but it turns out many of the farmers maintained the signs voluntarily with needed repairs and coats of paint. From farmers to druggists, folks found dealing with Burma-Shave employees was always pleasant if not downright fun. The family and people who worked with them all had some of the spirit of the signs and saw no reason doing business could not be pleasant, even fun. As issues arose the folks at Burma-Shave were quick to find creative, simple, common-sense and fast solutions. There are great examples of the company’s responsiveness to customer feedback on their signs alone. They were agile and weren’t afraid to try new things. Location and spacing for the signs were well thought out, and as roads and automobiles improved signs were relocated for ease of reading for folks traveling at higher speeds. Writer Frank Rowsome, Jr. tells the story in the same vein as the Burma-Shave signs and jingles. Economical and light-hearted, this book should be required reading for MBAs.
A good read that includes details about the chain of events set in motion by this sign set: