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McDonald's and Dairy Queen Fought A "Sign War". Here's How It Impacted Sales

It pays to be funny.

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Have you heard about the “sign war” in Missouri?

It all started with a McDonald’s in Marshfield, who challenged the local Dairy Queen. DQ snapped back. Then it was game on.

“What’s a milkman in pantyhose? A Dairy Queen”, McDonald’s wrote.

“Why Dine With A Clown When U Can With A Queen”, Dairy Queen shot back.

And on it went.

McDonald's and Dairy Queen Fought A "Sign War". Here's How It Impacted Sales

Marshfield Area Chamber of Commerce/ Facebook: MarshfieldChamber

Soon other businesses joined in, and then it became a media sensation. Everyone from USA Today to BuzzFeed to the New York Post has covered it.

But when I wrote about it on LinkedIn, a director of sales named Mike Brooks asked a question that stopped me cold:

McDonald's and Dairy Queen Fought A "Sign War". Here's How It Impacted Sales

I don’t entirely agree with this — there’s plenty to say for the value of goodwill and cheer, even if it doesn’t turn into immediate dollars. Employees stay longer at jobs they enjoy; customers return more when they feel connected to a business.

But still, Mike’s question is worth asking. Cash registers are important.

So, did the sign war actually grow business?

I couldn’t find an answer in any of the news coverage. And I know from experience: When I call large companies and ask for granular financial details, they do not often comply.

So I decided to just call the individual stores in Missouri, and ask whoever picked up the phone.

“Are you the McDonald’s with the sign war?” I asked the woman who answered there.

“Yes, honey,” she said.

“I’m just curious — did it drive more business?”

“Yes, sweetheart,” she said. When the sign war first began, she said, it created a pop of business. But she was new there, so didn’t have any more information.

Then I called Dairy Queen.

“It helped our business out quite a bit,” an employee there told me. “We got quite a bit busier.”


So now it’s worth asking: Why did this work?

I have an answer. It’s because it was fun.

Check out this data:

  • 78% of people believe brands can do more to make their customers happy

  • 91% of people prefer when brands are funny — including 94% of Gen Z and Millennials

  • 77% of people are more likely to buy from a funny salesperson

Those stats and more come from a study called “The Happiness Report,” from Oracle and the bestselling author Gretchen Rubin.

Why do people respond so well to humor? It’s simple: People want an escape from their stressful lives. They want someone (or some brand!) to say, “No matter what, our job is to make you feel good.”

Joyfulness matters.

That is the great lesson in this sign war.

We should ask ourselves: How can we not just find joy in our work, but also spread that joy to others?

Sometimes, people will even pay for that.

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Cover credit: Marshfield Area Chamber of Commerce/ Facebook: MarshfieldChamber