In the days of Black Horse, the signs and posters found in and around taverns and grocery stores generally blended in with their surroundings. Whether informational or promotional, they made sense because they drew attention either to the point of sale or to the product itself. These signs were fairly small, but there were many of them.
The Black Horse posters, printed in colour on cardstock, were framed for hanging in taverns or grocery stores. Most of them featured Percherons at work or in a rural landscape. Occasionally they depicted other scenes, for the most part directly or indirectly evoking the brand emblem. They might show the well-maintained interior of the Dawes stables, for example, or a studio with decision makers contemplating the portrait of a Percheron. These brightly coloured posters were done by several different illustrators.
Dawes Brewery also promoted Black Horse with enamelled signs, typically posted outdoors, and glass signs that hung in business-place windows. Square, rectangular or slightly curved, the painted metal signs were tailored to suit the facades of hotels, taverns and grocery stores and indicate that Black Horse beer was served or sold there. These signs were lettered but rarely illustrated. The lettering and graphic elements, including the oval medallion, were most often in the Black Horse colours: black, green and golden yellow.
Dawes Black Horse also invested in large-format outdoor signage. These signs intruded on their surroundings and owed their impact to the fact that passersby could not avoid seeing them.
In 1920, larger-than-life silhouettes of black Percherons began appearing around the countryside, along the busiest roads. Seven of the massive silhouettes were installed at the U.S.-Canada border to encourage American tourists to ask for Black Horse beer.
The brewery was proud of its large-format advertising. It reproduced the billboards on postcards and calendars, one of which showing a Percheron in a field with a billboard planted behind it. In other words, the company promoted its own advertising, using a reminder of one ad in another ad to attract attention and reinforce the message.
The remains of one large-format Black Horse ad were still visible in 2013 on St. Laurent Boulevard, in Montréal. Mural ads were part of the Black Horse promotional playbook. They were done by itinerant lettering artists who roamed town and country to paint ads on the walls of brick buildings and barns. These “wall dogs,” as they were called, were responsible for developing the typeface, graphic elements and overall composition, and preparing the paint.
Advertising Intrudes and Draws Fire
In 1927, a scathing article appeared in La Clé d’or, Quebec’s first trade magazine for advertisers. The authors decried the outsized Black Horse signage, including the “gigantic, grandiose black horse … that hides an entire village area from view,” charging that the signs “defile the landscape for commercial purposes.” Opposition to billboards is still an issue in some places, such as the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough of Montréal, which adopted an ordinance banning them in 2010.
Advertisers, for their part, value outdoor signage because it pays off handsomely, generating a substantial return on investment. In 2010, with four times less spending than for television, outdoor advertising delivered a marginally greater impact than TV commercials, all products considered. This makes billboards a highly lucrative market. An increasingly mobile population puts their penetration rate among the highest in Canada, where outdoor ads reach 95% of the adult population every week. Contrary to mediums like radio, newspapers and television, which people can choose to listen to, read or watch, billboards are unavoidable. Outdoor signage is aimed at a captive audience.
la_cle_dor_panneaux_publicitaires.pdf: La clé d’or, vol. 11, no. 3, May 1927, p. 69. Source: Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, digital collections
enseignes_geantes_etats-unis.pdf: The Review. Published in the interests of the employees, vol. 11, no. 11, November 1948, The National Breweries Limited, Montréal, P.Q.