Yard signs that worked (from Kennebec Journal, Sep 2018)

by George Taniwaki

In a July 2019 blog post, I discussed the use of billboards to help publicize your need for a kidney donor. If you can’t afford a billboard, smaller yard signs are a good alternative if you have legal access to to the right-of-way next to a busy road , specifically one with lots of slow moving traffic.

The picture at the top of this blog post shows an excellent example of an effective yard sign. They were designed and installed by Krystal Reardon, a nurse and kidney patient in Augusta, Maine. She has six yard signs, all with black text on a blue background. The signs read “I require a life-saving transplant”, “Kidney”, “Donor”, “Needed”, “Would you consider”, “Ask me how (207) 518-0000”. The first and last signs are hand painted, while the other four signs are stenciled. Her story was carried by multiple news outlets including Kennebec Journal (Sep 2018) and People (Sep 2018).

Her signs generated a remarkable 30 responses from strangers who have offered to get tested (Fox News, Sep 2018). She received a transplant shortly thereafter. Now she is helping other kidney patients use the same technique to find their own donors. You can see her handiwork for Kenneth Edwards and Rachel LaJoie in the second row of the photographs below.

AngelaYardSign DanYardSign

EricYardSignAUGUSTA, ME - MARCH 26: This photo taken on Tuesday March 26, 2019 shows signs about kidney donation on South Belfast Avenue (Route 105) in Augusta. (Staff photo by Joe Phelan/Staff Photographer)

AUGUSTA, ME - MARCH 26: This photo taken on Tuesday March 26, 2019 shows signs about kidney donation on South Belfast Avenue (Route 105) in Augusta. (Staff photo by Joe Phelan/Staff Photographer)


MarkYardSign JimYardSign

Seven examples of kidney campaign yard signs in the news

First row: Angela (from CTV News, Jul 2016), Dan (from WLWT, Aug 2015)

Second row: Joan (from KidneyQuest on Twitter), Kenneth and Rachel (from Press Herald, Mar 2019)

Third row: Mark (from Union Leader, May 2019), Jim (from Café Mom, Jan 2014)

Since the signs are small and most people who see it will be driving fast, you cannot put a lot of text on it. All of the yard signs have the following two features:

1. Headline or call to action – Kidney needed or donor wanted

2. Contact information – phone number, email address, or website

One option to increase awareness and to tell a longer story is to use multiple signs spaced several feet apart, like Ms Reardon did for herself and for her mentees.

Another option, which works in an area that receives plenty of snow and stays cold is to build a seven-foot snow sculpture of a kidney (see last picture in the third row) and plop your sign next to it.

Media attention

As mentioned in my blog post on billboards, another way to expand your search is to get your yard signs covered by the local newspaper or television news. All of the yard signs shown in this blog post were found on news websites.


Digital billboard by LKDN and Blip

by George Taniwaki

If you want to gain attention of people outside your social circle, you need to get your message in front of strangers. One way to do this is to use billboard advertising. Billboard advertising, also called outdoor advertising or out-of-home advertising, can be expensive. It is also impersonal. However, it can generate a lot of impressions and can generate additional word-of-mouth or news publicity.

Every form of publicity you create should have a call for action. It should include a URL, phone number, or email address. In the example billboard at the top of this blog post, note the short URL that points to the Living Kidney Donor Network and includes the patient’s first name. It’s easy to remember and the LKDN web page can contain additional information to help potential donors learn more about you and the donation process.

Do-it-yourself billboard

If you own a billboard or know someone who does, you can paint your own billboard. A do-it-yourself billboard is pretty uncommon, but I found one case (Kidney Dialysis News, Dec 2013).


Example of hand-painted billboard

Rent a static billboard

More likely, you don’t own your own billboard and so will have to rent one. The most common type of billboard is static. The image is printed on paper or canvas and will remain in the billboard until it is manually covered by a new sign.

There are two costs to consider when renting a billboard. First is the up-front costs for design and production. This can range from free to a few hundred dollars. The second is the rental fee. The rental fee will be based on the amount of traffic that passes by the billboard and the scarcity of billboard space in the area where you want to place your sign. You will want to compare the total cost per impression of a billboard versus the other activities you are employing to find a donor. For a good primer on measuring advertising and publicity effectiveness, see Real Numeracy Sep 2019.

All billboard companies provide design services. If you want to do your own design work or hire your own designer, ask the billboard company for the dimensions of their billboards. Also ask for the required resolution for artwork and what file format the artwork should be delivered in. Check if they accept RGB color PDF files or require CMYK color.

For smaller billboards, the images are printed on a 27” x 40” sheet of paper. Multiple sheets can be tiled to produce larger images. Larger billboards are usually printed on 10-foot wide sheets of canvas using a special ink jet printer. Again, larger images are created by tiling sheets.

Additional benefit of a billboard

There is another impact that a billboard can generate. Your effort could get picked up by a local TV station or newspaper where an even larger audience will see it. I found several stories about billboards used to find kidney donors on the web. A few are reproduced below along with links to the news stories they were contained in.


PaulBillboard  RandyBillboardJoshuaBillboardMandieBillboardMirandaBillboard

Eight examples of static billboards that got in the news

First row: Tracy (from WBIR-TV, Apr 2016), Jacob (from WKYC-TV, Apr 2019), Jessica (from WDJT-TV, Apr 2018)

Second row:  Paul (from NY Daily News, Jul 2015), Randy (from Atlanta J. Const., Oct 2017)

Third row: Joshua (from USA Today, May 2018), Mandie (from ABC News, Apr 2018), Miranda (from Daily Item, Apr 2016)

Mobile billboards

In urban areas, billboard space is limited. One option to overcome that is to put signage on the side of a truck or attach it to a trailer being towed by a truck or car or even a bicycle. This is different than putting a sign on the side of your own car or truck, which is discussed in a separate blog post (Real Numeracy, Aug 2019).


