Outdoors, Black Horse advertising took various forms: the giant illuminated sign, huge billboards and larger-than-life wooden Percheron silhouettes, as well as painted or enamelled metal signs outside business premises. Its purpose was to draw attention to the brand or to the place where Black Horse was sold. The billboards were always erected in busy locations, near thoroughfares where they would be seen by the most potential customers.

The indoor signage included glass signs and tavern and grocery store posters. The illustrated paper or cardboard posters were made for hanging in establishments selling Black Horse beer. Prominently displayed and conveying the brand name and logo or the corporate image, they were designed to induce customers to order the product.

Over the years when Black Horse beer was sold, various advertising signage regulations were introduced. For example, in the early 1900s, in order to limit outdoor advertising, mural painters were obliged to pay $25 for an annual license. And posting was prohibited in places such as doors, gates, private fences, telephone and electric poles and public buildings. In 1928, a permit was required to put up an outdoor sign and the sign had to be at least seven feet from the ground. In the 1940s, there were restrictions on illuminated signs: merchants were allowed to leave them on only until 11:00 p.m., from Monday to Saturday.

The Giant Sign on St. Maurice Street

On July 25, 1930, at 9:30 p.m., a Percheron standing 26.5 metres high by 55 metres wide illuminated the Montréal skyline. Made by Claude Neon General Advertising, the giant sign was erected on the roof of the Dawes Black Horse plant on St. Maurice Street. National Breweries announced that construction of the letters and horse had required “17,664 feet of galvanized iron, weighing nearly 13 tons, more than 20,000 bolts and 19,500 feet of electrical wiring powered by 182 500-volt transformers.” The words “Black” and “Horse” were 3.5 metres tall. The company declared the illuminated sign the largest of its kind in the world.

Twenty years later, the colossal sign was described as a point of reference for tourists and a shining beacon of welcome for ships arriving in the port. Over time, changes were made to the sign’s wording. It was probably around 1938, when the brewery was renamed Dawes Black Horse, that “Bière Black Horse Ale” was replaced by “Brasserie Black Horse Brewery.”

The Black Horse neon sign was one of the first to light the Montréal sky, and it inspired other large-scale advertising. In 1948, the similarly sized Five Roses sign went up on the flour mill roof, in the port. In the early 1950s, Molson installed its enormous octagonal clock high up on the brewery.

Effective Messaging

Today, a successful poster or sign:

  • attracts attention (may be funny or surprising)
  • conveys a single idea
  • targets one market at a time
  • highlights the brand and logo
  • may drive consumer interaction

It must also have aesthetic appeal:

  • strong image (illustration, photograph or other)
  • clear, legible typeface and simple graphic elements
  • contrasting colours
  • balanced composition, with title and image filling 2/3 of the space

More broadly, the effectiveness of an advertising or communication campaign depends on a blanketed approach that promotes the product across a variety of ads, posters and other mediums.