Column: The business of signs

By Lindsey Canny

One of the first lines of communication that a business has to its potential consumers is its signage.

Signs are the quickest and most user-friendly ways to convey vital information about the way a business is run: “We are open between the hours of 9 and 5,” “We do not allow smoking on the premises,” “No returns after 30 days.”

All we have to do is walk up to the sign, read it, and we are instantly informed.

But now businesses have new signs posted, and the information they are conveying isn’t as clear as the ones stating hours of operation. The subtext these signs are sending could be driving away part of the consumer base.

After all, what vital information is a consumer taking away from the “Trump/Pence 2020” or “Biden/Harris” signage in front of it?

Words are always conveying more than whatever is printed on a piece of paper—or corrugated plastic board, in this case. Without going into the deepest rabbit holes of semantics or semiotics, the words “Trump” or “Biden” on a sign aren’t just sending off the superficial message of, “Hey look, this is the name of a guy and his name should be on my lawn!”

Instead, at the shallowest level of interpretive meaning, the name on the sign indicates, “This person represents ideas and standards that I agree with, so I will vote for him in the next election.”

The candidates whose names grace those signs and the political parties in which they are operating, however, have done their absolute utmost to ensure that it is impossible for the signs to simply say “This guy has my vote.”

No, it’s the ideas and standards that the owners of the signs espouse that are muddying the waters of meaning. While one person may see their sign as a way to convey that they support the maintenance of traditional values, personal individualism, and the “go get ‘em” mindset of a savvy businessman, others may read as a support for (or ambivalence toward) the roll-back of civil rights protections, mockery on the world stage, and the dismissal of a worldwide health crisis.

On the other hand, a voter from the other side of the aisle would see their yard sign as a signal of their support for public service programs and a way to level the wealth inequality between the richest and poorest of the country, while his neighbor may see it as support for infringement on personal freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, allowing citizens to simply fall back on taxpayer-funded welfare programs, and the derision and defunding of the first line of defense and protection communities have to maintain law and order.

So back to business, or businesses, rather. When these types of messages are being thrown at the world from a private citizen’s front yard, there isn’t much to do if we disagree other than to just keep driving past and hope not to get into an uncomfortable discussion with the resident at a bar or in the checkout line.

But when money is on the line, that message being launched from the side of the street just gets louder and more significant, and it becomes much longer-lasting. After all, even when November 3 has come and gone, that show of support on either side will linger in the minds of potential consumers and could encourage them to look elsewhere to spend their hard-earned dollars. Nobody wants their paycheck to work against them.

These businesses have probably calculated this risk and have gone ahead anyway, either by seeing that the like-minded consumers will continue to pour their money in, or even spend more than they had done previously, or by being idealistic about their candidate enough that any loss of the other side of the consumer base is just a loss they will have to stomach in order to stand up for the beliefs and policies they aren’t willing to compromise on.

Whatever a business’s signage maybe, the beauty of the free market is that we are free to spend our dollars wherever we see fit and to take our business to the competitor if our first choice isn’t on our side.

After all, if politics has taught me nothing else, no matter who I’m casting a vote for, it is that the message is clear: money talks and dollars vote.

Lindsey Canny is a paid columnist for the Metro Wire. She chooses her own topics and her opinions do not necessarily represent the staff of the Metro Wire. She is a UWSP alum who works as a teacher in Stevens Point.

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