Media Across America: What Advertisers Can Learn from Wall Drug

By Thought Leaders Archives
Cover image for  article: Media Across America: What Advertisers Can Learn from Wall Drug

This summer I embarked on the Great American Road Trip. Coast-to-coast with my dad in my two-door Jeep Wrangler. Our journey took us 3,250 miles from Westchester County, New York to Eugene, Oregon. Along the way I had plenty of time to study outdoor advertising from I-80 to I-90 to I-15 to I-20.

A mix of advertisements from national to local brands decorate our interstate system, touting everything from insurance to cars to dining and lodging, as well as God, fireworks and porn. I saw every marketing strategy in play. Some brands focused on building awareness; others leaned into driving demand and action. Messages tended to be short and sharp, supported by bold imagery to capture the attention of cars moving at 80+ mph. (Thank you, Waze, for the heads up on speed traps.)

While some ads stood out and others just blended into the background, there was one advertiser who reigned supreme: Wall Drug.

Wall Drug is "a roadside attraction and tourist stop located in the town of Wall, South Dakota, adjacent to Badlands National Park. It consists of a collection of cowboy-themed stores, including a drug store, gift shop, several restaurants and various other stores, as well as an art gallery and an 80-foot brontosaurus sculpture (pictured below left)." Mt. Rushmore and the Corn Palace aside, it's South Dakota's most famous attraction.

Their advertising strategy, it seems, is entirely pointed at outdoor billboards across a 650 mile stretch on I-90 from Minnesota to Montana. (Geography note: South Dakota is nestled between these two great states.) The campaign touts everything from products for sale, specialty foods, and all things uniquely South Dakota. Even better, each ad is uniquely designed by local artists, and although each ad looks different the campaign is absolutely unified by a single, clear and actionable message: Wall Drug is a must stop attraction for every traveler on I-90.

So, stop we did.

Wall Drug did not disappoint. Yeah, it was kind of a tourist trap. But they had great stores, kind people and it captured South Dakota's rich history from General Custer and Sitting Bull to buffalo burgers and Stetson hats.

There's a lot that advertisers can learn from the advertising strategy of the small yet mighty Wall Drug. Four things stood out:

  1. Reach and frequency matter more than ever. In a world cluttered with messaging and consumers moving at quite literally 80 mph, it pays to be frequently and repeatedly seen.
  2. Great creative always wins the day. It's pretty easy to be boring and forgettable. Strong design and copywriting are always worth the investment.
  3. Lead with benefits. A lot of advertising focuses on functions and features, rather than outcomes. Wall Drug's advertising celebrates life, happiness and family. And America, too.
  4. Singularity of objective counts. Some ads try to do too much, mixing awareness, engagement and demand generation priorities into a final product that misses on all fronts. Every ad that Wall Drug creates is focused on one purpose: To get you to put on your blinker, pump the brakes and come on in.

I highly recommend that if you're driving down I-90 on your way to visit George, Tom, Teddy and Abe at Mt. Rushmore, heed the call-to-action and go to Wall Drug. The food is great, the attractions are fun, the tchotchkes are reasonably priced and the ice water is free. So are the bumper stickers. I grabbed one. The first person to follow me and send me a DM on Twitter gets it.

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