it's not what you say...

... it's how you say it. that's true in everything from marketing to training pets. and as i noticed yesterday in downtown chicago (currently a rather brisk -15˚F), it's also true in signs warning pedestrians about ice falling from buildings. here's the sign that got me thinking about it:

the sign affixed to the top of the "wet floor" pylon reads, "caution falling ice." seriously, a sign printed off a word doc, with point size of maybe 48? the building manager might as well just come out and chuck ice cubes at people passing by, because clearly, he doesn't care if you get hit.

this one is located at the building next to the previous picture. the building manager here saw the puny type of the sign next door and thought, "uh-uh. not on my sidewalk." so he made his type huge. i mean, HUGE! but is shouting all you need to deliver your message?

obviously not. if you really want to show people you care, try adding a little color. as for the underline, well, that sends the clear message, "i really don't want your noggin to get split open by frozen water." thank you, caring building manager. thank you.

ah, hey! now we're getting somewhere! no longer just some temporary signage, this one lets passers-by know falling ice isn't just something that may happen today - it can happen ANYTIME. july, for instance.

this building manager follows the whole "repetition" angle to appear extra sympathetic. caution! caution! it seems unnecessary, but he's only doing it for me, and i appreciate that.

this building manager tried the repetition thing too, but he also added the address of the building, as if to say, "i care for your well-being. me - at 200 north dearborn street. me." see what happened there? it's no longer about the pedestrians, it's all about the building manager getting credit. crying out for personal glory doesn't work in marketing. and it doesn't work in warning signs either.

here, we have what amounts to poor messaging. you could see the strategic brief now:

target: consumers who walk
key message: consumers should use caution
support: ice may be hurling through the air toward the consumer's skull

i would argue that the support point is, in fact, the key message.

of course, there are dozens of signs which state there is falling ice, but none tell you what to do - at least until this one. yes. "watch out." i think the extra wording helps convey concern and more importantly, clear direction. now, if only there was a sign telling me WHERE to look.

ah yes, up. thank you.

this is one of my favorites. the sign contains color and structure, indicating forethought. but it also has some haphazardous elements to it which gives the message urgency - the combination of ALL CAPS, Initial Caps, and no caps. and my favorite, the extra sticker on the bottom which just reads "falling ice," repeating the last part of the larger sign like a parrot. go on. read it in a parrot voice. it totally works.

this one sends mixed messages. on one hand, it has more infrastructure than any other signage, with the wooden horse painted bright white and red. on the other hand, the sign itself is so very small. it grabs attention through the color and overall size, but ultimately, doesn't deliver the message believably.

now here's one that's believable. it doesn't just SAY there's falling ice, it SHOWS it, with a hole in the sign that, one assumes, was created by a falling shard. a chilling message.

the building manager here wasn't content with the simple signage he had - so he added props (snow) in order to make the message more impactful. it's an old trick, but it's a goodie.

ok, this is almost getting to be an art instillation. what is the second sign lying on the ground supposed to symbolize? does the standing one represent all who heed its message, while the fallen one represents those who did not exercise caution? or was there a large piece of ice that had fallen, knocking down the one sign? why did it not sustain damage? oh, this is all too complicated.

see, this is really the holy grail here. it shows genuine concern for those who might be in danger, with a perfect balance of size (note the large type, with caution highlighted), props (just enough snow to let you know what season it is and thus, why the warning should be heeded), forethought (a well-printed sign in a steel frame says this building manager was thinking about you long before you headed down his sidewalk), and artistic license. (was the snow necessary on the words "falling ice"? no. but sometimes, what makes a communication special isn't logical. it just FEELS right.)

this is where i got hit on the head by ice.


Anonymous said...

A lot of bloggers don't go the distance. But you did.

Then again, that's why I don't bother going to a lot of bloggers' sites and instead, just drop in on 15 ideas.

For which I was rewarded by your cavalcade of signage.

Bless you Kevin. I am far more educated for it.

15 ideas said...

sorry for the slow response - my fingers just thawed out.

thanks for your comments. and thanks to all the building managers who refused to dither about in "me-too-isms" and instead forged their own unique messages. the world could use a bit more of that.

happyian said...

Thank you for talking about these signs so much. I was thinking about them today and there really wasn't a lot of meat on a google search of them.

15 ideas said...

glad you dug it. including you, there are 3 people who were curious about those signs. our numbers are growing!