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What's on your sign?

Posted: May 11, 2023

Even after 30 years in the ad and marketing business, I thought I had built calluses to tear-jerking ads. I found I still had a heart and a soft spot for certain issues.

Listening to an interview with Terry O'Reilly on CBC Radio, as he interviewed the artist Andres Serranos from New York City, I sat spellbound as I was driving to a meeting. In the short of it all, Serranos was so affected by the homeless situation in New York City that he decided to do something about it. As he walked the streets every day, summer and winter, he would offer to purchase the signs from the homeless for $20. Their reaction was one of amazement; that someone would want to buy their handwritten cardboard sign. Some people thought it a ploy to remove the person from the street or from in front of a business, but it was truly a gesture of sincerity.

The power of words and the image, even if it is in your memory is captivating. Remember, I am listening to the radio as the artist mentions what is said on one of the signs. He said he saw this young girl, possibly 15 years old, standing on the corner holding a sign – it said,

‘Mother Told Us to Wait Right Here. That was 10 years ago.’

A flood of emotions and thoughts went through my head in an instant. I could just imagine this girl, with a dirty face, torn clothes, cold and more - I already hated her Mom. I did the math – she would have been 5ish when left on the street – I hated her Mom even more. Who wouldn't give some change, clothing, food, and whatever you could spare to this young destitute person?

After he collected 200 signs he decided he would create a video and mount an art exhibition of the signs to bring awareness to homelessness.

Andres Serranos also created a video – take a look on YouTube.

Analysis: I was the market and the message was delivered perfectly.

First, As a father with daughters, I couldn't imagine the destitution of this girl, but also that of her mother and the decision she had to make due to her circumstance. I wanted to help or respond immediately. The sign was simple, the copy was genius and the response was obvious.

Second, I was potentially the market of the artist, Andres Serranos, as I rebroadcast his message. Being a disciple carrying a message for another can add strength to the message and credibility. My intention was only to use his idea as a vehicle to explain the power of words and imagery.

What’s on your sign?

As an artist marketing your work, you need a plan that defines your market and how to reach it, and don't forget to include your personal brand. Not necessarily standing on the street corner as a starving artist, but find your advantage and position your message to your potential buyers. Title your show and exhibition to entice, yet define the message of the show, keeping in mind those that you want to be attending. Use the right promotional vehicle to give out the message intended.

You can deliver a personalized message that will affect the interest of a certain demographic, but it is much more difficult to deliver a message that will be responded to by everyone, in the manner intended. Not everyone will like what you are doing, so concentrate on the ones that do.

Stay connected.

Paul Constable, Director