Sign, sign everywhere a sign. They are designed to catch our eye, hoping to push various products or lifesaving information on us. There are billboards along interstates and on the sidewalks of large cities. Smaller posted signs linger in and around nearly every building in every country. We have become so accustomed to their presence that it’s understandable how we no longer notice them anymore. How are advertisers supposed to combat our impulse to ignore?
The answer: Make the signs memorable. Some go for flashy while others go for the laughs. If an advertiser can make someone chuckle, then there's a higher chance of remembering when the time comes. Commercials have been struggling with this since the invention of the TV.
Over the last couple of decades, though, signs have become a bit more passive aggressive in their approach. Many of them have a twisted meaning hidden behind the veil of humor. Here is a collection of just 15 examples of signs that low key put us in our place.
15 Water is disappointed
Any great parent or grandparent can tell us that the universe is powered by guilt. "Oh no, I'm not angry with anyone. I'm just very disappointed. I expected better than that and everyone here let me down. So sure, go ahead and have a good time while I stop what I’m doing to clean up the whole mess that everyone left behind in my house. Alone. Crying." See? We didn't even do anything! Deep down there’s a compulsion to apologize and help clean up whatever we didn't do.
It's through the power of guilt that the city of Los Angeles tried to get its citizens into cutting down on water usage. Although California is located next to the largest ocean on the planet, its water is undrinkable. Most of the West Coast gets its water from streams and lakes. The water supply is greatly impacted when a drought hits. During these rough times, mandatory water conservation measures are implemented.
I truly like how this sign isn't threatening. SavetheDropLA.org is very saddened by our lack of thoughtfulness. How could we have taken that 20-minute shower? Did we even think of how it would impact the rest of the world? Clearly we are bad people and we should feel bad.
14 Grainy Concert Footage
We've been looking forward to this night for months. Somehow our friends were able to score some seats near the front. The band is playing, and the fans are screaming. Meanwhile, we're trying to catch the whole thing on our phone. It's hard not to do it. It wasn't that long ago that taking pictures or recording something required a camera of some sort. Now that each one of us has a computer/camera/phone on hand at all times, we record everything. What once was saved for special occasions is now used for the mundane.
"This concert isn't mundane!" we scream over our the pounding music. "This is epic! I need to record this, so I can show my kids one day!" That phone of ours may take good pictures in a still situation, but a concert is anything but still. Also, allow me to peer into my crystal ball and tell everyone here what the future says...
The future is saying that our kids aren't going to care about this concert. Neither is anyone else that we might try to force into watch this grainy, unfocused video of this concert. help our future audience, though, is Babe Rosé. Have a gathering of those unable to attend and throw that up on the big screen. Share that stash of Babe Rosé with the attendees. It's wine in a can! How could it possibly steer us wrong, huh?
13 Seriously: Employee parking only
It begins with confusion. Exiting the store or restaurant, you trek back to where the car was parked. Standing in a daze, you begin to question if this is the right spot. Walking back and forth along the row of cars, you replay parking and entering the building over and over in your head. The certainty sets in that your car, which was parked in that spot, is now gone. Slowly, you start to think that your car has been stolen. Naturally the first thing to do is call the police. While dialing the number, a sign comes into view.
There was so much information packed into the small sign that you hadn’t bothered to read it earlier.
It informs you that, not only is your car gone, but a substantial fine is waiting for you. Not only that, it mocks you for your lack of awareness. “Obviously you know where to shop. Now learn where to park.” I couldn’t find where this picture was taken. From the law code at the bottom I'm able to see that it’s from Georgia. Having lived there myself, I can tell you that there is a lot of sass in that Southern state. There may be some sympathy from the police after taking a taxi to the impound. Not enough to waive the fines, but at least a little.
