This is what passes for hilarious in tagline land.
The Cleveland Clinic is, by reputation, one of the best medical institutions in the country, even the world, right? So how does such a venerable brand get the tagline so wrong? Here’s theirs:
Every life deserves world class care.
At first blush it seems, perhaps, to be just another hospital tagline. It’s a grand thought, the scope of which is appropriate to the institution. To lay claim to offering world class care seems credible for them.
But if you think about this line for awhile, there are two assumptions, one overtly stated and the other buried, both of which strike me as at least controversial, and, from my perspective, really downright irresponsible.
The overt assumption is simply what the line asserts. Every life deserves world class care. Just what does that mean? The question of what a human being deserves, simply because he/she’s human, is a very, very prickly one. What human beings deserves is a moral judgement, and I have no idea what basis the Cleveland Clinic has for making this judgement on behalf of all humanity. It’s certainly not the case that every life has the right to world class care, since rights are legal entities that must be bestowed upon a citizenry by a particular country’s government. But having a right and being deserving are very different things. I’m sure this notion that every life deserves world class care is grounded in some vague assumption about the sanctity of [human] life. But even something far more modest than world class care, like, for instance, respect, is certainly not something we can all agree every life deserves. Do all those heinous figures that we often invoke in discussions like these, the Hitlers and Stalins and so forth, deserve respect, much less world class care?
Worse than this highly questionable assertion regarding what we all deserve, is the implication that, even if we agree with the tagline itself, that there is some possible scenario in which such a circumstance is achievable. As if it might be possible to someday provide world class care to every person on earth. And, since this is assumed to be possible, it follows that providing this world class care that everyone deserves should be an actual goal to be striven for.
This strikes me as patently insane. As little as I know about the world economy and the cost of world class care, I’m confident that there is no possible way we as a species will ever be able to afford to pay for this level of care for seven billion people—and counting. And even if we could, when you consider what the tradeoffs would be, is that really where we would or should put our priorities?
It’s not just ridiculous to entertain this possibility, it is an unhealthy, deluded way to think about this subject.
If we’re going to entertain to possibility that we can somehow provide world class care to all seven billion of us, simply because, gosh darn it, we deserve it, then why stop there? Doesn’t every life deserve a lot of other stuff too? Like a secure life? Or a cool pair of Nikes? Or to live in a world free of war?
Even if such preposterous statements were true somehow, and we all really do deserve all kinds of good stuff, what is the point of bringing them up? All it does is further distort our already dangerously warped view about the world and our place in it.
Other than that, I love the line.
Don’t you get sick of reading all these posts that pick apart this or that tagline. Surely it gets tiresome, right? Not for me, of course, but that’s because it’s me doing the picking. But it’s such a narrow (focused?) topic.
So, let’s change the subject, shall we? Here’s one I think about quite often: The complex social phenomenon of going to the movies.
I sometimes marvel at how unlikely it is for a couple hundred people, strangers to each other, to gather in a dark, crowded room, and successfully share the collective experience of a movie. Just think about everything going against this scenario.
People are, as a rule, idiots, at least much of the time. Yet, even though people tend to be semi-conscious, thoughtless, attention-deficited, self-involved, rude and easily provoked, somehow a theatre full of them often succeed in sitting quietly for a couple of hours straight. When a few boors get confused and think they’re sitting at home where they can talk loudly throughout the movie, the crowd either somehow tolerates it, or they apply peer pressure in the form of shushing or someone will have the courage to speak to them—”Please be quiet, we’re trying to watch the movie”—usually without further incident. Or, less frequently, some patron will summon management and point out the offender, which usually solves the problem.
Considering the potentially incendiary situation (when they talk about the wisdom of crowds, it’s not these crowds they’re talking about), it’s absolutely amazing that so many people can behave so civilly for so long. You would never experience this kind of civility and respect on, say, a crowded expressway, or at a football game.
I know that the experience I’m describing never happens in certain theatres, especially during certain kinds of movies. But the fact that it ever happens in most theatres, usually happens at the movie theatre I frequent (in Evanston), is a wonder. It’s almost enough to give a person hope for the future of the humans. Almost.
