UK: Classic forget-me-nots.

UK: Classic forget-me-nots. - A good slogan can inspire you to buy one product rather than another, or prove extremely annoying. Caroline Marshall takes a look at just what it is that makes a classic slogan.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

A good slogan can inspire you to buy one product rather than another, or prove extremely annoying. Caroline Marshall takes a look at just what it is that makes a classic slogan.

Some things are never forgotten. Along with the words to the Lord's prayer and the lyrics to the odd Beatles or Oasis song, one of those things is the memorable slogan. The word 'slogan' was originally used to describe a bloodcurdling Scots battle cry and today, firms and their advertising agencies strive to ensure that their own war cries strike fear into their hearts of their corporate enemies - and spark instant recognition from their customers. The exact words might get a bit garbled but the essentials remain: the advertiser's name, coupled with a positive, preferably highly enthusiastic, feeling about the things they sell.

Anyone can recite advertising slogans. Lots and lots of them. Mention jingles and out they pour. It doesn't matter whether it's the 'Wonder of Woolies', 'Coca-Cola, the real thing' or 'Lipsmackin thirstquenchin acetastin motivatin goodbuzzin cooltalkin highwalkin fastlivin evergivin coolfizzin ... Pepsi'.

Advertisers know that an effective slogan is remembered with no conscious effort. But for all its ability to lodge itself firmly in the head of a consumer, the term slogan itself is a little unfashionable at the moment. Advertising copywriters now prefer grown-up terms like strap-line or end-line. This is because slogans are principally associated in their minds with the unappealing, hard-sell world of mass-market soap powders and other fast-moving consumer goods.

Some, like Tim Delaney, the creative director of the advertising agency Leagas Delaney, and one of the industry's most respected copywriters, do not mourn its passing. '(It) is the quintessence of everything that's bad about advertising,' he says. 'I don't think advertising is about getting things into peoples' brains, that's an old-fashioned idea ... It's a bit like showing a bum in a press ad. It'll make you stop and look, and think "oh yes it's a bum", but it doesn't have any impact.'

However, many others still see plenty of merit in a good slogan, so just what makes a good one? It isn't necessarily sales success, as advertising insiders readily admit that some of the most memorable ones (not those created by their agency, of course, dear me no) achieved little or nothing.

Often there is a simple rhyme - 'Beanz Meanz Heinz' or 'Murray mints, too good to hurry mints'; often language has been deliberately misused - 'Drinka Pinta Milka day'. But perhaps the overriding thing about a good corporate slogan is its popular appeal, an absence of subtlety, the result of understanding what makes people tick, rather than the application of some high-powered marketing strategy. The Egg Marketing Board's 'Go to work on an egg' slogan (produced, incidentally, by the then advertising copywriter, Fay Weldon) was hardly rocket science. Tesco's 'every little helps', for instance, is not the height of intellectual wit and yet, along with other things, it has undoubtedly played its part in toppling the once-mighty Sainsbury dynasty from the UK food retailing throne.

The Independent newspaper also appreciates the value of a good slogan.

It is returning to its advertising roots with 'It's changed. Have you?', a twist on the slogan created by Saatchi & Saatchi for the paper's launch back in 1986. Jeremy Reed, managing director of the paper, believes that: 'The slogan can't be bettered, so we should continue to use it. It reaffirms the position we've always had as independent of voice - our raison d'etre.'

The hallmark mistake that tells us that a firm has a bad slogan has to be the admission of even the tiniest fault or imperfection, a flop which has never been surpassed since the British Rail campaign of 1984 which used the line 'We're getting there'. To a recession-hit BR, it seemed like a good idea. Britain's least favourite organisation had spent the previous five years and a total of £35 million using the agency Allen Brady and Marsh and the ageing DJ Jimmy Saville to try to convince commuters that the '80s were 'The age of the train'.

Beset by an ever-growing mailbag of complaints about overcrowding, lateness and offhand staff, BR became convinced that the way it presented itself to the public, not just its advertising, was in need of a total overhaul.

Its own research, and that of the 14 agencies who were invited to pitch for the account, convinced it that honesty was the best policy. But when BR opted for the slogan 'We're getting there', the media had a field day.

The revelation that BR's legendary rude staff were attending 'charm school' only added to the joke that BR may have thought it was getting there, but its trains certainly weren't. Even the fearsome highland warriors who started the slogan game would have had their doubts about that one.

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