Example mobile billboard for Kidney Car, from Kidney Foundation of Canada

Rent time on a digital billboards

The latest advance in billboard advertising is digital signage. A digital billboard, like a web display ad, does not require the expense of a physically printed image. It can be placed on any billboard in the world that participates in the digital billboard network. Your ad can be displayed for any length of time on any date or day-of-week and time-of-day you desire.

Your ad will run for 10 second increments that cost between 1 cent to a dollar, depending on the amount of vehicle and pedestrian traffic expected. Most traditional billboard companies like Lamar and Clear Channel have digital options. There are also digital-only companies like Blip. (In advertising parlance each 10 second increment is called a blip.)

Donor billboard

Finally, below is an example of a billboard promoting living donation without a specific patient in mind. The billboard is sponsored by TransplantFirst Academy, an organization started by Risa Simon, the author of the book Shift your Fate.


Donor billboard from TransplantFirst Academy

by George Taniwaki

The inside back cover of each issue of Consumer Reports magazine has a column called Selling it. It features what it calls “Goofs, glitches, gotchas, and howlers from the world of advertising.” In the past week, I’ve encountered two cases of unusual packaging that may not be goofy enough for Consumer Reports, but definitely got my attention.

Shine your pie

The first example is a blueberry pie I purchased from a Kroger owned grocery store called QFC. Their bakery goods are sold under the Private Selection brand. They taste really good. As I was putting a box into my shopping cart, I saw this bit of advertising puffery on the box flap.

Pie boxFlap

For those who can’t read the brown text on brown background, it says,

The Private Selection journey rewards your sense of good taste. Inspired by food artisans and crafted with authentic ingredients and tantalizing recipes, each private selection offering is sure to feed your passion for gourmet foods.

Well, that certainly is enticing. Now I really want to read the ingredients, but I can’t of course because they are on the bottom of the box and I certainly don’t want flip the box over while the pie is still in it. I could hold the box over my head, but then I would look like a dork. Not that it’s ever stopped me before.

After I get home, I open the box and have some pie.. Then I flip the box over and look at the ingredients. Check out the list of authentic ingredients for the pie shine. Pretty tantalizing. Yum, gourmet foods just like mom used to make.

Pie boxBack

For those of you who aren’t familiar, pie shine is what makes the top crust of a pie shiny. It is traditionally made from egg white. (One egg white can shine about four or five pies.) I figured that Kroger would add some stabilizers and preservatives to the egg white to ensure consistency in a commercial bakery setting, but apparently not. If you can’t read the small ALL CAPITALS text in the picture above, the ingredients used by Kroger are,

Water, soy protein, canola oil, datem, methylparaben and propylparaben and sodium benzoate and mixed tocopherols (preservatives), caramel color, modified cellulose gum, artificial flavor, disodium phosphate, corn syrup, pectin, citric acid, yellow 6, maltodextrin, sodium alginate, soy lecithin, silicon dioxide, mono- and diglycerides.

My guess is that egg whites have too much variability in color and viscosity, are too expensive, and spoil too quickly. In comparison, the ingredients used in Kroger’s pie shine are cheap and will never spoil because no microorganism would touch it. Incidentally, if you are not familiar with datem, it is an abbreviation for diacetyl tartaric acid ester of mono- and diglycerides.

So a few rules for product packaging designers:

1. If you want people to actually read your copy, don’t use low contrast colors (like brown text on a brown background)

2. You should read your advertising copy in the context of the actual product so you don’t make ridiculous claims

3. If you want people to actually take time to read your copy, don’t use ALL CAPS. (Although in this case, you don’t want people to read ingredient list.)

Detailed instructions please

My other encounter with weird packaging is for a product called Caulk Saver. This handy tool plugs the end of a tube of caulk between uses and keeps the tip from getting clogged with hard caulk. I own several. The front of the package is shown below. I like how the photograph behind the actual tool clearly shows how it works. Very clever.


The folks at Caulk Saver love their product so much that they posted a 3 minute long video on YouTube. You can never oversell.


Tell me more! Video still courtesy of Caulk Saver

However, it’s the back of the package where the real weirdness appears. There you will see a picture that shows that the tip of the plug can be cut to fit a caulk tube as you use it up. The caption reads “Cut stem wherever necessary for tool to fit.”


Above the illustration is a long paragraph of text. If you cannot read the text in the photograph, it says,

Important: There may come a time when you have an inch or two of product left in the tube and the tool will not fit all the way in, due to the plunger that forces the product out. At this time, cut the stem off of the tool wherever necessary for the tool to fit properly. Turn the tool 3 or 4 times into the stem of container to seal the container and your product will stay fresh.

This looks like it was written by a frustrated novelist. I guess everyone who has ever worked as an advertising copywriter (including me) wants to believe that engaging text can always improve product packaging. I think the packaging would be less cluttered if the caption were reworded to read “If your Caulk Saver is too long to fit in the tube, just cut off the stem” and eliminate the entire paragraph above it.

But really. If you only have an inch of caulk left in the tube, use it up or throw it away. Life is too short to spend time keeping track of small quantities of old caulk.