Tuesday, July 17, 2012


    What makes a slogan great? (Alex Adrian, Diary of an Atomic Man; you know the drill.) What is it that, simply put, causes a slogan to "stick" in our brains, causing us to remember it? And what causes one to become embedded in popular culture--essentially, mooring it in the cultural consciousness for all eternity? And are they all improved by the addition of the word "bitch"? Answers (sort of, and possibly with the exclusion of the "bitch" thing) to come in this week's exciting[1] installment of...The Diary of an Atomic Man!

    I must confess to some slight deception in the above paragraph, for while this is partly a look at the topics mentioned above, but mostly a sort of free-form, jazz-like--perhaps even improvisational...reflection, I guess you could call it...about them. Anyway, on with the show...

    Due to a minor case of writers' block, and because it has the most examples--that stick in my mind, at any rate--I'll start with Coca-Cola, the largest and most successful soft drink in the world. And it didn't get that way cos of any marketing gimmicks, no siree![2] No, indeed it did not--it's the slogans that stick, along with the distinctive bottle shape and logo design, which are out of this post's purview. Think about it: "The pause that refreshes"--one of the longest-sticking-around slogans, dating to 1929; "It's the real thing"--somewhat younger, but even stickier; "Enjoy Coca-Cola" or "Drink Coca-Cola"--a simple command, but everyone remembers it: the latter dates from the drink's creation, 1886; "How about a Coke?" dates from the Second World War and is simplicity itself.[3] 

    Or how about car companies...? While examples of single auto-makers and marques having multiple shifting slogans and said slogans sticking are thin on the ground--companies in this field are more likely to either pick one iconic slogan and stick with it or shift through slogans but only have one remembered; unlike soft drinks, a car is a Commitment, something you want to have around in ten or fifteen years, not something purchased for sixty-five cents and then casually tossed out--but the Ford Motor Company is a major exception, having not one, not two, but three--count 'em, three--major slogans in rotation at any one time. Lessee...there's "Built FORD Tough", a classic, though I'm not entirely sure as to whether or not it's for the line of trucks alone or not; in any case, it's what I always remember it as being for. Then, there's "Have you driven a Ford lately?"--a question, simple, clean, and elegant. Perhaps the simplest yet--and a canny restaging of the preceding, in my opinion--is this command:"Ford. Drive one." It's brief, blunt, and to the point: there's no circumlocution, no "You see, this car is superior cos...", no bull, just "Drive our cars."
    Other car-makers, however, lack the plethorae of slogans that Ford offers us--but what they lack in quantity, they make up for in lastingness. "Love. It's what makes a Subaru, a Subaru"--a good one, as it associates something everyone is theoretically in favor of--love--with the superior quality of Subaru's cars. "It's not oil. It's liquid engineering"--the sort of thing that absolutely demands to be said in a thick Germanic accent: "Leek-veed ehnchenheerink". Chrysler is another special case; while it's famous under the slogan "another fine Chrysler product", it recently shifted to "Imported from Detroit", which is factually questionable, as most of the parts aren't even made in America, let alone Detroit; however, in that it appeals to American patriotism, it's rather good–look at what we used to be, it seems to be saying, and look what we can be. Or, to put it a bit more bluntly, and on a slightly sillier note:"'MURRICKA!"
     Saturn (GM's hip, with-it, youth-orientated marque–and if you're wondering why a car company would need such a thing, you're not a GM marketing executive) is, from this point, something of an outlier as it had during its twenty-odd years of existence a multitude of slogans, including "Rethink."(yes, that's the actual spelling and punctuation; it started out as "Rethink American.", which not only sounds rather odd and disturbing to me–Why should GM, a car company, tell me how to define my national self-identity? I mean, I'm familiar with the expression, "What's good for General Motors is good for America", but even so–but is also a nice example of the car companies=AMERICA! trope I've noticed); most before this final one, though, focussed on the oh-we're-so-innovative-and-completely-different from-other-car-companies angle, with, in chronological order:"What kind of car is that? It's a Saturn[Oh, I thought it was a Ford]!" being used for the first year of its existence; from 1989-1994 "A different kind of car company." (US–and how is this company different from other car companies? In what ways do the cars differ? Do they run on unicorn-power and have rainbow exhaust fumes that don't pollute? Cite your sources! Show your work on a separate piece of paper!) and "We've reinvented the automobile" (Canada–And if anything, this is even more idiotic than the American slogan. You've reinvented the auto, eh? What aboot it? It looks like any other auto to me; it still has an internal-combustion engine, four wheels, and an interior. Plastic body-panels do not a reinvention of the automobile make! Anyway…); from 1994-2007 they abandoned the idea of separate American and Canadian slogans altogether, using "A different kind of company,a different kind of car" for both markets, a trend that would continue until 2007 with the use of "It's different in a Saturn(HOW!?2002-'04)", "People First(I have nothing to say to that; '04-'06)", "Like always. Like never before(How's that humanly possible? '06-'07 US; '06-?? Canada)", and the above-mentioned "Reinvent." This last would prove to be Saturn's final slogan, as the marque was shuttered, along with Pontiac and Hummer, in the Great General Motors Reorganization of 2010.