12 Children left unattended
This "Children Left Unattended" sign is a serious threat to those with kids. Parents spend their days trying to keep their beloved children safe while simultaneously striving to make them into good people. While trying to maintain this balancing act, we white knuckle it through the day just trying to make it to bedtime. The idea of someone feeding our children Red Bull and then bestowing a puppy on them is horrific.
When this sign first started making the rounds, everyone loved it. Customers would point and laugh at the obviously joke sign. Any rational person would immediately consider the legal ramifications of feeding an energy drink to a small child. Puppies? Where would the store even keep them? I really doubt a place like Walmart has a small kennel in the backroom full of puppies to give to children who've been left alone. Walmart's not that interesting.
Sadly, while still humorous, this sign isn't so novel anymore. There are many different variations of this sign everywhere. The other day I even saw a handwritten version next to the register in a local book store: "...will be given Coffee and throwing knives." That's a little dark, but I dig it.
We've all had that feeling. That creepy feeling of some doll sizing you up for a skin suit. Nearly every household has at least one of these. It may not be with the frequently played toys, but there’s one somewhere in the house. Waiting. Watching. My house had a 3 foot tall doll with those marble eyes that shut when laid down. It was made in the '60s and was a hand-me-down for my sister. This thing would stare at us while my sister and I played. No matter where we stashed this monstrosity, it would always find its way back into our room. It terrified us.
This creepy doll problem is compounded when there are multiple dolls involved.
I won’t go into a room that has more than 15 dolls. Typically, these plastic demons are posed together in a group as watch and plot. It seems their eyes follow your every movement. If forced into a situation where I’m having to enter such a room, I try not to look at them. Did one just move? Was that a giggle?? Thankfully, the intervention staged by your friends and family has worked. If you just can't bring yourself to throw them away, Manhattan Mini Storage has the solution. They will store your collection of plastic evil for the low price of 29 dollars. Please lock them away. Forever.
10 The fine print always gets you
Any large city will have several Irish pubs nestled away, offering authentic and traditional cuisine and thick beer. Locating many of these pubs amongst the rabble can be a pain. Without the benefit of a national brand, each pub relies on the ingenuity of its owners to grow the business. With this, I present to you the best advertisement for a local pub.
At first glance, it looks like an entirely different type of establishment. “Waitresses Flirt With You” is in LARGE bold font. This would catch the eye of even the most oblivious passerby. Clearly the target for this advertising is males from the age group of teenager to old folk. For those who don’t fall for the ad, it sticks with them.
Or course, the fine print is where the reality sits. “Truth about our waitresses is that they only flirt with you to get a better tip.” Yeah, that’s the nature of service at some restaurants. That server who is smiling and joking with you is probably only propped up with the aid of caffeine and the need for money. If my time in the food industry has taught me anything, it’s that most workers have contempt for nearly all of their guests. It’s just the way things are.
9 Please don't pee in public
This tells a simple 3-panel story in pictures. The plot is simple. A man lacking any defining characteristics answering the call of nature. Did this man look for a restroom? No, this classless pleb decided to let loose wherever he happened to be standing. Too bad he wasn't aware of his surroundings, because his act was caught on camera. Now he's a YouTube star! I bet his friends and family are so proud. While researching exactly where this image was taken, I've found that this sign is used in many places.
There are some graphical variations to the sign, but primarily it's the same story using the same shadow man.
Some signs take the threat further, promising to take scissors to certain... parts. The sad reality is that this sign exists because of all the public urination. There have been so many people relieving themselves in these areas that the ones responsible needed to install a camera. STILL this wasn't enough of a deterrent. I wanna take a moment to serve as Devil’s advocate. Many of these places with this sign don’t have public restrooms available. In larger cities one can walk for an hour before finding somewhere they can legally relieve themselves. Still, the smell of urine attracts no one.
Smokers are less and less welcome in office buildings, restaurants and bars. This has forced the average smoker outdoors to get their fix. Several years ago, a "Smoking Ban" was instituted in my city. At the time there was a significant uproar with cries of “Oppression” and “Un-American”.
