Vegas Strip

131: An Advertising Lesson from a Vegas Pothead

I recently attended the National Auctioneers Association’s Designation Academy in Las Vegas. During the day, I absorbed compelling content in the updated Auction Technology Specialist course. At night, I ate dinner and explored The Strip with my auction marketing friends.

Having never been to Vegas, my curiosity and the plethora of visual stimuli combined to test my sensory bandwidth. Whether on the sidewalk or the Stratosphere, in a helicopter or the High Roller, tourists are inundated with the effects of a marketing arms race in Sin City. Everything is bright, if not flickering in some mesmerizing pattern. Everything is huge, especially in comparison to your home environs. Shiny describes almost everything you absorb (as does expensive).

That said, one of the most indelible sights of my three-day visit was a cardboard sign, held by a shaggy man seated on a footbridge above Las Vegas Boulevard. In black Sharpie ink it read, “Need money for weed.”

One of the auctioneers walking with me quipped over his shoulder, “Truth in advertising!” We laughed, but there was something refreshing about that sign.

While a surprising majority of Las Vegas advertising cuts to the chase, this brown remnant of a box proved even more succinct. The candor of the beggar’s appeal contrasted the spirit of Vegas that encourages alibis and pseudonyms, costumes and caricatures.

Cardboard panhandler signs aren’t anything unique—except in the land of opulent window shopping, Photoshopped show posters, advertising-wrapped taxi cabs, 10-story-tall building wraps, and LED screens that curve around hotels and scale towers. You’d be hard pressed to find a greater contrast in visual presentation.

That might explain the pothead’s strategy. It wouldn’t take a social scientist to test authenticity as an attractive, effective marketing strategy in a desert town known for its fountains. It’s difficult to outshine the rest of the City of Lights. So, why try?

The sign made me think about auction promotion.

So much of my auction industry loves brash fonts, gaudy designs, and crowded layouts. Readability gets suffocated by unnecessary text, competing elements, and a lack of logical reading progression. Earlier that day, an auctioneer showed me a copy of one of his recent postcards. On one panel alone, there were six—six—starbursts of varying sizes.

I regularly receive advertising copy from clients that reads, “Something for everyone,” “Unlimited development potential,” or “Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!” The first two could never be true, and the third requires you to live decades to prove it. It’s all used car salesman hype—no offense to the used car salesmen with whom I play basketball before breakfast three days a week. It’s over selling. It’s over promising. You could make the case it’s deceptive.

I’m not trying to make the case that auctioneers should use repurposed cardboard to promote their auctions and their businesses. It’s just that we would all benefit from more succinct, more candid, and more restrained advertising media.

Taking It Personally

Vulnerability seems counterintuitive in the era of social media and Photoshop, special effects and liposuction. Authenticity has always been attractive but not instinctive. Candor, while not always easy—especially with tact—comes with a lot less maintenance than exaggeration. The confidence and contentment it takes to let the Joneses win can feel as unobtainable as a clear picture of the Loch Ness Monster.

It’s difficult to put the phone down and with it the camera, filters, and “Post” button. It’s so hard to say, “I don’t know,” ”I’m content,” and “I don’t have time in my schedule for that.”

The Bible addresses this from several angels across multiple passages, but the verse I’ve been mulling lately to guide me in the pursuit of a simplified existence is I Thessalonians 4:11. The first century writer, Paul of Tarsus, wrote, “Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you.”

Stock image purchased from

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