Beo Poles - An observation towards waterway areas' unique ways of advertisement

Visiting some popular floating markets in southwest waterway regions, tourists easily catch sights of some unique bamboo sticks or poles set up beside the owners’ boats and attached with various local products as a way to advertise the products they are selling.

It’s believed that one of the most outstanding features of selling and buying in waterway areas of Vietnam remains at how the products are promoted; in other words, it is about the ways of advertisement. People sell goods on boats. They would set up a strong pole that is attached with their most remarkable products nearby the boat, so that buyers can be attracted to them. The poles are often set up right in front of the owners’ boats with mainly agricultural products. For instance, if they sell oranges, they would hang the finest oranges they have on the pole, as applied the same to mangoes, bananas, sugar canes, etc. These poles of products are widely known under the name of beo poles.

According to “Dictionary of Local language of Southern Vietnam”, beo is a verb which indicates the act of “displaying, showing”; beo mat means provoking somebody by showing one’s presence; beo hinh beo dang is a disapproving phrase to indicate somebody that behaves in such a way to attract attention (can be understood as show-off). However, beo pole is a related word that describes a unique, intelligent way of visual advertisement. A beo pole can be seen as a substitute for a signboard; because once the signboard is set up either too high or too low, it could be hardly seen and noticed. With a beo pole, buyers are most likely to tell what the products are from even afar the boat. Beo poles made their first appearances with a simple attached principle: Whatever’s shown is is for sale. That is to say, there was no redundant or extra object. However, sellers at floating markets have soon arranged and summarized three exceptional cases.

Here is the first case, there are things that are shown but not for sale. Namely one of them is clothes. It is not that surprising, since to the residents of floating markets, their boats are like their official dwelling places; everything happens in the boats, including eating and doing the washing. After being washed, their clothes are often incidentally hung on beo poles to dry. On the contrary, there are things that are for sale but not shown on beo poles. Most popular of them are snacks and drinks. Instead of being promoted visually, they are advertised following an audial way. Sellers promote snacks and drinks as they sound a horn by hands or using their feet to sound a particular wind instrument (known as ken coc). These horns attract attention of sellers, especially tourists; local people of floating markets have also recognized the sounds of these horns by default as sounds of “snacks and drinks” boats. The final exceptional case is “showing one thing, but selling another thing”, as you can assume “he cries wine and sells vinegar” yet of course without disapproving meaning. There are boats of sellers that do not insist on showing their goods, but to make people identify their boats as “boats of selling, not buying”, they cover the poles with palm tree leaves. This image helps sellers to recognize boats of selling among boats of buying.

It can be probably said that the use of beo poles is a very smart and creative way of advertisement. In water areas, loud noise of boat engines and shouting remain almost all the time which makes it impossible to apply ordinary advertising ways as in mainland areas. Currently, some boats have changed their promoting ways as they have started to use modern led signboards, posters, panels, etc. instead of traditional beo poles. However, the nostalgic image of beo poles is still deeply ingrained in the back of local people’s minds as beo poles represent the unique trading feature and the culture of waterway areas in Vietnam.

  1. Sin Ho Town
  2. Vieng Market in Nam Dinh
  3. Sand Dunes in Mui Ne
  4. Sai Gon's typical refreshing drinks
  5. Bun oc (Snail Noodle Soup) in Sai Gon
  6. Bun rieu cua (vermicelli and sour crab soup) in Sai Gon
  7. Num bo choc fish noodle soup in Sai Gon

Vietnam Tours Blog

Site Links