Follow the Burma-Shave way

“You can’t reach 80/hale/and hearty/by driving 80/home from the party/Burma-Shave.”
Those were the words I read every time we went to town for groceries, every time we went to Grandma’s house, and every time we went to church.
I’ll never forget that jingle. How could I? Burma-Shave and I grew up together.
It was in 1926, just one year before I was born, that Allan Odell and his father’s Burma-Vita Company launched a battle for the beards of America. They were trying to replace the brush and the mug with a new-fangled brushless shaving cream.
At the outset, everyone knew the Burma-Vita Company’s campaign was a sure shot for failure. In the first place, the company was broke–dead broke. Second, nobody knew anything about the product and nobody really wanted to know.
And third, the idea of blanketing America with a series of catchy jingles was labelled “kooky” by every major advertising executive in the country.
So why is it that 75 years later we all remember Burma-Shave and we’ve all forgotten the self-important advertising executives?
There could be a lot of reasons. Creativity, for one. Unembarrassed creativity. Acting on an idea when you have it. Never mind that it might seem slightly kooky to other people.
Simplicity. Burma-Shave said things we wanted to hear in a catchy simple way. In jingles we couldn’t forget. And always we will remember those magic words at the end. Burma-Shave.
People. The Burma-Shave company cared about people and valued them. The farmers who proudly put up the signs and got their names mentioned in the chatty newsletter, “Burma Shavings.”
Tens of thousands of Americans from every walk of life who entered and won $100, and later $1,000, in the annual jingle competitions.
And most of all, the employees. Burma-Shave employees were no pawns to be “down-sized” and “out-placed.” They were family and they all worked together for life.
And fun. Take, for example, Arliss “Frenchy” French who won a “fun-filled trip” when he responded to “Free-free/a trip/to Mars for/900/empty jars/Burma-Shave.”
Realizing his mistake too late, Allan Odell had written a prompt follow-up to the Mars offer. “If a trip/to Mars/you’d earn/remember friend/there’s no return/Burma-Shave.”
But Frenchy was not to be dissuaded.
Always good-humored and ready for fun, Burma-Shave sent Frenchy and his wife to Mars, Germany, and the world press was there to meet the winner as he stepped off the plane in his Superman-style costume, smiling and making people feel good about themselves and Burma-Shave.
Yes, Burma-Shave brought fun into our lives. Just when we needed it most. During the Great Depression. And during the Great War. And then again in the upbeat years following the war.
Today, the Burma-Shave signs are gone. A corporate giant, Philip Morris, removed them forever from the American landscape–less than a decade after buying out the small company.
The signs are gone but the Burma-Shave way lives on. Creativity matters. Simplicity is good. People are important. And fun can make our lives worthwhile.
Can you think of a better way to “reach 80 hale and hearty?”

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