Marketing 101 - Hick Style

So I've got this theory.

I think it might stem from my degree in advertising, but it's possible it could just be a result of the fact that I notice weird shit, since that's my thing.

I've noticed lately that the names of businesses tend to follow a particular pattern as one moves outward from a large city to the boonies. Working out from the city, business names seem to correspond to this rule of thumb:

City Center: In the city, you may have a company called ExecuGenics, with a cool logo. Now that's a neat logo and all, but from the name you have no clue what the company actually does. It could do technical training, it could be an employment recruiting company, a temp agency, or even a cryo lab that freezes executive's heads, which is the first thing that occurred to me when I saw it. From a marketing, advertising and public relations perspective, this is bad, especially if you have no brand awareness and don't, in fact, freeze heads.

10-20 miles out, you'll see something like Smith-Mahoney Associates. Here, there may or may not be a logo. You still can't tell what they do, although you can probably guess they're either an engineering firm, a law firm or an accounting/tax firm. Good for ego -- again, bad for marketing.

20-30 miles out, you start to see some common sense coming into play. The people running these businesses want to show you two things: Who they are and what they do. Strang's Automotive. Prunty's Pub. Fitzgerald's Dry Cleaning. Kugler's Adult Bookstore. Usually there's some sort of clip-art on the sign, showing a business-related picture. A car, a beer mug, the sillouette of a shirt or a naked chick. This works. It's no nonsense, the last name identifier helps differentiate them from their competition, and people driving by know exactly what they do.

30-40 miles out, the fun starts. You get just the first names, then the business description. I'm pretty sure this is just lack of imagination on the part of the business owner. The thought process probably goes something like, "My name is Nick, and I fix small engines. Hmmm, what should I call my new business? AHA! I GOT IT!" The next day, Nick's Small Engine Repair is immortalized in latex enamel block letters on a chunk of plywood and hung from a porch roof or tacked to the side of a garage. Bubba's Plowing. Steve's Signs. Amy's Antiques. Again, there's no confusion. It's simple. Elegant, even.

40-50 miles out, things change again. Now you get the first name only, and maybe a generic descriptor. You might drive by a sign that just says "Bob's Place." Now to the casual observer, this might seem stupid. You might think to yourself, "I can tell it's owned or run by someone named Bob, but "Place?" That tells me nothing. Why would I ever stop there?"

The answer is, YOU are not supposed to stop there. You are an outsider, not to be trusted. This "Place" is for locals only. Everyone who lives around there knows who Bob is, and what he sells. The sign is just a convenient reference for the mailman, and a landmark for giving directions on how to get out of town to people like you. Most of the time, the locals shorten it to just "Bob's" as in "Hey, you want to go to Bob's after work for a beer?" or "Hey, I think Bob got some new over-unders in stock if you want to swing by and check them out." or "Take a left at Bob's Place, and go straight for 5 miles. That'll put your Lexus-owning ass right back on the highway."

50+ miles out, you get the final change. The sign tells you one thing and one thing only:

What. They. Sell.

Nothing else.

No names, no ego, no bullshit. The Ultimate Bare-Bones Marketing Campaign.






Coincidentally or not, they're usually in that order.

So there's my theory. Check it out next time you're taking a long drive. Let me know if it pans out.


  1. How freaky...because you're right. Weird.

  2. Like in NC a sign will just say "GIRLS!"

    Your theory is very true.

  3. OMG this just blew my mind.

  4. Is is sad that in Nebraska most of the shops are either livestock, agricultural or Husker related? Why, yes it is... (For example, Omaha Steaks, Husker Apparel, Nebraska Bookstore)

  5. As someone who routinely drives through cities into the boonies, I have to say your observations are 100% correct.

    At least as far as Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin are conerned.