A few days ago I was thinking about some of the 20th century's greatest advertising campaigns, trying to imagine what they would look like if launched in 2007. What would the Marlboro Man's MySpace page look like? And how many friends would he have? How many "Where's the beef?" video spoofs would be on YouTube? And how many hair care blogs would weigh the merits of "Does she–or doesn't she...?"
If only these great campaigns had social media at their hands. Then again, perhaps they did.
Sometime during the 1920s, Alan Odell of Burma-Shave decided to put up a series of four signs along a highway to promote his father's product. They read something like this: Dinah doesn't / treat him right / but if he'd / shave / dyna-mite! / Burma-Shave/
Always with a bent of humor, and ultimately in rhyme, this creative use of a billboard became the ultimate social media campaign. The sequential nature of the signs involved the consumer, sparked conversation, and increased sales.
The social nature of the medium didn't stop there. User-generated content was encouraged in an annual jingle contest, and overseas GIs went posted Burma-Shave signs wherever they went. In later years, a Tom Waits song would make reference to the campaign, as would the final episode of M*A*S*H.
The mere fact that we are still talking about these signs today suggests that perhaps Odell deserves a spot in the Museum of Social Media. It also suggests that media has always been social, that all great advertising campaigns will always be talked about, and that your customers have always been your best brand stewards.
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