Lessons in Copywriting From the Signs of Homeless People: The Street Copy We Neglect

A sign of a homeless on St. Patrick’s Day in New York City

Have you ever stopped by on a street for a moment to see what it says on a homeless’ board? What does his/her sign says?

The truth is that we are pretty jetted when it comes to our everyday’s go-abouts. We pass homeless and beggars on the streets without even one glance towards them, just because we can kind of guess what their boards say. But only if we would have stopped at least once and looked closer, we might have been surprised that each one of them has quite a creative away to display their needs and wants to the public.

It’s not just the regular “Give me money, I want to eat” kind of message. There’s more to it. But, the only time we do pay attention to the hand-written signs and boards is when there’s a large-scale demonstration and/or protest of some kind, like the Occupy Wall Street, that gets a wide coverage in the media. The Occupy Wall Street protestants’ signs appeared across all the media outlets – and that how we know it. Not to mention that some of them were photographed and selected to be displayed at the public museums, like the South Street Seaport Museum that I went to a while ago to see the exhibit and they dedicated a whole floor to the photographs of the Occupy Wall Street protests’ signs.

And if it wasn’t for the recent article on Adweek, we wouldn’t even have known that, while the young aspired copywriters working fiercely on the elaborate campaigns, those same homeless people they pass by every day on the way from their Madison Ave. offices could be a good source of information and example on how to effectively, precisely and directly communicate a very important [for the homeless person] message in just a few words. You will be surprised by the creative ways the homeless use to ‘copy-write’ their signs!

That reminds me of what Chris Rock in “No Sex (In the Champagne Room)” once said about the homeless’ signs: “If a homeless person has a funny sign/He hasn’t been homeless that long/A real homeless person is too hungry to be funny.”

So, let’s take a look at the various signs homeless have and analyze why it’s effective:



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