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DANiEL WiLLiS, blog


By Don Fraser, QMI Agency

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Dan Willis has found a way to point his business in the right direction.

His odyssey began last year, with a simple sign advertising his Welland Ave. home business Publicita Online Marketing.

Alas, his property at Welland Ave. near George St. is zoned residential.

A complaint to the City of St. Catharines forced him to take down his sign, which was in breach of a city bylaw.

In his first attempt to beat the system, he generated a buzz with some curious handwritten signs that popped up on the lawn from time to time.

“I am a bad sign,” and “long-haired freaky people need not apply,” were among the messages.

With that cheeky ingenuity in mind, in July, Willis took a step further and replaced it with a nine-foot Google pin he’d built himself.


Dan Willis beside his "work of art" that is a representation of a Google pin and is outside his home office on Welland Ave. in St. Catharines.The hook — his Google address for Publicita is registered as “Avenue House L2R2N2” and that generates a pin to his home business.


“I am an online marketing person,” explained the energetic 53-year-old whose business is online at

“That’s what gave me the idea of the pin in the first place — I don’t need a physical address,” Willis said.

“And I don’t need a house number, I work in the virtual world,” he said. “So this is a work-around.”

Next thing you know, a photo of it went viral on the social media site — the sign "my friend's dad has a Google pin in his yard" now has at least 400,000 views through viral image website To visit the post, visit

Willis calls his stylized “P” pin a “work of art” that has also been merged into his new company logo: “It’s a manifestation of a virtual icon made real,” he said.

“I loved that it’s received that kind of notoriety,” Willis adds. “And I loved that on Facebook I see people posting ‘what’s with the Google pin on Welland Ave?’ … it’s driving me crazy, does anybody know?’” Willis said with a laugh.

“In marketing, that’s how you get them,” he said. “You put a question mark there, and when they solve it, they win.”

“Their curiosity is satisfied (I get new business) and I win.”

So far, he said, no complaints.

“Not a peep.”

Avenue House. The sign isn’t up yet but my house has a name.

I was concerned that some people might find the idea of giving a house a name either somewhat odd or slightly pompous. Odd if you don’t know me, pompous if you do. Even though I knew others would like the unique sound of it, would adopt it and then would make me happy when they used it in second-person, declarative sentences - naming the house wasn’t about me.

It has to do with the restorative quality of names, with the relationship names have with the things themselves. It is as though a name creates an aura that demands acknowledgement, animating the thing. It’s about tackling our first renovation in this century home and making it our own and wanting to complete the creation by giving our house a name. Naming a house has a romantic appeal.

Ours is the first of a block and a half of homes built in succession about 100 years ago, all with similar architecture but of divergent sizes. Ours is not the biggest of the porch-bedazzled, shrubbery-ensconced dwellings, but will be counted among the rest once I figure out a way to clean the soot from the neighborhood-matching red brick. I hope the “Avenue House” plaque I put up on the outside wall will advertise a kind of “Golden Mile” of beautifully restored homes. I hope it encourages people to look up a bit as they pass through.

Numbers are so impersonal. The best houses always have a name, it sets them apart. The Americans understand the importance of naming a house, like Fallingwater, Graceland, Monticello and Neverland Ranch. Close to home, Green Gables, Willowbank, Rodman Hall, White House of Rock. Not that I am comparing my abode (or skills) to Frank Lloyd Wright, but on our busy street it will become a landmark.

Buildings often have names based on business needs - sometimes named with the purpose of the building, sometimes named after the company that leases it. There are commercial buildings all around, but I wanted to bring some charm back to the neighborhood.

Will making our house stand out by naming it and labeling it increase the market value? Yes, but that means little, if the name was bestowed for base reasons alone. The house will be standing long after I am gone, kind of like my offspring. In our new home I feel like a guardian rather than an owner.

How you name your business is crucial, why you give anything a name is important.

See the News Coverage Here

Guest Blog By Citizen Barron

For a new business start-up, hanging a sign shows you are open for business. And unless you are underground or avoiding a spotlight, you are almost certain to hang a shingle.

Publicita’s location is advantageous for being in the spotlight: a busy downtown street between two major intersections. A sign to let everyone know something is going on at the house with the well-tended yard was a rational business decision.

Publicita designed the graphics and had the great people at One-Hour Sign produce it.

Duly hung, on its custom built frame. Publicita was certain that over time its name would precede it by virtue of the sign.

Within weeks the sign was tagged as a breach of city by-law ordinances and publicita was told it had to come down. Since the city has a policy of only acting on complaints, Publicita realized that on top of a sign problem, it had a tattle-tale problem.

But there’s more to this story than a sad ending where the little guy’s dreams are crushed by bureaucracy and disgruntled neighbours.

The disarming of the business sign called for some sort of alternative action. When a small business spends $100.00 erecting a sign post the expense cannot simply be wasted. So resplendent in sheets of white foam core and a black sharpie paint stick markings, the sign post now hosts self-referencing and pithy quotes to attract the attention of passers-by.

The inaugural anti-sign, sign read “Where is my sign?” shortly followed by “I am a Bad Sign” and recently if you passed by you would have read, “There’s nothing to see here, please move along.”

When asked, Publicita owner Dan Willis says that, “There is always an option for a work around. In this case the city ordinances have not kept up with technology. They say that I cannot put up so much as a squiggle to indicate there is a business going on at the house. These signs in the real world have no association with my business, but online, that is a different story.”

It’s ironic the removal of the sign would become Publicita’s first social media campaign, and more importantly, it caused Publicita’s social media stats to spike. “I would love to see the complaint that suggests “LONG HAIRED FREAKY PEOPLE NEED NOT APPLY” is somehow not parody and therefore protected language, Willis says.

The sign postings have become a source of neighbourhood interest. Traffic slows and people point and stare. Some people even stop to loudly sing when picking up on the Five Man Electrical Band’s, “Sign, sign everywhere a sign” reference.

Online, Willis crowd-sources for ideas, upping the social engagement and providing not only a creative outlet for his followers, but also provides content for his business. You see, Willis’ business is Online Marketing and where the “real-world” bricks and mortar sign failed, the legacy of the wry virtual sign prevails. In the online world, content is King, Queen and if you are smart, Jester, Willis says.

That certainly wouldn’t have been the case had the business sign remained intact.

What would you write on PUBLICITAs sign given the chance? Please put your comments in the space below.


Make your own virtual PUBLICITA Sign

and email it to me, for inclusion!!!

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