I’ve been hooked on going to the movies for decades, and more so now than ever. I find it almost impossible to watch a DVD at home because that environment is just crawling with distractions that make enjoying the movie uninterrupted impossible. At the movie theater, we’ve all paid a lot of money to be able to watch the movie on a really big screen with a really good sound system and a clear, common understanding that everyone is supposed to be quiet and just enjoy the movie. My odds of being able to enjoy movies are far better in a theatre (at least in the theatre I frequent) than at home. I know that’s not true for many of you, but, hey, I’m talking about me here, and about the more general point that it is kind of a miracle that crowds of humans are actually capable at times of successfully gathering and enjoying a shared experience in this way.
The other thing I wanted to mention is that a few years back I made the decision to approach my movie-going experiences as exercises in tolerance. Like most people, I tend to become less tolerant in many ways over time. There is a certain sense of entitlement that comes with age, as well as a generalized sense of “I’ve had just about enough of this”-ness. It takes a conscious, often concerted effort to transcend these creeping , shrinking inclinations toward intolerance, and actually summon a modicum of tolerance when faced with certain incivilities. The list of incivilities that drive me nuts is quite long. So I decided I really need to make an effort to circumvent my own intolerance when possible, because I know that there are some situations where I simply will not be able to do so. To prevent my brain from caving in on itself from the stresses of intolerance, I must exercise the muscles of tolerance, however puny they may be. Movies are a great place to do this. I have sometimes been able to will myself to enjoy a movie despite the incessant, loudly voiced comments and questions by some thoughtless, clueless old lady (it seems to usually be old ladies).
Of course, leaving the theatre after such an experience, I sometimes find myself calculating the probability of passing federal legislation requiring people to take a movie-going exam to earn a license to attend movies, much like a driver’s license. Because most of these old ladies are simply not qualified to process and comprehend movies. And, again, out of that sinister senior sense of entitlement, they feel perfectly comfortable asking, full-throatedly, questions about what just happened, or what some character said, or else speculating about what’s going to happen next. Or just commenting on how funny or shocking or darling something is.
Let me conclude this diatribe with the sage words of Chairman Jimmy, who once said, (as you who have read my/his book, The Width and Wisdom of Chairman Jimmy, already know), “If the situation is intolerable, don’t tolerate it. Otherwise, shut up.”
StateFarm is so deeply committed to its iconic tagline, which was inducted into the Advertising Week’s Walk of Fame three years ago, that, a couple years back, they dumped it in favor of:
Get to a better State
It’s bad enough that they shamelessly piled on the steaming tagheap of lines that employ that particular play on words, mostly generated by the tourism departments of various States. But recently, I saw a StateFarm print ad (your remember print ads) that compounded the sin. Never mind that the ad was as obvious and derivative as the tagline (using the same format, essentially, as Rolling Stone with their immortal, over-revered “Perception. Reality” campaign, which was then copied by about a million other brands), this ad features the image of some loose change above the first half of the headline, “good state”, then, below that, the image of a wallet full of dollar bills, and the headline, “better state”. Simple, yes. On strategy, no doubt. But, come on.
But wait. There’s more. The tagline isn’t simply Get to a better State, as it is in the TV spots. They just had to go and screw it up even further by adding Get State Farm to the tagline. Then, below all that is the StateFarm logo, huge.
So now they’ve pounded us over the head twice, and twice again. We’ve got that “better state” phrase in the headline and then again in the tagline. And we’ve got StateFarm in the tagline appearing directly above the huge logo. And, of course, we have mentions of State Farm agent AND statefarm.com in the very brief body copy as well. Holy crap. Such Hulk-like finesse.
At a minimum . . . a MINIMUM . . . they could have spared us that Get State Farm part. Removing that phrase would have at least allowed the huge StateFarm logo to serve as the payoff to the tagline, as would make the most sense. And maybe the ad wouldn’t have felt so incredibly insulting, had they omitted the Get StateFarm line. I’m pretty sure EVERYONE already understood what the call to action was, way before getting to those last three words.
When old ad guys bemoan the death of the art of print, it’s this kind of ham-handed mess that they can point to. Clean and simple just isn’t sufficient. It really needs to be smart, interesting and respectful as well.
I’m sure someone out there is still creating good print advertising, but it sure ain’t whoever came up with—and whoever approved—this ad.