Last January, a major food company launched a $40 million advertising campaign with the theme, “It’s what your family deserves.”

Forty million dollars later, do you have any idea what

brand your family deserves? Do you suppose anyone, outside of the client and its agency, knows “what brand your family deserves?”

Unlikely. So, too, it is with much advertising. It’s all hammer and no nail. It’s all thunder and lightning and no rain. Why spend $40 million on an advertising program and not leave an idea in the prospect’s mind?

The brand your family deserves is Tyson, but it could have been one of hundreds of other brands that get promoted with the same kind of insipid advertising slogans. Some examples:

• Avaya: Communication without boundaries.

• Aventis: Our challenge is life.

• Canon: Know how.

• Cigna: A business of caring.

• Delta: On top of the world.

• Hitachi: Inspire the Next.

• Nissan: Enjoy the ride.

Presumably many of these advertising programs (and thousands of others) are motivated by the thought that the message itself will inspire “warm and fuzzy feelings” towards the advertiser. Perhaps, but our research shows that unless a prospect can verbalize the concept of a brand, the brand’s advertising dollars are mostly wasted.

Of course, you don’t need the prospect to “playback” your slogan. What you do need is for the prospect to articulate his or her concept of the brand. Volvo is a safe car. BMS is a car that’s fun to drive. Mercedes-Benz is a prestige car. If the advertising reinforces the brand’s key concept, then the advertising is likely to be successful whether or not it contains a memorable advertising slogan.

What’s a Tyson? A brand my family deserves? People don’t talk that way. People don’t think that way.

What makes a brand successful anyway? It’s usually because the brand was first in a new category.

• Coca-Cola, the first cola.

• Gatorade, the first sports drink.

• PowerBar, the first energy bar.

• Red Bull, the first energy drink.

As soon as a brand becomes successful, its owner usually quickly forgets what made the brand successful in the first place. And off they go into the land of warm and fuzzy advertising slogans.

It’s true that some warm and fuzzy advertising slogans do get some degree of recognition, usually due to years of repetition and millions, if not billions, of advertising dollars. “Just do it” for Nike is a typical example.

Before you take the Nike route, keep in mind that the company spent an estimated $623 million on advertising in 2002 and has been spending similar amounts of money each year for several decades. If you are prepared for put up that kind of dough, you may just have a chance of putting a meaningless advertising slogan into prospects’ minds.

Most companies can’t afford to follow the Nike route. Most companies need to make their marketing dollars work much harder than that.

With limited resources, a good route to follow is the leadership route. Is your brand the leader in its category? If so, you should reinforce your leadership with an advertising campaign that does two things: (1) Tells prospects your brand is the leader, and (2) Tells prospects why your brand is the leader.

If you can do both in three or four words, you have a powerful advertising slogan that can last forever.

• “The real thing” for Coca-Cola.

• “Where winners rent” for Hertz.

• “Italy’s No. 1 pasta” for Barilla.

Do you suppose Barilla would have become the No. 1 pasta in America if the brand were introduced with the slogan, “It’s what your family deserves?”