Short Sword Slogans

One day not long ago nearly a million people went online to vote for one. A global computer maker recently launched one. And so did a brewery in Wales, a mega-church im Oklahoma, and a soccer club in Australia.

The object of their attentions were slogans. What they launched were these: “Believe or burn”; “Remember, there was a time when you thought you wouldn’t like sex either”; “A Newport blonde goes down better”; and “Go far, keep your secrets close”.

So, who launched which slogan?

“Believe or burn” belongs to the soccer team. The remark about sex comes from the church. The Newport blonde – displayed in an ad as a model in fishnet stockings and hotpants – refers to a beer. And the computer maker encourages the secrecy.

Slogans go by many names: tags, tag lines, end lines and straplines. They serve as indispensable short swords for politicians, corporations and everyone else aiming at the public’s attention. The word, slogan, originally meant a Scottish war cry. Everyday slogans serve as the battle shouts of modern commerce.

Slogan-making leads to compact messaging, active at breaking through the consumer’s usual word associations.

These shortswords are being sharpened to ever-finer edges meant to cut through our normal sense of English.

The American Association of Advertising Agencies’ third year honoring slogans on its Madison Avenue Walk of Fame brought in those near-million votes including two that gained immense popularity. These two were the edgy “Just do it” for athletic shoes and “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk” for safe roads.

But the slogans that consumers seemed to like most were: “Don’t mess with Texas”, for anti-littering; and “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight”, for delivery service.

Advertising slogans began at least as long ago as the 1880’s, when an obscure bottled beverage was relesed under the simple two-word slogan, “Drink Coca-Cola”.

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Coke’s slogan has since morphed into over 150 variations.

Early on it was “For headache and exhaustion”. Then as the 20th Century opened, it became “The favorite drink for ladies when thirsty, weary, and despondent”. A United States under prohibition of alcohol saw it become “The Great National Temperance”, then “It will satisfy you”, and later “Thirst can’t be denied”. Dust-bowl depression provoked the term, “Ice-cold sunshine”. Then as the economy shifted upward, America heard, “Carry a smile back to work”. The Second World War saw “It’s the real thing”. The Vietnam Era brought an expansive “I’d like to buy the world a Coke”. Soon afterward post-war blues were offered “Look up America”, and “Coke adds life”.

A succession of forgettable phrases followed in the 1980’s and 90’s until the vague “Life is Good” appeared in 2001.

Whatever the slogan, one trend is strengthening: its writers are aiming increasingly at emotions and impulsive reactions.

For copywriters, slogans fall into categories. Canadian Alan Sharpe indentified a list of these categories. They include:

Ask a Question, as in Clairol’s “Does she or doesn’t she?”;

Link a Product Feature with an Abstract Need, as in DeBeers’ famous “A diamond is forever”; and

Make a Compelling Promise, as in Federal Express’s “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight”.

Slogans can provide miniature fantasy scripts, triggering our brains to produce mental micro-movies, full of imagery and emotions. A slogan can be created for just about any mood.

For bold seduction, consider Venere Hotel Reservations’ “Sleep with us!”. To generate anxiety-driven hope, try Lenovo Computers’ “New World. New Thinking.”

Looking for homey comfort? Motel 6 generated “We’ll leave the light on for you.” How about helpless fear? LifeCall Emergency Systems used “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”, which echoed in jokes for years. Need to work up some misplaced trust? Try Vicks Cough Syrup’s “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV”.

But time can change the effect of a slogan. The famous vacuum maker may have finally gone over the edge with “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux”.

More from Joseph JK . . .