During the early part of the 20th century, a shaving cream manufacturer got an idea for advertising
its new product: They put very short poems (five or six lines), one line at a time, on various highways, such that each line was just short enough to read while driving along. The final line was always the product's name and logo: Burma-Shave
. There were hundreds of different jingles, plus thousands made up by customers for contests. The vast majority of the unadopted jingles suggested by the public probably insinuated questionable or obscene uses of the product.
HAD NO B.O.
BUT HIS WHISKERS SCRATCHED
SO SHE LET HIM GO
A lot of the rhymes have passed through time so much that many people today won't get them. The following would have been a Shout-Out
to Smith Bros. Cough Drops, which showed two bearded men on the box:
WHILE WE'VE SHAVED
SIX MILLION OTHERS
WE STILL CAN'T SHAVE
THOSE COUGH DROP BROTHERS
When Burma-Shave came out, the idea of using a special cream (rather than soap) was a new idea, so the company needed a new way to get noticed. Thus became the original use of what would later be referred to as "the jingle": a short, catchy tune to remind you of the company's product—only Burma-Shave's ads were simply silent poems.
A CURVE AT 60 PER
WE HATE TO LOSE
This advertising development, combined with faster travel on major highways, later led other advertisers to develop the billboard
, a large advertisement carrying an image and a small amount of text.
OUT SO FAR
IT MIGHT GO HOME
IN ANOTHER CAR
Alas, Burma-Shave's cute messages became a victim of technology — better shaving products came out and cars got faster, making it harder to read the signs — as well as government regulation, as the taxes on their advertising signs became prohibitive. So Burma-Shave's ads faded off to that great advertising road in the sky, along with television commercials for cigarettes and such mascots as Speedy Alka-Seltzer, the Hamm's Beer Bear and Joe Camel. Reproductions of the signs, however, currently liven up the drive on Arizona Highway 66, part of the original Route 66. Ironically, Arizona was one of the few states where Burma-Shave never
installed any of their original ads, on the argument that the state's population density wasn't high enough to guarantee enough passing drivers to spot them regularly. This is also why Burma-Shave never advertised in Nevada or New Mexico. (Massachusetts was also skipped for its lack of roads that didn't have curves or foliage in the way.)
The Other Wiki
LOOK EACH WAY
A HARP SOUNDS NICE
BUT IT'S HARD TO PLAY
has an article here
The story of the campaign's creation and life — along with a generous selection of the verses — can be found in the book The Verse by the Side of the Road: The Story of the Burma-Shave Signs and Jingles
, by Frank Rowsome Jr.
Works that have referenced the Burma-Shave advertisements:Comic Books
- During Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing, when Matthew Cable gets into a car crash while drunk, the caption boxes soberly declare: "The night can make a man more brave...but not more sober"...and then finish with a Burma-Shave sign next to Matt's smashed car.
- In the movie The World's Fastest Indian there is a sequence where Burt and the air force pilot he's travelling with read aloud the Burma-Shave poems they pass, showing the distance they cover.
MusicVideo GamesWebcomicsWeb Original
- Sam encounters a Burma-Shave ad in the Quantum Leap pilot.
- Hee Haw occasionally presented gags in the form of Burma-Shave signs — filmed out a slowly-moving car window for that genuine experience.
- One of the "driving-to-California" episodes of I Love Lucy originally had a scene where Lucy reads some Burma-Shave signs aloud. This was excised from the syndication cut, although it's included as a bonus on the season 4 DVD.
- The final episode of M*A*S*H has Hawkeye placed in a mental hospital after suffering a severe emotional breakdown. After counseling sessions with Sidney Freedman, he's reassigned to the 4077th; as he's being driven back by jeep, the driver points out a series of homemade signs that the rest of the staff have put up along the road to welcome him back:
Hawk was gone
Now he's here
Dance 'til dawn
Give a cheer
Western AnimationReal Life
- Gaia Online's online RPG zOMG! has a series of trash cans in the Bassken Lake area with lines written on them. Put together, the lines say:
To kiss a mug
That's like a cactus
Takes more nerve
Than it does practice