Hellmann’s’ instructive tagline journey.

I am a consumer of Hellmann’s mayo—and a consumer of their taglines over the years. For a long time, they stayed with Bring out the Hellmann’s and Bring Out the Best. They weren’t phased by Budweiser’s similar Bring Out Your Best tagline. They had a good tagline and they held their ground.

A few years ago, they changed direction, deciding to focus on “real”. They launched an ad campaign anchored by a new tagline, It’s Time For Real. I took them to task back then because I felt this was a vacuous tagline. What were they talking about? In retrospect, my sense is that they must have had research that told them people were looking for “real”, “authentic”, as opposed to “artificial”, which was helping to drive the whole push for eating local, blah blah blah.

Did they think people perceived their competition, especially Miracle Whip, as not real, or less real? Miracle Whip doesn’t claim to be mayo at all, but people find it in the same place on the supermarket shelf as Hellmann’s and other brands of mayo. So was this an attack on Miracle Whip? Or did they just want to emphasize their own pure, simple ingredient story with no artificial stuff?

In the most basic sense, every brand of mayo is equally real, as is Miracle Whip. Real as opposed to what, I wondered? It felt to me like Hellmann’s was just bandwagon-jumping, which struck me as a weak, me-too way to position their product. I never did figure out what they actually meant by It’s Time For Real.

So I was, I don’t want to say thrilled or overjoyed, that overstates it, so let’s say I was very pleased that Hellmann’s recently went in a different direction, signaled by a new campaign with a new tagline.

This new tagline is perhaps smarter than they even realize. Or, if they do realize it, they are being smarter than the average mayo brand.

The tagline is We’re on the Side of Food.

On their website, you can find a manifesto of sorts explaining what they mean by this. They are essentially advocating for food, for taste, for eating because it’s enjoyable, for not overthinking the subject. Something like that. Not a terribly controversial stand to take, but one great thing about this line is that it takes a stand at all and makes an articulateable point, unlike It’s Time For Real. With the latter tagline, I’m going, “uh . . . huh?” With the new tagline, well, who isn’t on the side of food? Right on, Hellmann’s!

What makes the line exceptional is the combination of advocating for a point of view, and expressing some empathy for the consumer in doing so, PLUS working a nice play on words, referencing both the POV-meaning, and the literal fact that their product is actually on food.

As I’ve pointed out forever, finding a good play on words like this is what forces the brain to engage for a moment to sort out the two meanings. When both meanings apply to the product, the benefit, the message, then you have a winning tagline, because it makes the brain smile in recognition of the play.

For evolutionary reasons I’m too lazy and unqualified to go into here, the brain is programmed to derive pleasure from situations like this: “At first, I thought the meaning of this phrase was this, but then I realized it could also mean that”, the brain says. “That tickles.” For more on this phenomenon, I refer you to Inside Jokes: Using humor to reverse-engineer the mind.

But, for me, here’s the best part. It isn’t really even true that the mayo is literally smeared on the side of food. Usually, it’s smeared on the top of food, or the bottom of food, or it’s mixed in with the food. When I try to think of an instance where the mayo is spread on the side of food, I come up empty. So there is yet this additional incongruity or dissonance built into the tagline, which makes it that more pleasing to the brain. That’s the part I’m not sure the Hellmann’s people or their ad agency even realize makes their tagline even stronger. If they do realize it, then double kudos from me.

Speaking of coming up empty, I suddenly have a hankering for a turkey sandwich.

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