    I recognize that automobiles are not essential for continued human existence, Twenty-First Century American culture and urban design notwithstanding. Food, however, is, and not everyone can hunt or grow their own. On account of this fact an industry devoted to the sale, manufacture, and marketing of food has arisen. Okay, statement of the perfectly, blitheringly obvious over. Now, the slogans. Weirdly popular is "Good things come to those who wait", which has been used by both Heinz and Guinness at various times and in many other contexts by many people. Fast food restaurants are famed for having memorable slogans: "Have it your way", "I'm lovin' it", "Where's the beef?", to name just a few. Arby's, having long been an underdog of sorts in the Fast-Food Wars[4], have recently upped the game; whilst they retain their traditional roast-beef and comfort food menu, they've rolled out the slogan (sung, of all things):"It's Good Mood Food". What does that even mean? Is it an equation of Arby's food with good feelings? Does Arby's contain special endorphins guaranteed to cheer you up? If I feel sad or depressed whilst eating Arby's, can I sue the company for false advertising? All in all, it's a pretty stupid slogan. Wendy's "Where's the beef?" has had considerably more cultural impact–indeed, it could be called a meme–owing to, among other things, its use during the 1984 presidential campaign–in context, questioning Gary Hart's qualifications–though it didn't help Democratic candidate Walter Mondale, who ended up losing to Ronald Reagan by the largest margin since Franklin Roosevelt beat Alf Landon in 1936; Wendy's resurrected the slogan–sort of–in 2011, answering its own question with "Here's the beef". In the intervening years the slogan has become a catchphrase in the United States and Canada, carrying with it a connotation of "There's something fishy, here; what gives, Mac?"
     On the subject of beef, I suppose I ought to mention a certain very famous beef slogan, the American Beef Council's "Beef. It's what's for dinner."(You don't know that–I could very well be having chicken, or fish, or a green salad.) Taco Bell's "Think outside the bun" is…odd; Mexican food is one of the most popular varieties of restaurant food in America today (for which I've no doubt Taco Bell would take the lion's share of the credit), and tortillas, tortilla chips, taco shells, salsa, refried beans, and other Mexican staples are stocked on supermarket shelves alongside ground beef, chutney, and cream of tomato soup. This has happened for a number of reasons; firstly, because of the many Mexican and Central American immigrants who have came to the United States in search of economic opportunities and a better life for themselves and their children and grandchildren[5];secondly, because it is delicious, filling, and easy to prepare;and thirdly–though this last be going out on a limb–because of the increasingly broad and sophisticated taste of the American consumer. I can see, though, why Taco Bell would go out on a limb to advertise its menu; though I cannot claim to understand or speak for the average American consumer–indeed am probably not "the average American consumer", as marketing companies and pollsters and Gallup have defined him–I can see why a fellow, wanting cheap sustenance, but unsure of whether to go with Burger King, McDonalds, KFC, or Taco Bell, would hesitate over the latter choice. After all, that's Mexican food; Uncle Gary was once laid up for three weeks after eating some chili de la Dios in Guadalajara[6]! I guess (he thinks) I could give it try; once never hurt anyone, and Grandma always said it never hurt to try something new…

