Sticky slogans.

June 1, 2008

Have you seen the advertising campaign for “The new Chrysler?” Slogan: “If you can dream it, we can build it.”

Sounds like an ad for a California custom shop. But even more importan ]]>

“It’s all inside” is the slogan of a department store. Maybe everything you might want to buy is inside this department store, but who is going to remember this forgettable line?

That’s the slogan of JC Penney, a brand without a clear identity.

If you want an effective long-term rallying cry for your brand, you need a slogan that sticks in the mind.

A sticky slogan can live forever. “Liberté. Égalité. Fraternité.” was the slogan of the French Revolution more than 200 years ago. Yet the slogan still stirs the hearts of freedom-loving people everywhere.

On the other hand, the slogan of the American Revolution, “Don’t tread on me,” is mostly forgotten today.

Even a minor war, like the Spanish-American war of 1898, can generate a memorable slogan. “Remember the Maine.”

And the first world war will always be remember by the unforgettable slogan, “The war to end all war.”

What makes a slogan memorable or sticky? There are four mental “glues” that can help paste your message in the consumer’s mind.

1. Alliteration and rhyme.

Gerry Spence is known as the “best trial lawyer in America.” In 41 years, he never lost a criminal jury trail. According to one source, “He no sooner makes the decision to take on a client then he drafts his closing statement coming up with a catch phrase he repeats throughout the trial.”

“Let us select a phrase, a theme, a slogan that represents the principal point of our argument,” wrote Mr. Spence. “The theme can summarize a story that stands for the ultimate point we want to make.”

In one case, he told the jury the story of a citizen who brought a lion onto his property that somehow escaped and mauled his neighbor. Then he related that story to a case against the Kerr-McGee Corporation which, he claimed, had stored an inherently dangerous substance on its premises.

“If the lion gets away, Kerr-McGee must pay.” And they did.

Which is the same strategy used by Johnnie Cochran in the O.J. Simpson case. “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

Alliteration is also a good strategy for choosing brand names. Some examples: Coca-Cola, Bed Bath & Beyond, Grey Goose, Magic Markers, Chris Craft, Butterball turkeys, California Closets, Dirt Devil.

Combining an alliterative brand name with a slogan that rhymes can be particularly powerful. “Roto Rooter. That’s the name. And away go troubles down the drain.”

Also M&Ms. “Melts in your mouth. Not in your hands.”

And Timex: “Takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin.’”

Lexus also scores with “The passionate pursuit of perfection.” (Years ago, Mercedes-Benz should have pre-empted this idea.)

Then there’s Ace Hardware’s long-time slogan, “Ace is the place with the helpful hardware man.” Because of the gender problem, the slogan was shortened to “The helpful place.”

You know what? “The helpful place” might be shorter and it might communicate the same benefit, but it loses the poetry and memorability of the original “Ace is the place” slogan.

“Don’t squeeze the Charmin” says the same thing as “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin” but it does it without the memorability of the original slogan.

2. Double entendre.

Another effective mental glue is the double entendre. Some examples:

• Nothing runs like a Deere.
• Nothing can stop a Trane.
• When it rains, it pours.
• A diamond is forever. “We must hang together,” Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “or assuredly we will all hang separately.” A political statement that still sticks in many people’s minds.

Perhaps the most effective political slogan ever written was conceived by Saatchi & Saatchi on behalf of the Conservative Party before the 1979 U.K. general election.

“Labour isn’t working,” said the headline of an advertisement that pictured a long winding line of people in front of an unemployment office. (Margaret Thatcher won that election.)

Even brand names can utilize double entendres. Staples, the office superstore, for example. When a word like “Staples” has two different meanings, it activates two separate places in your mind. First you think of one meaning (a U-shaped piece of metal) and then another (everything a business needs.) The vibration between the two meanings helps lock the word into your memory.

Cuba Libre is the name of a mixed drink of rum, Coke and lime juice. It’s also means “Free Cuba.”

For years I have felt that Bacardi, a liquor company that was thrown out of Cuba by Fidel Castro, should be promoting rum & Coke under the banner of “Cuba Libre.” Drink Bacardi rum & Coke and pray for the day Cuba will be free again.

3. Repetition.

Federal Express didn’t get off the ground with the slogan, “When it has to be there overnight.”

Rather, the ad agency Carl Ally added two words to the slogan that made all the difference. “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.”

Even today, you’ll find the words “absolutely, positively” used in media stories about FedEx.

Newcastle Brown Ale is “The one and only.” Not just “The one.”

Of the four mental glues, repetition is the one slogan strategy that is the most underused. I suspect it’s because of the pressure to simplify, simplify, simplify.

4. Reversals.

In literature generally, the most memorable ideas tend to be expressed in polar opposites, or reversals.

“To be, or not to be: that is the question.” Perhaps Shakespeare’s most famous line.

“And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you . . . .” The first half of Jack Kennedy’s most famous line.

Reversals are memorable for the same reason that double entendres are memorable. They vibrate between two meanings, forever embedding the concept in consumers’ minds.

Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .”

T.S. Elliot: “This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.”

Robert Frost: “Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice.”

It was the late Charles Revson who borrowed from Frost and introduced a cosmetic line called “Revlon Fire & Ice,” which became the company’s most successful product line.

Also memorable is the Holiday Inns slogan which ran for quite awhile: “The best surprise is no surprise.” And Reese’s peanut-butter cups: “Two great tastes that taste great together.”

Then there’s Fresh Direct, a company that took Webvan’s concept of home delivery of food and made it work. Fresh Direct’s slogan: “Our food is fresh. Our customers are spoiled.”

You might think these four mental glues are obvious slogan-building strategies and they are. But it’s surprising how few slogans actually use any of these strategies. In my random collection of 266 advertising slogans, I found only 19 that used any of the four strategies. And some of them are silly.

For example, EDS used the slogan “Globalize, informationalize and individualize” since changed to “Expertise. Answers. Results.” (Which still doesn’t have the soul-stirring cadence of “Liberté. Égalité. Fraternité.”)

The pass-along market.

A sticky slogan is only half the battle. If you want your marketing program to be exceptionally effective, your slogan should contain words consumers can use to pass along your brand’s message.

As a general rule, more people are influenced by people than are influenced by advertising and marketing. But to generate “word of mouth,” it’s extremely helpful to put some of these “pass along” words into your sticky slogan.

“The ultimate d riving machine” encourages people to say, “Buy a BMW, it’s a fun car to drive.”

But what is a car buyer to think of the latest Saturn campaign, “Rethink?” Who is going to say to a friend or neighbor, “You should rethink Saturn?”

Even worse is Mazda’s long-running campaign, “Zoom-Zoom.” How can anyone put those words into a sentence directed at adults?

Perhaps the best advertising slogan ever written, in terms of the pass-along market, is McDonald’s slogan, “You deserve a break today.”

“Let’s go to McDonald’s. You deserve a break today.” That’s music in the ears of mothers everywhere.