Unfreeze! Be creative to get a tough message heard

How do you get your audience to do something they might not want to do? How do you get your message across if it’s not a popular message?

Photo of stop sign w/ sign that says "Rolling stops $109.50"Business owners, CEOs, marketers, parents, governments, and pretty much everyone face this problem. So, how do we solve it?

One answer? Humor — especially when you’re trying to get people to follow rules.

Just ask the Ambler Borough Police Department.

Ambler, a town of about 6,400, gets a ton of transit traffic. Their main street, Butler Avenue, sees at least 10,000 cars a day. Many drivers also cut down side streets to avoid the most heavily trafficked areas.

Many of these drivers have one thing in common. They don’t like to stop for stop signs — either not at all or not for long enough. The result? More accidents happen. Residents complain. They don’t want these cars putting their kids at risk.

What’s a police department to do?

Traffic Safety Officer Robert Calhoun had an idea—signs at the busiest intersections that say “Complete stops free. Rolling stops $109.50. Your choice.

He first saw the signs being used in nearby Plymouth Township and knew they were a terrific approach for his department too. He was right.

Ambler’s signs have been up for about two years, and police have received mostly positive feedback.

Why does this solution work?

  • Humanizes the police department by using a sense of humor.
  • Shows drivers the choice is theirs. The police aren’t there to punish people; they’re there to make towns safer.
  • Responds to residents’ complaints.
  • Creates awareness that lingers.

Officer Calhoun told me he sees a difference. People stop and read the sign. And the message stays with them. Drivers become more aware of stopping at other signs as well.

Making your audience aware of a problem that needs to be fixed is the first step toward finding a solution. These stop signs also make the residents aware the police are taking action.

Why does humor work?

Humor tends to relax people’s defenses. They’re more likely to hear and accept a difficult message.

Obviously, humor isn’t always appropriate. Different problems require different approaches. For example, for layoffs, cutbacks, and mistakes, humor would be insensitive and disastrous. Honesty and sincerity are the way to go.

The point is to think about problems from different perspectives and not limit yourself to one solution:

  • How do you want your audience to respond?
  • What are different ways to get them to respond in the way you want?
  • What has been tried before and didn’t work?
  • What has been tried before and did work?
  • What will your audience be most receptive to?

Ask yourself these questions and more. Ask your team. Ask your audience.

Like all police departments, towns, and businesses, preventing and solving problems all starts with understanding your community.


Special thanks goes out to Officer Robert Calhoun for taking the time to talk with me. He couldn’t have been nicer. I’d like to have his police department in my neighborhood. Merci beaucoup to Stephanie Eubanks who sent me a new header photo, which is now in place.


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