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File:Burmashave 390.jpg

Cquote1.svg

Reading Tropes
'Til you're addicted
Don't be shocked
If you're evicted

Burma-Shave
Cquote2.svg


In 1928, a hitherto-unknown shaving cream manufacturer got a clever idea for Advertising its new product: They put four-line poems, one line at a time, along the roadside on various highways in 44 of the 48 US states,[1] such that each line was just short enough to read while driving along. The fifth line was almost always the product name: Burma-Shave.[2] There were hundreds of different jingles, plus thousands made up by customers. The first jingles Played Straight to explain why the product (shaving cream) differed from the conventional cup, soap and brush in widespread use at the time. Once the campaign was familiar, different verses were introduced annually with either road safety themes or clever jokes. The vast majority of the jingles probably insinuated questionable or obscene uses of the product.

As the last of these signs were removed in 1963, a few of the rhymes have passed through time to the point that many people today won't get them. The following would have been a Shout-Out to Smith Brothers Cough Drops, which showed two bearded men on the box:

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While we've shaved
Six million others
We still can't shave
Those Coughdrop Brothers

Burma-Shave
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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.

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Don't take
A curve
At 60 per
We hate to lose
A customer

Burma-Shave
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In most US states, these became a common sight along the winding, two-lane US Numbered Highways of the era.

This advertising development, combined with faster travel on major highways, later led other advertisers to develop the Billboard, a much larger advertisement carrying an image and a small amount of text.

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Don't stick your elbow
Out so far
It might go home
In another car

Burma-Shave
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As expected during World War II, Burma-Shave reflected wartime sentiment and put up ads urging people to contribute to the war effort either by selling scrap metal or buying war bonds. Of course this wouldn't be complete without the usual jabs against the Axis:

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Let's make Hitler
And Hirohito
Feel as bad
as Old Benito
Buy War Bonds

Burma-Shave
Cquote2.svg


Cquote1.svg

Slap
The Jap
With
Iron
Scrap

Burma-Shave
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Alas, Burma-Shave's cute message became a victim of technology — particularly the advent of the Interstate system of freeways, where nothing short of a huge billboard would be visible, and even those were being regulated in Lady Bird Johnson's era in the name of highway beautification. Better shaving products came out and cars got faster, making it harder to read the signs — add government regulation, and the cost of roadside advertising signs became prohibitive. Very few (if any) of the original signs remain; everything was taken down when the campaign ended in 1963, as the signs were on roadside land for which the company paid rent to individual farmers. The product itself was soon forgotten, and the company sold. Decades later, whoever owned the trade mark had it printed on a cup with soap and a brush as a Nostalgia item – which completely misses the point of the original campaign, which insisted that "Grandpa's shaving brush" would soon be found "only in a museum".

So Burma-Shave's ads fade off to that great advertising road in the sky, along with television commercials for cigarettes and such mascots as Speedy Alka-Seltzer, the Hamms Beer Bear and Joe Camel.

The Other Wiki 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.


Tropes used in Burma-Shave include:
  • Billboard Epic: Burma-Shave is, in fact, the first example on that page.
  • 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.
  • Racing the Train: Several safety jingles point out what a bad idea this is; a few border on Grave Humor to make their point.
  • Shout-Out: One of them was this to Smith Brothers Cough Drop
  • What Could Have Been: There are some signs that were considered to be used but for whatever reason never did.

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, it's near a suitably ironic Burma-Shave ad:
Cquote1.svg

The night can make
A man more brave
But not more sober
Burma-Shave

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Film

  • 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.

Literature

  • A lot of British readers were first introduced to the adverts by Bill Bryson's books about America.

Live-Action TV

  • Hee Haw occasionally presented gags in the form of Burma-Shave signs — filmed out the window of a slowly-moving car for that genuine experience.
  • Sam encounters a Burma-Shave ad in the Quantum Leap pilot.

Music

  • The Everly Brothers did a song about the adverts called, of course, "Burma-Shave".
  • "Burma-Shave" is the title of a Tom Waits song telling the tale of two urban runaways searching for someplace to escape to. The verses are set up to always end on name the titular product, as if tracking their progress down the lonely highways. It doesn't turn out well.

Video Games

  • One of the video games for the Tandy Color Computer system emblazoned with the Game Over screen with a short poem:
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Ashes to ashes
Dust to dust
Your game is over
Replay if you must

—Burma-Shave
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  • Avernum 3 contains the following series of billboards, which doesn't quite follow the meter.
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Before they send us
To the grave
Alien beasts use
Burma-Shave

Cquote2.svg

Web Comics

Web Original

  • 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:
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To kiss a mug
That's like a cactus
Takes more nerve
Than it does practice.

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Western Animation

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Do not turn back
Go on instead
Your friend the moose
Is just ahead
Boris-Shave

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Real Life

  • The House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin has a large collection of these somewhere inside.
  • Commuters who walk from the 1, 2, 3 train station to the A, C, E train station at Times Square in New York City has a Burma Shave inspired poem called The Commuter's Lament that hangs on the ceiling of the underpass:
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Overslept,
So tired.
If late,
Get fired.
Why bother?
Why the pain?
Just go home
Do it again.
(Picture of a bed with two pillows)

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  • Humor columnist Lewis Grizzard wrote an article about Rosie Ruiz, who been declared the winner in the female category for the 84th Boston Marathon in 1980, until it was discovered that she had cheated by slipping into the pack shortly before the finish line. He suggested several methods to prevent this, including a series of these signs that the competitors would have to memorize and recite after the race. For example:
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Here sits Rosie
Brokenhearted
She finished fine
But she never started

—Burma-Shave
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  1. MA appears to have been deliberately omitted, along with a few sparsely-populated desert states (NM AZ NV). AK and HI attained statehood during the 1928-63 ad campaign, but were also left out - along with any non-US points.
  2. Subverted once: "If you don't know / Whose signs these are / You can't have driven / Very far" (with the last sign, which normally said "Burma-Shave", deliberately omitted.)
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