Monday Mornings with Madison

Increase Your Brand’s Stickiness

Word Count: 1,225
Estimated Read Time: 5 min.

At the very least, every entrepreneur wants his company’s products and services to be known and remembered.  But, there is so much noise in the market place — promotional clatter, advertising din, sales racket and marketing roar — that it may seem pert near impossible to be heard.  How can anyone hear anything with such constant commotion begging for each person’s attention?  It definitely makes it hard for consumers to remember specific messages. In an ocean of noise, it can be a challenge to retain a new concept or idea for more than a moment.   Very little sticks.  Consumers have learned to shut it out.  There is just too much information competing for their attention.  Ironically, the noise causes businesses to raise their volume and increase the frequency of their blare hoping to be noticed.  It becomes a vicious cycle that feeds on its own ineffectiveness.

Does it sound futile?  It can be.  So how does a company grab the market’s attention?  The key is to communicate a message – a sound or buzz if you will – that rises above the hullabaloo and shushes the clamor.  That is when a company knows it’s been heard, is being talked about and will be remembered.   That kind of ‘sound’ is far better than market noise or walled-off silence.  It is the kind of message that makes folks pay attention.  One recalled and shared.  That is a sticky message.

In a forest of auditory and visual pandemonium, a company’s message is supposed to be music to the ears and art to the eyes.  That is a lofty goal indeed.  Is it even achievable?  Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick[1], argue that it is achievable…. that it is possible to deliver that kind of messaging to the marketplace.

So what is sticky anyway?

Some messages and ideas are stickier than others.  Some might call them “catchy” as in contagious.  For example, some jingles and brand commercials last forever.  Who can forget “Plop plop, fizz fizz, oh what a relief it is” for Alka-Seltzer.  Or how about the a cappella insurance commercial “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.”  Or what about the adorable kids singing “I am stuck on Band-Aid brand ‘cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me.”  Even 50 years after they stopped playing these jingles, most people can still sing them.  Those jingles were sticky!

According to the Heath brothers, stickiness boils down to six key components[2]:

  1. Simplicity – distill the message to its most core idea
  2. Unexpected – make it counterintuitive, surprising, or curiosity-peaking
  3. Concrete – uses concrete images and sensory information to make a point
  4. Credible – use authority to deliver believe-ability
  5. Emotions – generate an emotional response like laughter, disgust, resentment, joy, etc.
  6. Story-telling – story-telling gets a person to act; call-to-action; preparation

Case in point.  Back in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, there was an advertising campaign that is considered by many as one of the most “sticky” ad campaigns ever launched.  The product was Burma-Shave shaving lotion.  The brand does not even exist today, but for several decades, it was known by practically everyone in the U.S.  The Burma-Shave rhyming slogans were one of the most effective billboard campaigns ever put to use along American highways from 1927 through 1963.[3] Burma-Shave sold a brushless shaving cream that came in a tube. The jingles and billboard campaign took the company to the number two position in terms of market share among shaving creams.

So what was so sticky about shaving cream?  It wasn’t the cream, or the name.  It was the campaign.  Each billboard ad consisted of a series of six red billboards with black lettering, and they were read sequentially.[4] They were posted along well-travelled roadways, spaced for easy reading. They were clever and rhymed. The last sign was always the company name, Burma-Shave.  Having the billboard broken up into a series of signs with very short parts of a message worked perfectly when car speeds were somewhat slower than today.

If by today’s standards this seems quaint or pedantic, just consider that Burma-Shave is remembered today more for its advertising campaign than for its product.  In its day, the Burma-Shave campaign was incredibly sticky.  Why?

First, each billboard was simple and clear.  It cut to the core message.  Each 6-board, distilled message went straight to the point but also tickled the consumer’s funny bone. At first, the original sayings were regular, boring ads, like “Save the modern way/No brush/No lather/No rub-in/Big tube 35 cents—Drug stores/Burma-Shave.” However, once the writers added humor, a craze was born.  Like this:

  1. Every shaver
  2. Now can snore
  3. Six minutes more
  4. Than before
  5. By using
  6. Burma-Shave.

They definitely produced an emotional response.  Laughter and bonding.  Getting to the punch line was all rage among drivers and passengers.  Families, in their cars, would read out each billboard in unison.  The creative play on words made everyone laugh and became a national pastime for decades. It was wildly popular and everyone remembered “Burma-Shave” at the end.  Every ad rhyme was also a bit unexpected… something of a surprise.  It became a national pass-time to “be the first” to hear their new jingle or spot their latest billboards.

Also, each simple 6-board Burma-Shave slogan managed to tell a detailed story that was meant to act as a call-to-action.  That is an essential element of stickiness.  Sticky ideas are also clear in terms of human interaction and sensory information.  In the case of Burma Shave, they used very visually-concrete imagery in their jingles and billboards.

Of course, the billboards and jingles fit the driving environment of the times. Families out for a Sunday drive in their Model A or their Studabaker were delighted to hear a Burma-Shave jingle or drive past the latest billboards.  It was part of the fun of hitting the road.  As vacations by car became more common in the 1930s and 1940s, they were still unique enough to feel an adventure and those ads were part of the allure. Travelers found a reassuring constancy from one new part of the country to the next by looking out for the slogans.   In turn, Burma-Shave capitalized on its position as a national pastime. The company originally set out two to four new sets of signs each year. When it caught on, Burma-Shave was adding up to 19 sets of new billboards each year.  They even started including a free book of jingles with each purchase.  It lasted so long and made such an impression that it is still part of the national consciousness nearly a century later.  Now that is STICKY!!!

If the sales and marketing messaging your company is not STICKY — not something people will find catchy and memorable — then perhaps it is time to pause and consider how to:  distill that message to its core; make it surprising or unexpected; use concrete imagery to make it resonate; deliver it with credibility; tell it in a story; and make sure it generates an emotional response.  That’s it.  It’s that simple.  Not easy, but simple.  For more information on how to do it, read the book.  Do that and your company will be able to deliver any new idea, message, product, campaign or brand to your target audience in a way that is memorable, relatable and impactful.


Quote of the Week

“Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.” Leo Burnett

[1] Heath, Chip and Dan, Made to Stick, Arrow Books, Penguin Random House UK, 2007

[2] Ibid

[4] September 16, 2015, BC Writer, Burma-Shave:  One of the Most Successful Ever American Billboard Campaigns, Billboard Connection,


© 2019, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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