Still, the measure passed, and smoking sections were abolished. Strangely enough, once the law took effect, most realized how good of an idea it was. One no longer had to burn their clothes when coming home from getting a drink. It's natural for someone who isn't a smoker to cough when forced to inhale smoke. If you aren't used to it, the body doesn't give you much choice in the matter.
Health concerns that sparked the smoking ban has turned into an all-out attack on smokers. Now, annoyed passive aggressive nonsmokers berate smokers with loud, obnoxious fake coughs. This billboard in Sweden takes the next step. The sign has sensors which detect the smoke. Once activated, the animated man begins to cough. One might say, "Oh, but it's for their own good. It's a public service."
It is, but it also isn't. This sign is selling nicotine patches for a local pharmacy. I’ll agree, it’s a good marketing strategy. Doesn’t take away that it’s an extremely passive aggressive one, though.
7 In Memory of Roger Bucklesby
This plaque is on a park bench in London. In 2013, images of the plaque started circulating the internet. Several questions immediately popped up: Who was Roger Bucklesby? Why did he hate this park? Why this bench? Is this even real? Theories were thrown around on message boards. Everyone had their own theory. I pictured Roger as a cantankerous old man who loved the city but hated nature. He lived near the park and was forced to walk through it on his way to places. Every day something happened which deepened his anger for the park.
In his stubbornness, he refused to move, and his hate festered.
In his final moments, he requested the plaque be put up to honor. He wanted the everyone to know of his time-tested hatred for grass, trees and people. Sadly, while the plaque is real, Mr. Roger Bucklesby is not. It was installed as a prank by Jamie Maslin a day before he emigrated to Australia. To add a bit of “official” backstory to Mr. Bucklesby, Maslin released another plaque. He claimed he was a prolific unpublished novelist who died in 2013 at the age of 80. The location of the plaque isn’t public knowledge. Since it isn't an official installation, it's technically vandalism. I hope it remains forever.
6 Don’t read this
There is certainly an epidemic of distracted drivers on our roads. There are people rocketing down interstates texting their loved ones, reading books and watching YouTube videos. We are so accustomed to today’s lightning fast world where information is readily available at all times. Who played the lead in that movie from 1984? Google knows and has links to the best scenes on YouTube. Who can wait until reaching their destination to find out?
The temptation has caused countless accidents all over the world. Correction: They have been counted, I just didn’t look it up. The point remains the same: “Distraction ends lives”. I completely agree with the sign’s intent. The message is a good one and shouldn’t be mocked. That said, it’s time to mock the sign. In fact, it reminds me of a game: Don’t think of a chicken. You lose.
“A seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true.” This is the definition of a paradox. Typically, we encounter this when discussing the dangers of time travel. This time we don’t need to watch an episode of some Sci-fi series for an example. There is one right here courtesy of the Rotary Club of Accra-Legon.
5 Speed bumps ahead
I’ve seen all sorts of neighborhood signs for kids in the street. There is: “SLOW DOWN! Kids at play,” or “Caution: We love our kids” and various other wordings for the same thing. Rarely is there a sign that has such a negative implication to it. Sure, we could remove the implicit dark humor from the sign. “Clearly it is warning of possible children in the road. There are speed bumps ahead to force someone to slow their vehicle. This way there is less of a chance of striking any wayward children who may wander into the street.” Yeah, I got it. Thank you, professor.
The warped way to view this sign is pretty straightforward.
Warning: We use our children as speed bumps. Dark? You betcha. The children are our future. They are precious commodities which must be nurtured and raised to give us a better tomorrow. Not in this neighborhood they’re not. If one wants to be just a tad darker, this warning isn’t to save the lives of neighborhood children. It’s a warning that if you do happen to run over one of these “speed bumps” it may damage your car. Warning! You may need to take your vehicle to the shop if speeding through local streets. I suggest they swap out this sign for the simpler: WATCH OUT FOR CHILDREN. Less confusion.
