The Marketing Legend Behind Those ‘I Hate Steven Singer’ Billboards

Apr 30, 2019

If you’ve lived in Philly or driven through it at any point between the late-’90s and today, you probably recognize the name Steven Singer and know somebody hates him. You might even know what the “I Hate Steven Singer” billboards are actually selling. But you probably don’t know the marketing story behind them.

The black billboards with white text declaring “I Hate Steven Singer” with no other context certainly invite intrigue. After a decades-long campaign, the ads have done their job. Lots of people now know Steven Singer is a jeweler on Philadelphia’s Jewelers’ Row. Here’s how the marketing campaign came to be.

According to legend, a man bought his wife a ring from Steven Singer Jewelry for their 20th wedding anniversary. The purchase led to the couple having a third – very accidental – child. The husband allegedly told Singer about their new kid and blamed his late-night diaper changes on Singer and his diamond rings by yelling “I hate Steven Singer!”

Steven Singer’s Branding Niche

True or not, Singer made the phrase the basis for his entire brand. Four words and a simple black and white billboard had the entire Philadelphia region scratching their heads and searching his name. He’s since used the campaign to expand into other markets around the country.

The ads capitalize on simplicity and consumer curiosity. The billboards have evolved over the years and now include the store’s website, which is itself an extension of the campaign. The answer to everyone’s burning question is right on the homepage.

The campaign’s mystery certainly makes it memorable, but the bold billboards also carve out a unique voice and branding. Far from the twinkling lights and rosy hues of traditional jewelry advertising, Singer embraces a more shocking aesthetic and the word that’s literally the opposite of love.

There’s no kiss beginning with K or Tiffany blue here. Instead, the campaign appeals to an entirely different emotion – and audience. Singer managed to stand out in a branding-driven engagement ring market by targeting the purchasers of his product and not the recipients. Why focus on the person wearing the ring when you can appeal to the person buying it?

Long story short: In marketing, there’s a tendency to go overboard on describing an offering and its benefits. Don’t be afraid of a little intrigue, especially when it helps you shine in a crowded market.

This article also appeared in our weekly newsletter, Long Story Short. It was written by Alison Hopkins.

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