The Greatest Bumper Sticker Of All-Time

August 12, 2011

Last week I made a little trip up north for a weekend along Minnesota’s Gunflint Trail. To my surprise, on my drive there I found myself targeted by possibly the most effective and cost-efficient brand building tool I’ve ever known. No, there isn’t some secret marketing museum in Grand Marais (that I know of). I’m talking about the Sven and Ole’s bumper sticker.

You know the ones. They’re simple, they’re yellow and they’re everywhere. I’ve seen them for years on automobiles not just in northern Minnesota, but in the Twin Cities area and even out of state when I’ve been on road trips. So what makes so many people put this bumper sticker on their car? Let’s first look at the main reasons for why people typically (and consciously) choose to decorate their cars with bumper stickers:

  • To send a message, often health-related (Smoking kills!) or political (Guns Don’t Kill People…)
  • To show you are part of a tribe (I’m a Twins fan; I went to Cornell; I like Dave Matthews)
  • To brag (My child was named student of the month!)
  • To be funny and/or ironic (HONK if you are against noise pollution!; My kid beat up your honor student)

Which category does the Sven and Ole’s bumper sticker fall into? Could it be all four? I feel like it could be interpreted as the following:

  • Sending a political/economy-related message (I support local/small businesses!)
  • To show you’re part of a tribe (I am part of a select group that has dined at Sven and Ole’s/has this famous bumper sticker, etc.)
  • Bragging (I’m not too cool to go on vacation in northern MN, etc.)
  • Being funny/ironic/mocking (Let’s laugh at Minnesotans, they talk and act funny; I have this rare bumper sticker and you don’t; Look at me, I have that one bumper sticker that an oddly large number of people have, let’s laugh at that phenomenon, etc.).

When I started thinking about what bumper stickers say about one’s self-awareness (bumper sticker philosophy is complex!) I decided it was time to get some pizza. So whatever the reason is for why people have given Sven and Ole’s free advertising on their car, I ate lunch at Sven and Ole’s and I did it because of the bumper sticker. I didn’t care about the pizza. I just cared about being in a place that has cultivated a movement. To work in marketing and eat a pepperoni pie solely because of a 11.5-inch by 3.75-inch rectangular sticker blew my mind.

I can’t say that I can recall many other instances in which I have given a business patronage or bought a product because of one singular marketing tactic. I mean, sure, I’ve gone to a restaurant that I’ve never heard because of Groupon, but all my non-discounted purchasing habits seem to be due to brand loyalty or to me gradually consuming a variety of messages via different forms of media.

Can you think of another example of an inexpensive marketing tool that has been so huge to the success of a business over time?