Man Seeking Answers, Also Sandwiches: An Appeal to Simplicity in Communication

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FOUR. $4 HAPPY HOUR. EVERY HOUR!

If this makes immediate sense to you, you’re a more gifted mind reader than I.  

To my fellow Chicagoans, this might be a familiar sight: the beloved Cheesie’s Pub & Grub on Belmont Avenue in the Northside’s Lakeview neighborhood. I had just exited the Red Line’s Belmont station and was walking down the sidewalk, when my eyes glanced across the street to the orange painted building. As the cartoon sandwich smiled back at me, my eyes moved across the sign to the message that reads as follows:

Photo Courtesy: Google Maps

Despite my mind being somewhat preoccupied, the words stopped me dead in my tracks. What exactly is being offered here? What does that mean?

FOUR. $4 HAPPY HOUR. EVERY HOUR!

I must have stared at it for a good 2-3 minutes saying it over and over in my head before finally continuing my journey, doing my best to shake the confusion from my brain.

Alas, I wasn’t able to and felt compelled to share my frustrations here.

I’ve come up with FOUR potential explanations for what Cheesie’s is aiming to explain. Does it mean…


  1. Four different beers are chosen every hour to cost $4? Because that seems confusing for both staff and beer drinkers.
  2. Every hour there are four different happy hours in which drinks are $4? Because there aren’t four hours in an hour, there’s only one hour in an hour.
  3. There’s a daily happy hour in which drinks are $4? Then shouldn’t it say “Every Day” rather than “Every Hour”?
  4. Drinks are always $4 and you’re just being confusingly clever about it? Because how dare you.

The point is, whatever the intended message of this sign is, it could be said simpler. The fact that it’s not immediately clear means there’s unnecessary complexity and redundancy.

At SquarePlanet, we talk a lot about simplicity. We believe when it comes to being an effective communicator, sometimes 5 words can do the job of 3 pie charts. We believe that if a word doesn’t absolutely need to be spoken or written, you should lose it. We believe that humans crave simple, relatable communication and want no part of having to deduce what a message is really trying to say. Audiences shouldn’t have to work to understand your message.


It’s a Presentation

Cheesie’s sign is a presentation. It’s a deliberate message with a defined purpose – in this case, awareness around a drink special to increase business.

But the mistake they’re making is the same mistake lots of people make when they communicate or give a presentation. Whether it’s an investor pitch or keynote presentation at a conference, too often people get in their own way and muddle up their message with unneeded complexity. They often fail to identify the line between what makes sense to them and what makes sense to a passerby.

It’s an easy and natural mistake to make. We all do it. The staff at Cheesie’s knows what the sign means because they live it every day, or every hour, or 4 times every hour, or whatever it actually means. Point is, they’re so close to it that they’ve lost all objectivity of how it could be interpreted. So they add to it.

When we feel there is a lack of clarity around a certain topic, our instinct often is to add clarity by adding words and ideas. More explanation must equal more clarity, right?

Wrong. And whether it’s in a sales pitch, your website, or even a sign on your restaurant advertising drink specials, simpler is always better. Whatever the answer is to the question “What’s the $4 happy hour all about” – that’s what the sign should say. Simpler. Also it’s worth saying this is not an indictment in any way of the delicious cheesy goodness that they serve. Just a hungry and confused copywriter looking for answers.

In case this blog reaches anyone from Cheesie’s directly – can you help us clear up our confusion? Leave a comment below, tweet us at @SquarePlanet, send me an email at mparcell@squareplanet.com or give us a call at 312-600-9922.

Again – love your sammies, just not your signs.

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Have you seen this sign in person? What do you think Cheesie's is trying to communicate?

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Who wrote this masterpiece?

Maxx Parcell

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As SquarePlanet's resident Content Cartographer + Wordscribe, Maxx puts his imagination to work developing compelling, evocative and effective content for clients. He's also a skilled musician and home brewer.


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