Car Wash Signs Work Well — But Only When Done Right

Car wash signs

Let’s look at two best practices for using car wash signs to attract more customers.

I get that some folks might assume that the below “CarWash” sign might seem too generic to be real, but according to the internet (that’s enough for me), it’s a real attempt by a car wash to grab a chuckle or two from passersby, and in turn urge a few of them to stop in for a car detail.

The sign itself strikes me as certainly hilarious — a stellar reference that will resonate strongly with all of us who fired off a couple hands-in-the-air crane kicks in our living rooms. But, as much as I can appreciate the value in getting a laugh out of the faceless masses — certainly one of the main targets for car wash marketing — there are some risks to deciding to use a sign like this. And car washes put them up every single day.

To that end, let’s look at two best practices for using road signs to attract more car wash customers. In no particular order:

Remember, what you want car wash signs to say might not be what they’re actually saying

One often overlooked issue with humor-based marketing is the audience. In this case, the racial undertones associated with the sign.

While one person might look at the sign and see a funny movie reference, another could just as easily take offense due to the sign’s racial implications regarding the ethnicity of the car wash’s employees. Sure, you could argue that this might be far-fetched, but walking the “politically correct” line, especially when it comes to race, is a line that no brand wants to even go anywhere near — let alone unintentionally cross.

“All employees trained by Mr. Miyagi” cuts too close.

Signs like, “Our employees love Mr. Miyagi,” “Mr. Miyagi’s Legacy Fuels Our Employees’ Spirits,” or “We Embrace The Teachings of Mr. Miyagi” avoid the risk and still hit home the same point.

Never forget your entire audience when posting signs to attract customers. Your brand is too valuable for the audience to be overlooked.

Remember the logic that governs consumer decision making when it comes to car wash signs

Another reality with this particular car wash sign is that it represents an all-or-nothing marketing play to cater to acquiring customers. There are really only two thought processes that this sign hopes to evoke from customers:

  • “Haha! Funny sign! I will keep this place in mind next time I need my car washed.”
  • “Haha! Funny sign! Heck, I’ll just give this place my business right now. Why not?”

Unless this exact logical leap occurs in a consumer’s head, the sign’s intended effect — to create business for CarWash — is completely lost on passersby. Relying on this type of logic could be smart in an industry where the product or service itself is hard to differentiate from the competition, such as fast food or car dealerships. For these businesses, brand messaging and humor can make a marked difference in the consumer experience. I think we can all agree, however, that car washes do not fall into this category.

Think of it this way — while a commercial beer brand might see a lot of value in creating a “cool” or “funny” message for customers to identify with, car washes instead have to provide quality and convenience to create value for customers. While this sign implies (in a funny way) that this wash will provide them a quality, fast wash, it falls short to clearly communicate this message — signs only give you a split second to trigger a consumer reaction.

Yes, this sign is hilarious. But if I drove by this wash and then another wash down the block had a sign that said, “In & Out in under 5 minutes, guaranteed clean for 48 hours,” (or something to that effect), I’m spending my money at that second wash. The sign may not get a laugh, but it directly conveys that the wash will provide the exact value that I’m hoping to get when I choose to wash my car. You could even combine both (assuming you had enough room): “We come from the school of Miyagi: in & out in 5 minutes and guaranteed clean for 48 hours.”

Creative marketing can be fun and, when executed well, it can be a home run for your brand. However, you need to strongly consider your industry and the consumers that you are targeting when you craft your brand messaging. In the car wash industry, you must segment consumers into two halves: there are people who wash their cars regularly and people who do not. If your object is to convince people who wash their cars regularly to do so at your car wash, you need to think about what they want: a fast, high-quality service.

This sign is fantastic in a vacuum, but I think that its owner was so delighted with his or her own joke about The Karate Kid, that they happily ignored the marketing implications behind the decision. This sign undoubtedly generated a lot of laughs. I don’t know if it generated a lot of business for CarWash.

This article is the 2nd in a series about car wash marketing. You can find the first here: 6 Ways to Get Millennials to Your Car Wash.