Burma-Shave Is Dead. Long Live Burma-Shave.

Nancy Friedman
7 min readApr 21, 2023

Sometime in early 2021, Instagram, in its algorithmic wisdom, began prodding me to follow something called Burma-Gram. For once, the algorithm was right: I loved the account.

Burma-Gram didn’t use fancy tricks or filters. Each Burma-Gram post was a reel, and each reel followed the same format: Against a background of computer-generated blue sky and green grass, four or five white-on-red signs told a brief rhyming story. A final sign read simply “Burma-Gram.”

The Burma-Gram vintage-looking (but contemporary) wordmark

Some of the rhymes were sweetly nonpartisan: “If you’re feeling bummed / Because it’s Sunday / Take a deep breath / At least it’s not Monday.” Some were groaners: “On this Father’s Day / Though your kids may scorn / Serve up some dad jokes / Make ’em eat pop-corn.” But others carried pointed messages: Oppose Trump, take precautions to stop Covid, enact stricter gun laws (“Latest shooting / More blown away / Reps will do nothing / Thanks NRA.”)

The account had nothing to do with the country of Myanmar (formerly Burma), and the profile revealed nothing about the author. Instead, it said only: “Burma-Shave jingles (Google it) for the Instagram era. Click a pic and swipe left. 👈”

As it happened, I didn’t need to Google it. I’d read about the once-ubiquitous Burma-Shave signs and had even written about them. But how many other Instagram users knew the history?

For about four decades in the 20th century, rhyme ruled American advertising. The period between the 1940s and the 1970s was the golden age of ad jingles and rhyming slogans, the age of “Oh thank heaven for 7-Eleven,” of “See the USA in your Chevrolet,” and of Burger King’s “Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce / Special orders don’t upset us.”

The rise of rhyme had coincided with the advent of radio. On Christmas Eve 1926 the first ad jingle — “Have You Tried Wheaties?”, sung a cappella by the Wheaties Quartet — was broadcast on Minneapolis station WCCO. (You can hear a recording of the original Wheaties jingle here. Why are they called jingles? “Because they ring a bell in your head,” an ad man once quipped.)

But rhyme quickly caught on in other advertising media, too.

In 1925, when long-distance auto travel was becoming commonplace, a Minneapolis-based company (what…

--

--

Nancy Friedman

Writer, name developer, brand consultant, idea-ist, ex-journalist. @fritinancy on Mastodon, Instagram, Bluesky, Threads, and elsewhere.