02 November 2012

Mysterious Signs

by Dixon Hill

Well, it's the first Friday in November. And, if you're reading this, you've  managed to survive another Halloween (and the accompanying storm, if you're on the East Coast).

We've got just one more night of terror to come, this year:  Election Eve.

That's right, come next Tuesday night -- no matter who wins -- polls indicate about half the nation will be upset about it, certain that we're entering a new era of a "long national nightmare."  But, there's also something fun going on .  And, that fun stuff involves not only elections, but also a real-life mystery of sorts.

Signs of the Times

Mysteries come in many shapes and sizes.  So do political campaign signs.

Those signs seem to multiply like rabbits!  Don't they?  They sprout up just about everywhere -- at least around my town.

Here's a mystery for you:  Which of these campaign signs isn't really campaigning for the candidate on the sign?

If you picked the sign below, you're right!

But, you may ask, if it's not campaigning for Mitt Romney, who or what is this sign campaigning for? And, Dixon Hill, how do you know it's not campaigning for Romney?

To answer the last question first, let me show you another sign put out by the same group.  This sign clearly does not support Romney.

Now … to answer that first question, let's do a little investigating.  Shall we?

Since a fairly recent Supreme Court decision, Political Action Committees (PACs) have been granted much freer range for advertisement associated with political campaigns.  The PAC behind this sign is shown below.

Citizens for Sushi?

Who the heck are they?  Are they really a Political Action Committee?  Or are they something a little different?

The Answer is BOTH

They're a real PAC, but the members are people in the restaurant industry.  Very particular members, in fact.  To see what I mean, let's take a closer look at part of that Obama sign.  You see, the Stingray Sushi restaurant uses this logo -- complete with the anime girl -- on much of its advertisement.

Below is a shot of the Stingray Sushi restaurant, here in Scottsdale.  See any signage similarities?

Stingray Sushi is a sushi bar for young, hip kids with lots of cash to drop.  The owners have worked like crazy to promote their restaurant, using an anime girl -- the same one you see on the political signs -- on signs around town, for several years.

Scottsdale and most towns in The Valley, however, have very strict sign codes.  There are almost no billboards in The Valley of The Sun.  So, Stingray Sushi opted to plaster their signs on city buses and other locations that they could buy access to.

The problem is, that little anime gal sometimes gets a bit risque.  Note the look on her face (and the use of her hand) to lend a slightly different meaning to the words "Mitt bit my sushi!" in the Romney ad.

She wound up being too risque for city buses in at least one instance -- resulting in the restaurant having to pull their ads.

What's a restaurant owner to do???

Well, in this case, they take advantage of a fairly recent Supreme Court Decision and create their own PAC.  Then they go out and make signs supporting both candidates, and post them all over town.

This is a type of guerrilla marketing -- meaning that it's low-key, and relatively unregulated.  It flies beneath the radar of most cities, because state law doesn't permit cities to mess with campaign signs.  In fact, federal law is pretty strict about what you can do to limit campaign signage and advertisement, I believe (some of you feds might lend a correcting voice here, if needed).  And, this permits companies like Stingray Sushi to make a little advertisement "hay" while the political "sun shines".

Maybe you don't think that's a sort of fun idea, but I do.  I think it lends a bit of whimsy to a political season filled with scare tactics and negative advertisement, dumping virtual gallons of garbage into my living room every day.

And Stingray Sushi isn't the only business engaged in this practice.  A few more local samples are pasted below.

 These guys are giving away free gelato -- all you have to do is cast your text-vote!!

And, you might want to note: KJZZ is our local NPR station.  
If you've been thinking this practice is "low brow" maybe this shot lends a different feeling to the idea.

So, have any of you seen examples of guerrilla marketing masquerading as campaign signs in your neighborhood?  Let us all know -- in the comments section.

See you in two weeks,


  1. The "Elect Jellyfish" sign, incidentally, is supposed to be a form of concept art.

    Thought you might want to know.


  2. Very funny, proactive and productive.

    There's a chicken restaurant chain in South Africa called Nando's. Some of their signs are political (ragging political figures) and some go way beyond risqué. Way beyond but funny.

