'TIL YOU'RE ADDICTED
DON'T BE SURPRISED
IF YOU'RE EVICTED"
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:
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.
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.)
LOOK EACH WAY
A HARP SOUNDS NICE
BUT IT'S HARD TO PLAY"
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.
- Black Comedy: A number of the "safe driving" themed rhymes employ this.HE LIT A MATCH
TO CHECK GAS TANK
THAT'S WHY THEY CALL HIM
- Literal Genie/The Cake Is Not A Lie: Detailed here—one series of signs read "FREE! FREE! / A trip / to Mars / For 900 / empty jars". Arliss French, a supermarket manager in Wisconsin, took them up on their challenge, and thanks to a series of ads in the local paper and displays in his store, he succeeded in gathering the required number of containers. After some negotiations, the company presented him with tickets to Moers (pronounced "Mars"), a small town in West Germany. Mr. French got a free European vacation, and Burma Shave got tons of positive publicity.
Burma-Shave Co.: IF A TRIP / TO MARS YOU'D EARN / REMEMBER, FRIEND / THERE'S NO RETURN
- Amusingly, much of the aforesaid "negotiations" were carried out via Burma-Shave poems telegraphed from the company to Mr. French and back.
Arliss French: LET'S NOT QUIBBLE / LET'S NOT FRET / GATHER YOUR FORCES / I'M ALL SET
Burma-Shave Co.: OUR ROCKETS ARE READY / WE AIN'T SPLITTING HAIRS / JUST SEND US THE JARS / ...AND ARRANGE YOUR AFFAIRS
- An earlier series of signs got a similar reaction: "FREE OFFER! FREE OFFER! / Rip a fender / off your car / Mail it in for / a half-pound jar". Most readers got the joke (this ad was posted at the time of a big coupon and free-offer fad), but some decided to call Burma-Shave's bluff instead and sent actual fenders to the company by parcel post; others apparently got the amusing idea of sending fenders from toy cars, in regular envelopes. Burma-Shave discovered that the publicity and sales boost they got from actually honoring these "coupons" more than made up for all the free product they had to give out (and all the fenders that had to be disposed of) — a lesson that would serve them well in the "trip to Mars" incident.
- Pun: Many of the rhymes end in one.
- Racing the Train: Several safety jingles point out what a bad idea this is.
- Safe Driving Aesop: Many of the jingles, such as the "DON'T TAKE A CURVE/AT 60 PER" poem quoted above, were humorous messages to drive safely.
- Shout-Out: One of them was this to Smith Brothers Cough Drop
- Too Fast to Stop: Safety jingles on speeding and on trains.
- Viral Marketing: One of the earliest examples - the product is forgotten, but the ad campaign is immortal.
FOR THE STINGER
THE TVTROPES WRINGER"