Funeral homes have a difficult job. Not only do they have to deal with corpses, they have to actually advertise their services. No one wants to think about their impending doom. Nor do they want to think about the passing of their loved ones. It’s a subject best left for when something actually does happen and there’s no avoiding it anymore.
Enter the Wilks Funeral Home. In the best interpretation of this sign, they're telling the world: “You only have one life. #BeHappy. Don’t think of the end of your life. Enjoy what you have! But when the end does comes, keep us in mind. We will respectfully take care of your remains and hold a dignified ceremony for your friends and family. Paid mourners available at reasonable rates."
I prefer to look at it in the worst light. YOLO is something morons yell before doing something incredibly stupid. About to jump off a bridge? YOLO! Going to try and grind that handrail down that long stairway to the parking lot below? YOLO! Sure, be happy. When you inevitably break yourself to the point of no return, please think of Wilks Funeral Home. They'll patch you up to a reasonable state for a reasonable rate.
3 Rain is water
There isn’t really anything particularly wrong with this sign. There are hundreds of warning signs on the road ranging from ‘sharp turn’ to ‘stop sign ahead’. We could mock how pointless this sign really is. “Water makes things WET?! My worldview has been flipped on its head! Flipped!!” Let’s set that aside for a moment. We can come back to that later. The true snark from this sign is the unspoken backstory. This sign was put here because people obviously didn’t understand that water would be on the road.
Every day men and women would travel this stretch of pavement completely blown away by the water buildup.
This no doubt caused so many accidents that the city council decided to take things into their own hands. "We need a sign!" they said. The measure was then passed, and money was allotted for the project. Laborers were then hired to make, deliver and plant the sign. This really is a passive aggressive attack on motorists driving over this road. It’s not a caution sign. It’s a reminder to all those stupid enough to forget rain is water and water accumulates when falling onto a non-absorptive surface. You MIGHT want to drive a little more carefully. Just a thought.
2 Tailgating is bad... m'kay
My initial reaction to seeing this billboard was “that is a well-made car”. Oh, it’s completely totaled for sure. The damage to the frame and engine is far more than a car like that is worth. But look at the damage to the truck! It’s completely smashed in. That’s amazing! I’m willing to bet that probably wasn’t the message they were going for when designing this billboard, though.
The message behind the billboard is lifesaving. Tailgating is very dangerous, especially behind a huge truck or a bus. If you’re too close to the vehicle ahead of you, its near impossible to stop in time. You'd crash into them and wreck your car, the other driver's car, and you'd have to pay a whole lot of money to them. All because you decided to tailgate.
How can an ad campaign get this information to a driver as they speed by? Apparently, it was “let’s throw up an image of a super powerful car smashing in the back of a truck. No, the car won’t look too damaged. No, no blood or anything. Mostly damage to the truck. It’ll make the most impact.” I don’t know who came up with this billboard. They're clearly a marketing genius.
1 Come closer
This clever advertising rests on the wall across from a subway boarding platform. It’s a very simple poster with “Come a little closer” in large black print. When I first saw this sign, I assumed that it was fake. What sane company would encourage someone to walk out in front of a train? That’s a terrible business model to end the life of your clientele before they can even take advantage of whatever product you're trying to sell. I was confused until I took another moment to read the rest. Across the bottom of the billboard is the origin of this dark message.
It’s a company that provides funeral services in Berlin.
That answers my prior question of who they were marketing to. Their business model is taking care of the mangled body left behind when following their advice. Wow. Thankfully there hasn't been a large amount of people throwing themselves in front of oncoming trains because a sign told them to. People are smarter than that. If anything, it gave some people a sensible chuckle before moving on with their day. The truly amazing thing about this is that there hasn’t been any lawsuit. I think everyone can agree that if this sign had been posted in the New York subway, it wouldn’t have been there for very long.