  3. Dixon, this made getting up so early worthwhile!I'm forwarding it to a friend who's opening another business and discovered his new location has a legal problem with signage!

  4. Pardon those exclamation marks. We all know not to over-use them, but sometimes I'm guilty of over-enthusiasm.

  5. Great investigation, Dix; followed by an excellent, and entertaining, report.

    These kinds of antics are amusing to a point, but also disturbing when you consider the low-grade fanaticism they seem to suggest.

  6. Great piece, Dixon. But under Federal law you need to close with the following:

    "I am Dixon Hill and I approve this message."

  7. Wow, memories. When We first got married Terri was a reporter (actually THE reporter> on a small town newspaper. We wound attend town council meetings together and one week the council, worried about the number of homes for sale, was talking about limiting the size fo For Sale signs. One citizen siad "If you do I will put up a billboard on my lawn that says "For sale due to Democratic party high taxes". And I DARE you to take me to court.". It didnt pass.

    Around the same time we visited London. In Soho signs were not allowed to be over a certain size. One exception was For Sale signs. So a very crazy restaurant called the Borsct and Tears put up a huge sign ovew the door that read, as I recall "for sale THE BORSCHT SND TEARS one million pounds "

  8. Rob, I've eaten in The Borscht and Tears and its sister establishment The Borscht and Cheers. I don't recall which was which, but one was a dark cellar with a proletariat atmosphere. The other had a crowded floor plan with a clever solution– 'bunk booths'– vertically stacked booths reached by climbing a ladder.

  9. Bunk booths! That's awesome. My son, Quentin, wants to know if people could exit the upper booth via fireman's pole.

  10. Dale, I nearly mentioned how much I've gotten tired of hearing that "...and I approve this message" line, but decided I didn't have enough room. Thanks for raising the issue.

  11. Fran, best of luck to your friend with the restaurant. Small business is difficult enough, without hampered by marketing regulations. And, what were you doing up at such an un-Godly hour?? Or, are you like me -- and you do some of your best creative work at Oh-Dark-Thirty?

    A question to Leigh and/or Rob: What's the difference between the Borscht & Tears vs. the Borscht & Cheers? Is it that only the latter sells ligour, leaving patrons of the former weeping in their water glasses -- or what?

  12. Dixon, I was up so early because I had a manuscript due yesterday that didn't get out until about eight this morning; however, in addition to being amusing, your blog settled the question of where to have lunch. Just got back from sushi.(My favorite is Spider Roll.)

  13. Dix, thanks for another laugh to go with my day. Fascinating how the human mind schemes to get around rules imposed upon them by others.

  14. Dixon, I wish we had one of the PACs you've got in Scottsdale. It'd make watching the election campaign more fun. The signs here in Knoxville are too conservative as if humor is not allowed, and that includes signs of candidates from both parties.

  15. Fran, I'm glad you found my post so motivational. LOL

    RT: I've often thought that those who don't understand Chaos Theory should look to the unintended consequences of legislation and legal decisions -- they provide quite a handy model. LOL

    Louis: I'm sorry you're missing out. I, too, have found this political season particularly lacking in both candor and taste -- on both sides of the aisle.

  16. Dixon,

    Double check with Rob, but I think the original London restaurant was Borsch and Tears, a broad dark cave-like room with a low ceiling and candles on the tables. They served both Russian and English fare. The themed atmosphere was supposed to be seditious workers party, ironic since the popular restaurant raked in the capitalist coins.

    If I remember right, their follow-up was Borsch and Cheers, much brighter and different from the original. Tell your son I don't recall a fireman's pole but that would be a cool idea. The restaurant was long but narrow. They built booths along each side wall out of pipe and wood planks as I recall. I believe the upper level was staggered and diners climbed a ladder to take their seats. The waitress would climb a couple of steps to take orders and deliver food.

    Your son might have enjoyed a favorite restaurant in Massachusetts. I think it was called the Barnside and was built in a large cavernous barn with different levels and platforms connected by stairs, ladders, and rope guides. My favorite table was on a high platform we called the crows nest, absolutely perfect for being to watch others but not be disturbed by other diners.


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