Some media require short form copy, and it takes talented marketers to work within the limits. Bumper stickers, because of their size have challenged sloganeers since the 1930‘s. Billboards have more room, but try reading a paragraph or parse some complex syntax at 70 miles per hour. Our you could spread it out in a series of signs, but still keep it short.

New media challenges include the 140 characters of the promoted tweet of Twitter, or the 25 characters for the title, 70 characters for the ad text, and 35 characters for a display URL for Google ads.

One medium, however, blurs the lines between life-critical utility and marketing. The owner of this particular channel has a monopoly, and I think creative quality suffers. I’m talking about the dynamic messaging signs of your state’s road department. Unless you have a magical sign like in L.A. Story, or you hack the sign on your own (not recommended), you’re stuck with the creative output of the nannies at the road department.

“Steep Downgrade Reduce Speed When Wet.” I like that. It’s to the point:

Steep downgrade - reduce speed when wet

The wikipedia article on variable messaging signs lists a number of uses for the signs for warning drivers of hazards, reporting relevant information and the like, but pays short shrift to the extra (and extra-cheesy) editorializing that’s creeping into the signs:

Slow or move over for workers - Its the law

You’re seeing more and more messages like “Slow or move over for workers. It’s the law.” That last gratuitous jab is unnecessary. “Slow or move over for workers. Because I say so, that’s why.”

Texting ticket $159 + Not worth it

“Texting ticket $159+. Not worth it.” I could accept a reminder of the fine or something like “Texting and driving and killing people – not worth it.” I’m all against texting and driving and I’m all for a good high fine, but I don’t think CalTrans should presume this conclusion for me. I wouldn’t want to pay a $159 fine, but the guy texting his stock broker to buy or sell to lock in that $10,000 profit might appreciate CalTrans’s reminder about what that tradeoff would be worth to him.

Click it or ticket please buckle up

Don’t get me started on “Click it or ticket.” Do we really need a clever rhyme to remind us to buckle up? Even worse, does the highway department think we need a clever rhyme to do the right thing?

I’d rather keep the marketing and editorializing off of the highway signs, so we don’t run our mental ad blockers on legitimate warnings. Let a stop sign be a stop sign, not:

“STOP. It’s the law!”
“STOP. $281 fine. Not worth it!”
“STOP or face a cop!”

The “Not worth it” tagline is part of CalTrans’s April awareness campaign against distracted driving, announced under the headline “Zombie” Drivers Endanger Other Motorists.

Hmmm, maybe the hackers have a solution after all.

Caution! Zombies! Ahead!!!