This morning I was sitting on the train reading The Corporation by Joel Bakan, a book essentially about the power and influence that corporations and businesses have over us, the lay people of this world, and it began to make me feel a little bit sick. I find it so sad that advertising and marketing techniques actually work on people in the first place. I've never liked people telling me what to do or being subjected to opinion I'm just not that interested in, it's one of the reasons I don't really watch TV (when I do I only watch something I really want to see) or read the papers (well, that'll be nothing actually because I find it extremely hard to read any newspapers at all), it's also why I mute the TV if I happen to be watching anything with adverts spliced in. I understand that advertising works, but to be honest it makes me feel a bit depressed that it may well work on me, so I avoid it wherever possible. Don't get me wrong, I do know that advertising is vital for most businesses to survive but I'm talking about advertising gone mental.
On the train this morning I realised that a key, if not the key point of why I love brown tourist signs and going "brown-signing" is that the attractions and facilities which have brown signs are all the same when it comes to what attracts punters to them. Because they are part of the well regulated road network across the UK each sign must be a particular size, written in a certain typeface (called "Transport", brilliant name, no?) and have only a specified number of words to comply with the rules, and make sure motorists aren't so distracted they plough into the backs of lorries. The amazing upshot is that whether you happen upon a lonely windmill, a one man pottery shop, a big theme park or a super-museum the brown sign pointing the way road will be (pretty much) the same.
Along The Brown Sign Way each attraction and facility is equal. Don't you think that's wonderfully refreshing? No-one telling you where to go or fancy artwork to catch your eye and lure you in? I like going to the brown-signed attractions because I want to discover something new, whatever it may be and that's the whole point. Going brown signing is all about you and your experience, not about what anyone else thinks you should see and do. What I'm interested in is inspiring people to get out there, for you to happen upon and experience these diverse and (usually) brilliant destinations which you might not have considered doing before, to talk about them, be part of them and enjoy the passions, great and small, of the people of Britain who want to share their passion with you. It means that the smaller attractions that can't afford impressive adverts and marketing departments get the same look-in as those that do, because they are just as important and interesting too, are they not? Lawnmower museums, hand-made cutlery factories, paperweight centres and gnome gardens are just a few examples of the small yet amazing attractions that are simply not about hardcore advertising, but I'm glad they still get your consideration for a visit along The Brown Sign Way.
After the realisation that it is because all brown tourist signs are made equal and that's why I love them, I decided to make a call to The Highways Agency to enquire about a few massive signs that have been giving me intrusive thoughts, which I'd noticed on the way to The Roald Dahl Museum along the M1 around junction 10. They are basically massive adverts for the train link into London from Luton, they're not written in the Transport typeface and not even remotely abiding to the motorway regulations, so I decided to investigate. If the Highways Agency had allowed this sort of sign then it totally goes against the ethos that every sign should be the same and has potential repercussions for letting advertising into the unsullied nature of The Brown Sign Way. I felt a bit like a nerd and a lot like a massive knob reporting the signs but I was assured that I would, within 15 days, know the who, hows and whys of the non-regulation signs on the M1. Ahhh, how satisfying.
I know I am a huge geek, but really my point is this: brown tourist signs allow you to make the decision about where you go and what you see. You won't be swayed by colourful signs, hilarious tag lines or images to make the children beg and nag you for a visit when you go brown-signing. I like a world that allows people to be themselves and make decisions based on what they want to do, not on someone else's opinion or an advertising man's influence. Getting out there and discovering Britain by happening upon these attractions is fun and spontaneous and all about you. Just another reason to love The Brown Sign Way...