An advertising lesson in Tombstone
May 6, 2014
By John Foust
One of the most memorable ads I’ve seen was a billboard on Highway 80 north of Tombstone, AZ. I was in southern Arizona on business and had some free time to make a side trip to the town where the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday had their famous gunfight in 1881 with the group known as the “Cowboys” at the OK Corral.
The billboard promoted the Tombstone Motel with the simple line, “Rest in peace.”
That’s a phrase, which wouldn’t work for any other business with any other name in any other town. But for a motel in an Old West town named Tombstone—with the main attraction being the site of a gunfight, which has been the subject of movies and books—the line seemed entirely appropriate.
I didn’t spend the night in Tombstone and I’ve never met anyone who has stayed at the Tombstone Motel, so I can’t speak for that establishment. All I know is that—years after the trip—I still remember that billboard. I mention it here, because it illustrates some important principles of advertising:
1. Billboards can teach us a lot about advertising. Newspaper and billboard advertising face the same basic challenge of being readable and attracting attention at a glance. As you drive, you have a few seconds to read a roadside sign in its entirety. And as you turn the pages of a newspaper or scan a website, you have only a few seconds to decide if a particular ad is worth further reading.
If a message doesn’t communicate at a glance, it will miss the mark.
2. The best ads are targeted. Tombstone is a tourism destination. It’s a safe guess that a large number of out-of-towners traveling to Tombstone are planning on visiting the OK Corral, the Boot Hill cemetery and various buildings, which have been preserved as they were when Wyatt Earp was Marshall.
It’s smart to appeal to those travelers’ knowledge of what made Tombstone famous. And it’s smart to place the sign on the road leading into town.
3. Uniqueness is an advantage. In the environment of Tombstone, “rest in peace” does not appear offensive at all. Sure, it’s a little corny. But the slogan is not likely to generate outrage among consumers. On the other hand, can you imagine “rest in peace” in an ad campaign for Hilton or Marriott?
I think it’s safe to say the Tombstone Motel adopted a slogan that was uniquely theirs.
4. The best messages are simple. Obviously, “rest in peace” had a double meaning. Although acknowledging the town’s well-known background, it suggested a reason to stay at the Tombstone Motel. With the combination of the headline and the motel’s logo, that simple sign communicated: (1) a clearly stated consumer benefit (rest), (2) a connection to history (the Old West), (3) the advertiser, and (4) the location, which was part of the advertiser’s name.
All of that was communicated in just a few words. In a few seconds.
That’s a worthy objective for all advertisers. © John Foust 2014. All rights reserved.
John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. Email for information: firstname.lastname@example.org.