    Now, to broadcasting. Since the turn of the last century, broadcast media has metamorphosed from a tiny group of crackpots with crystal radios into the largest industry, hands-down, in the United States. To this author at this time, however, the circumstances under which this rise to dominance occurred are immaterial; only one thing, here and now, matters, and that's the slogans that networks have employed over the years. "This–is CNN, Cable News Network", while it can't possibly be the only reason for the cable network's success, must surely have factored in it to some degree, owing to (a) its simplicity–CNN's not trying to be cutesy, coy, or humorous about its existence; it's just telling you who and what it is; and (b) the fact that the announcer is James Earl Jones. This last may be as or more important than the first, as, well–it's James Earl bloody Jones. You know, Darth Vader? Mustafa? The owner of, without a doubt, the richest, most melodious voice in America–nay, the world–today? If Jones's baritone proclamation that This. Is. CNN! isn't reason number one for its success, it's certainly in the top ten.  
 Other networks, of course, have slogans, memorable ones, though the "this is___" format is among the commonest; what this is caused by–uncreativity, laziness, a desire to reiterate what the viewer is reading in the lower left-hand corner of the screen–is beyond me. Take, for instance, the USA Network's "Characters welcome". USA has been one of the pioneers in the cable TV revolution of the last decade, along with AMC and HBO; the slogan has (I think, and I've not checked with anyone at USA for confirmation of this) a double meaning, referring to both the character-driven dramas with which the network made its name, and "character" in the sense of someone eccentric, unusual, or memorable. Again, that's only a theory, and a half-baked one at that, but I'd not be surprised if it's true. A&E, the Arts and Entertainment People Yelling at One Another for teh Dramaz with Occasional Biography Specials Network, reflects its priorities with "Real Life. Drama." Yes, A&E; we get that you're all about the drama, now give us something other than reality TV7! Speaking of reality-TV cable schlockmeisters, who says "I want my MTV" anymore, except for lunatics who suddenly start spouting TV catchphrases during breakdowns and time-travellers from the 1980s (two groups which, admittedly, have very little else in common)? For most of the past decade, it's not shown any music videos whatsoever, relying, instead, on so-called "reality" shows of varying but oftentimes low quality, Jersey Shore the show that must under no circumstances be named starring annoying orange people and that defames the good names ( let's not joke) of both Italian-Americans and residents of New Jersey. (The Garden State itself, of course, has done little to improve its reputation as the armpit of the nation, as the primary things the state was known for before The Unspeakable premiered were: (a) being the state near New York that wasn't New York; (b) Mafia; (c) industrial parks; and (d) interstate highways. Maybe, maybe, you knew that Frank Sinatra was from Hoboken; maybe not. Oh, and Princeton. Anyway…)

…And All the Rest!

