A McDonald’s in a small town made a very smart move. Here’s how other companies have responded

A McDonald’s in Marshfield, Missouri has created millions of dollars in free advertising for itself and other local businesses by starting a sign war with a nearby Dairy Queen. Other retailers soon joined them. The local Chamber of Commerce began posting the panels on its Facebook page, and the whole thing went viral, garnering – at the time of this writing – more than 19 million views on social media.

That’s pretty impressive considering the cost of the effort was $0 and the population of Marshfield is around 7,500. It’s a lesson in how a little creativity and an emphasis on fun can make a huge difference to a business. It’s a mindset you can use to raise the profile of your own business, no matter how small.

It all started quite simply with the Marshfield McDonald’s declaring its intentions on its marquee sign:

HE DQ! WANT TO HAVE A SIGN WAR

WE WLD BUT WERE 2 BUSY MAKING ICE CREAM

It was a not-so-subtle reference to McDonald’s ongoing problems with its ice cream machines which are known to break down so often that someone created the McBroken website to notify customers of the machines in their area. which work and which do not work.

IT’S CUTE OUR ICE CREAM MAKES ITSELF

YOU WANT THIS TO ACTUALLY WORK SHOCKER

The sign war was on. And he was about to take it up a notch.

IN WHAT A DAIRY TIGHTS
A DAIRY QUEEN

WHY DINE WA CLOWN WHEN YOU CAN WA QUEEN

Many local small businesses took notice and happily got to work. A bank placed this sign on the sidewalk in front of its entrance:

roses are red
violets are blue
We also want to participate in the war of signs…

A Mexican restaurant posted this:

PS-WE HAVE FRIED ICE CREAM

Soon, just about every store and restaurant in Marshfield had put up a sign with some sort of joke, including Domino’s Pizza and Wendy’s. The Chamber of Commerce posted them all on its Facebook page, and soon the sign war caught the attention of national media, as well as many social media outlets.

The magic in all of this is that all of these businesses, starting with the Marshfield McDonald’s franchise, could see the potential of a mundane and often underutilized resource – the humble retail sign – to surprise and engage customers. Of course, the purpose of the sign is to grab customers’ attention and get them to enter your store, but the sign war was a chance to entertain them in a pleasant way that had nothing to do with it. see with limited time special offers.

Other companies have seen this kind of potential in the past. You probably couldn’t name a single brand of shaving cream that was around in the 1920s that is gone today. Except, perhaps, one: Burma-Shave, which graced every highway in America with its rhyming billboards from 1925 to 1966.

A MISTAKE
MANY DO
TRUST THE HORN
INSTEAD OF BRAKE
BURMA SHAVE

These billboards have disappeared from the highways, but not from our collective memory or imagination – they are now considered an iconic part of Americana. This company has also used the boring and ubiquitous roadside billboard to interact with customers and the general public in surprising, fun and whimsical ways.

Will a sign war or similar nonsense still garner national attention, millions of social media shares and TV coverage? Of course not. Viral lightning strikes only once in a while, and no one can predict when or explain why. But even if it hadn’t been for the hype, the sign war would have accomplished what it was meant to do: squeeze a little fun into a depressingly hot summer, make customers smile and engage with your brand, and maybe bring some of them through your door.

There is a growing audience of Inc.com readers who receive a daily text from me with a micro-challenge or self-care or motivational tip. Often they text me back and we end up in a conversation. (Want to sign up? Here’s more info and an invite to an extended free trial.) Many are entrepreneurs or business owners, and they tell me how important it is to bring fun and imagination in the working day. It is something that is always worth doing. Going viral is just a bonus.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

About Robert Moody

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