Billboards I Would Rather Never See

“I think that I shall never see a billboard lovely as a tree.
Perhaps, unless the billboards fall, I’ll never see a tree at all.”
Ogden Nash

While I agree with my favorite poet on the relative esthetic merits of billboards and trees, I must point out that Mr. Nash never drove across western South Dakota on I-90. You do see many more billboards than trees there, not because the former are so plentiful but because the latter are so scarce. As a result, anyone making this drive regularly—even someone who appreciates the sweeping beauty of the prairies as much as I do—can’t help but develop a certain appreciation for billboards. By now I’m practically an expert on the finer points of billboard advertising. Such as:

For heaven’s sake, use a readable font in colors that contrast with the background.

Those signs printed on fabric-like vinyl and attached to a frame (technically, I suppose, they aren’t “billboards”) are probably much cheaper and easier to create than old-fashioned painted signs on boards. But western South Dakota may not be the ideal environment for them. Your brilliant advertising message is hard to read when it’s streaming in wind-shredded tatters from the bottom of the sign.

Entertaining humor is a great marketing tool. Just ask the people at Reptile Gardens and Wall Drug.

Tacky humor, however, is just, well, tacky. Two cases in point:

A relatively new restaurant in Rapid City has several new signs. As a frequent traveler, I appreciate the variation in the scenery, especially since the “Q” in the restaurant’s name is handy for the alphabet game. But I wince every time I pass their sign that announces, “We’re like a cult with better Kool-Aid.”

Really? Never mind the minor detail of whether the nice people from Kraft Foods are okay with the use of their trademarked brand name on someone else’s billboard. I realize that, since the 1978 Jonestown tragedy, “drinking the Kool-Aid” has become a particularly tasteless way to describe someone’s blind adherence to an idea. But I wonder whether the marketing person who came up with the line for this billboard really knew where it came from. “Hey, let’s link our restaurant to a deranged cult leader named Jim Jones who led a murder-suicide of over 900 of his followers. What a great way to inspire people to come in for a pleasant meal!”

Then there’s the brewery/restaurant whose marketing people, apparently inspired by the old Burma Shave signs from the 1930’s and 40’s, have put up billboards with line-by-line limericks. However, I’m not sure the modern ones quite compare with the classics. Here’s one of the originals:

“If harmony
is what
you crave,
then get
a tuba
Burma Shave.”

Now here is the brewery’s attempt:

“There once was a farmer named Leer
Who owned a cow who gave beer.
Reds, stouts and others
Poured out of her udders . . .”

And the last line’s too tacky to quote here.

I’ll just say that it involves potty humor of a type to make five-year-olds giggle and adults with any taste at all cringe. And as if tacky and tasteless aren’t enough, the last word of the fourth line (I so wish I were making this up, but I’m not) is spelled “utters.”

Next time I drive across I-90, I really need to take along a good audio book and keep my eyes on the road.

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Categories: Odds and Ends, Travel, Words for Nerds | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Billboards I Would Rather Never See

  1. Mary

    you have spoken the truth and delivered it with humor, I am smiling.

  2. Thanks, Mary. Sometimes humor is the best way to deal with the truth–like that spoonful of sugar to help swallow the medicine.

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