Passikoff: Brand Slogan Hits … and Misses

I’m thinking nothing is still better than the innuendo-laden Sunglass Hut slogan, “Sitting On Faces Since 2001.”

Great brand slogans are unforgettable – etched in our memories and in our hearts. Which is what emotional engagement is all about.

Cheat on your girlfriend, not your workout.

No, no, that’s not my advice. I’m quoting Reebok. A slogan from one of their campaigns. Veiled or not-so-veiled humor? Maybe. But certainly not as un-funny  or un-PC as Nivea’s “White Is Purity.” Ill-considered, yes, but you have to remember some marketing manager gave it an OKKK to use!

If you read those and thought, “What were they thinking?” you’re not alone! Advertising history is replete with badly conceived slogans. To be fair, most slogans are unremarkable and mostly-harmless, i.e., virtually all soft drink slogans today. Or gibberish like AT&T’s new slogan, “More for your thing. That’s our thing.” Some go for shock value, but slogans like those have very short half-lives. Others, literally become legendary.

Why consider the differences? Well, slogans are devices that can engage consumers. Or become a catchphrase for a brand promise. Or act as a brand’s value-mantra. Given the state of social networking, a catchy slogan can make or break a brand. And today, because consumer decision-making is more emotional than rational, a slogan that can emotionally engage is worth its weight in. . . francium (an element worth a billion dollars a gram, so really, really good ROI!) You probably thought I was going to say “gold.” Not surprising. That slogan was first used in 200 BC by Plautus, a Roman playwright. So legendary andmemorable, the secret to great slogans.

I suppose, longevity is required to become legendary. Particularly slogans. But time matters. Brands don’t stick with slogans that aren’t working. Social networking alerts them to that in nanoseconds. And yeah, there’s always some marketing person or agency that thinks it’s time for a slogan “refresh.” But usually that’s driven more by ego than strategy. Great brand slogans are unforgettable – etched in our memories and in our hearts. Which is what emotional engagement is all about.

At any rate, I conducted some rudimentary research. Sample of one. I asked my youngest son, a Millennial, which brand slogans he thought were most resonant to him. It was an interesting exercise. He’s a really smart kid, who grew up surrounded by an ad agency research director Dad and an art director Mom, so he was exposed to advertising stuff all his life. Professionally, he’s a designer, so I know he pays attention to the marketing world. And he’s tall and really good looking, which has nothing to do with slogans, but he is, and I just thought I’d take the opportunity to mention it. Anyway, he came up with these seven:

  • Just Do It (Nike)
  • What’s In Your Wallet (CapitalOne)
  • Red Bull Gives You Wings (Red Bull)
  • The Ultimate Driving Machine (BMW)
  • You’re In Good Hands (Allstate Insurance)
  • America Runs On Dunkin’ (Dunkin’)
  • I’m Lovin’ It (McDonald’s)

I suppose I could have pumped him for more, but these were top-of-mind for him, and we were having Sunday brunch. And as smart and aware and tall and handsome as he is, there’s just so much brand stuff anyone wants to talk to their Dad about on the weekend.

But I was thinking about it, and mined my own memory. I grew up when TV and modern advertising were in their nascent stages and slogans were a popular way to go. Jingles too, some of which I still occasionally find myself humming*, but that’s for another column. As to slogans, these were the ones top-of-mind for me:

  • The Few. The Proud. The Marines. (USMC)
  • The Breakfast of Champions (Wheaties)
  • We Try Harder (Avis)
  • I Love New York (New York State)
  • Think Small (Volkeswagen)
  • A Diamond Is Forever (De Beers)
  • Good To The Last Drop (Maxwell House Coffee)
  • All The News That’s Fit To Print (New York Times)
  • We Bring Good Things To Life (General Electric)
  • Got Milk? (California Milk Board)
  • They’re Grrreat! (Frosted Flakes)
  • See the USA In Your Chevrolet (Chevrolet)
  • And Away Goes Trouble Down The Drain (Roto-Rooter)*
  • The Quicker Picker Upper (Bounty)
  • Don’t Leave Home Without It (American Express)
  • The Happiest Place On Earth (Disneyland)
  • This Is Your Brain On Drugs (Partnership for a Drug-Free America)
  • Bet Ya’ Can’t Eat Just One (Lays Potato Chips)
  • Where’s The Beef? (Wendy’s)
  • Be All You Can Be (U.S. Army)
  • Finger Lickin’ Good (KFC)
  • 99 and 44/100% Pure (Ivory Soap)
  • Better Ingredients, Better Pizza (Papa John’s)
  • A Little Dab’ll Do Ya (Brylcreem)*
  • Melts In Your Mouth, Not In Your Hands (M&Ms)
  • We Will Sell No Wine Before Its Time (Paul Masson)
  • When It Absolutely, Positively Has To Be There Overnight (FedEx)
  • Can You Hear Me Now? (Verizon)

For what it’s worth, the first one I thought of (like my son) was “Just Do It.” Nike’s been using it for 33 years. Just saying. I’m sure there are a bunch more if I ransacked my memory. In fact, they still keep coming back to me (“With A Name Like Smuckers, It Has To Be Good,” “Is It Real Or Memorex”) but I didn’t want to force things. Or bore you. But I invite any readers to offer up their own nominations to the (totally unofficial) Slogan Hall of Fame.

Great slogans elicit an emotional response. And when I say that I mean a positive emotional response. “Well, duh!” I hear you say. But along with the mediocre and meaningless, some are just bad. They elicit negative emotional responses. You really don’t want to do that. Believe me. You really don’t.

Take Victoria’s Secret. Their slogan, “The Perfect Body,” caused a real consumer uproar. Remember what I said about social networking? The line ignited a social media firestorm, launched a Change.com petition, and raised consumer hackles so high the brand is still trying to recover from it. For now, it’s better safe than sorry. No, that’s not their current slogan, just their current strategy, which is no slogan at all! I’m thinking nothing is still better than the innuendo-laden Sunglass Hut slogan, “Sitting On Faces Since 2001.” That could just be me, but I don’t think so!

So, when it comes to slogans, the best advice I can give you, comes from another brand classic, Apple: Think Different.

The operative word, of course, being “think.”


Robert PassikoffRobert Passikoff is founder and CEO of Brand Keys. He has received several awards for market research innovation including the prestigious Gold Ogilvy Award and is the author of 3 marketing and branding books including the best-seller, Predicting Market Success.  Robert is also a frequent contributor to TheCustomer.

Photo by Karen Lau on Unsplash

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