    The following paragraphs are my flailing, desperate attempts to cover everything I didn't get to above. First, for no discernable reason, one company–Ivory Soap. The story of how Ivory obtained its trademark buoyancy–of how a worker one day overmixed the soap/air ratio, causing the resultant product to float, and how this was an unexpected, rip-roaring success–are well-known enough that I feel no need to repeat them, here; it is, of course, that same property which inspired the slogan "99 and 44/100 Pure–it Floats", in a canny example of changing an apparent flaw into a product's main selling point.
    If one thing has completely and utterly altered life, art, commerce–anything you can think of, really–over the past twenty-some years, it would have to be the Internet. From a bunch of geeks in universities to the biggest thing ever, it now permeates every facet of our life. Now, the slogans. Apple Computer, though it's never had a majority market-share–its representation in the movies and on TV notwithstanding–has nonetheless made one of the most memorable commercial campaigns in the Twentieth Century, with "Think Different"–O dangling, ungrammatical, lopped-off adverb!–accompanied by a picture of Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and cetera. Wikipedia has called itself "the free encyclopedia" for years–its entire existence, in fact.
    Insurance companies have been at war with each other over which one of them is best at keeping the cars, loved ones, and assets of Johnny and Jane Yank from fire, theft, and other disasters. In this war, they have deployed various slogans–long-lasting ones, memorable ones–to advance their products. "Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there", has managed to last for decades, though when it was introduced, I've no clue. Of course, there's no need to mention GEICO and "fifteen minutes could save you fifteen percent or less on car insurance"; while the claim that switching to GEICO is "so easy a caveman could do it" (cue image of an urbane, well-dressed caveman enjoying the life of a hip bachelor) has been and gone–however, it became a mercifully short-lived national craze, inspiring a mercifully short-lived ABC sitcom–it's been replaced by two concurrently running campaigns alongside the longer-running Gecko adverts: Firstly, a stack of dollar bills with googly eyes (representing, apparently, "the money you saved by switching to GEICO), and secondly, a smooth-voiced chap who asks, "could switching to GEICO really save you 15% or more on car insurance?" then presenting a rather odd rhetorical question–along the lines of  "Is the Pope Catholic?" but much weirder. Allstate, meanwhile, has eschewed the silliness that is GEICO's stock-in-trade, presenting a baritone-voiced black man talking about, amongst other things, why it's a bad idea to allow teenagers to drive unsupervised (teens' brains aren't fully developed, and won't be until they turn twenty-four); the spots invariably end with "That's Allstate's stand. Are you in good hands?" Farmers Insurance has the inexplicable "We are Farmers–Bumbumpabumpabum"; what does that mean? Are they trying to say that they're farmers, that their employees spend their time that's not spent selling insurance tilling the soil? Alternatively, are they trying to state that their identity comprises solidarity with the workingman, the farmer, and the farmhand?  The mind boggles as to the possibilities.


    I could go on. However, this post is beginning to get a bit long, and I will clearly need to revisit this subject. I have begun to realize that a product does not get sold on slogan alone, that it takes a combination of a clever ad concept, memorable campaign7, and also a slogan, as a part of the other two, to sell a product. Whether you're selling soap, jeans, soda, or cars, the rules–in broad strokes, at least–are the same.

I dreamt  I wrote this post in my Maidenform bra (not really ;)}
--Alex Adrian, twilight hours of 7/16/'12 and 7/17/'12
1. Yeah, right.
2. Indeed, whenever Coke introduced marketing gimmicks, the results have oft been abject failures. Besides the New Coke fiasco–next post, I'll get to that–as Bill Bryson relates in his fantastic Made in America, the company apparently once rolled out Coke flavored cigars.
3. I have absolutely no idea what this footnote is for. I'm serious.
4. You joke about this, but it really happened. Mayor McCheese's heroic last stand before the Burgerian Royal Army, Ronald McDonald and the Burger King in single combat, Wendy tussling with the Hamburglar–Death to McDonald! Find McNinja–he'll help us! We must never forget.
5. I find it ironic that many of the talking heads, politicians, and pundits now expressing anti-immigrant sentiment are the descendents of immigrants–from Europe, yes, but still immigrants–and they presumably came to the States for much the same reasons undocumented immigrants now head north. In conclusion, this is why you should support the DREAM Act of 2010.
6. The story of Gary Smith, who, after eating the Chili de los Dios in Guadalajara, developed severe diarrhea and was rushed to a hospital, whereupon he spent over three weeks confined to bed rest and an additional five weeks with a severe burning sensation in his mouth, is, while an interesting one, a story for another day.
7. However, this can be an two-edged sword; if a campaign is sufficiently memorable, the product that it was selling can be forgotten altogether, with no increase in sales.


  1. What if you ate a jawbreaker and it didn't break your jaw? Could you sue?

    1. I never gave it much thought. If you can, why do they still make the blasted things? I mean, for every three lawsuits alleging that a jawbreaker actually broke your kid's jaw, you'd get a hundred and twenty-seven on false-advertising grounds saying that a jawbreaker didn't break your jaw...