Tagline Jim Posts

The advertising world is letting me down these days.

I’m having a harder and harder time finding new taglines that merit evisceration or praise or comment of any kind, because most of the are so dang boring. Thus, I’m not posting on this blog as often as I would like.

Therefore, I’m going to try goosing my posting pace by branching out into posts about advertising and advertising agencies. Some of these posts will draw on my agency experience during the 38 years I’ve been in the business.

Some will feature examples of speaking truth to power, which is something I apparently have done on occasion, especially during my time as a full time copywriter at agencies like DDB, FCB and the agency now known as Havas, which was called TLK when I worked there.

As seems to be the case with all large companies and other organizations, while the primary work of an ad agency is interesting, fulfilling at times and even fun, all of the bureaucratic, administrative, political and process-y crap that the workers are mired in can be infuriating. I’ve spent my fair share of time railing against many of the Agents of Stupidity that infest the halls of all large agencies. So I’ll be looking back at some of the ways in which I made a stink back in the day. It could be fun. Or horrifying. Or both. . I can hardly wait.

The Tide Campaign: The exception that proves the Superbowl Ad Myth.

I’m not sure just what year it was when somehow the collective perception of Superbowl advertising shifted, and suddenly it became seen as a showcase for the best advertising that ad agencies and their clients could come up with, damn the expense.

Because the Super Bowl draws such a big audience, running a spot during this annual event is expensive. That’s always been true. But paying a lot to run an ad doesn’t guarantee that the ad being run will be “good” in some sense. I can’t recall a Superbowl over the past three decades where this has NOT been painfully apparent.There is no relationship between expensive and good.

In my often admittedly revisionist recollection of things, I seem to remember one exceptional year, possibly 2000, at the height of the dotcom bubble, when there were several up’n’coming brands, new to the Superbowl game, with smaller, more creatively driven ad agencies behind them, who ran some truly wacky, often wildly entertaining ads, though not necessarily effective ads. (For one thing, it was often very hard to remember which brand just sponsored that ad, even right after having seen it.)It seems to me that this was the year when the myth of great Super Bowl advertising was crystallized.

Check out my guest post on Rita Dragonette’s blog. Nothing about taglines, I promise.

I wanted to mention to anyone interested that I recently had a guest post on Rita Dragonette’s website. Rita and I both attended NIU during the era of Vietnam War protests and mind-blowing music.Rita has written a provocative book about those raucous years. We didn’t know each other then, but connected a decade ago through a mutual friend.

The guest blog post is a reflection on the question of whether the work of artists, politicians and other people of accomplishment should be judged through the lens of the person’s character, or whether these works should be judged independent of the actions and beliefs of the person who produced them.

While I wander off the topic of taglines in this space, the article felt a little too far afield,so I’m pleased that it found a home on Rita’s website.

Is my claim to have coined the term H2H a function of my hubris, ego, narcissism, solipsism, what?

H2H. Have you heard or seen that term? It’s out there, and in several contexts. I’ve seen it stand for Healing to Healing, House to House, Heart to Heart, Human to Human. It may well stand for other relationships as well.

It’s the “Human to Human” meaning that means something to me. In my naïve way, I remain convinced that it was I who originally coined the term “H2H” as a concept to be contrasted with B2B (business to business) and B2C (business to consumer) advertising.

Back in 2005. I wrote an essay introducing this new concept. I included this article with one of my quarterly “meletter” mailings, sent to a select group of 200 or so people of influence in the advertising industry.

The essay explained why we need to think in terms of “human to human”, especially when trying to communicate with a business audience. “H2H” was my way of responding to ad agencies’ general tendency to treat advertising aimed at business audiences as fundamentally different from advertising aimed at consumers.

Shame on Walgreens.

At The Corner of Healthy and Happy.

Not the greatest tagline in the world, but at least it was about the brand’s differessence. This tagline didn’t just promise healthy and happy, it also alluded to what might be its biggest benefit—it seems like they have stores on every corner.

Alas, Walgreens, feeling the competitive heat from not just CVS and WalMart, etc., but from Amazon’s encroachment into the pharmacy sector, has dumped their friendly tagline for a defensive and incredibly ill-conceived one:

Trusted since 1901.

With this new tagline, they’ve managed to commit two cardinal tagline sins in three words. That is some efficient bungling.

First of all, there’s the problem with telling the world you’re trusted. Trust is something that can only be earned. It can’t be engendered by taking the word of the person saying, “Trust me.” In fact, if Walgreens feels like they have to invoke the word, “Trusted”, it smacks of protesting too much, raising the question of trust rather than providing a reassurance.

I Swear, Quaker State Breaks New Tagline Ground.

Kudos to JWT Atlanta and their client, Quaker State, for having the courage to embrace a pioneering tagline:

Just Damn Good Oil.

As far as I know, this is the first tagline, at least for a national brand, that has employed a genuine swear word. I grand that “damn” isn’t much of a swear word, but hey, it’s a start. And if there’s a tagline out there that uses, say, “helluva”, I wouldn’t even count that as a swear word these days.

I love the straightforward, unvarnished passion in this tagline. Presumably, they can back up this statement with some facts about their oil that make it “just damn good”.

It is hard to believe that the advertising industry, which in other ways has been ahead of certain cultural curves, and has defied taboos of all sorts, could be as prudish as it has been regarding such colorful language.

Drowning in the McDonald’s mainstream.

Imagine walking into a McDonald’s in Suburban Chicago and hearing jazz over the PA. Real, authentic jazz. Not “smooth jazz”, but a wide range of genuine, often dissonant, sometimes difficult jazz. (In fact, the Sirius station is even labeled “Real Jazz.”)

Wouldn’t your first reaction be to go back outside and check the sign to see if it really was a McDonald’s and not some beatnik coffeehouse?

For a few years now, my weekly routine has included twice-a-week visits to this McDonald’s located in a prosperous North Shore suburb. I go there after my “workout”, bring along a modest breakfast and buy a large Diet Coke. I read the paper and then get to it, writing something, anything, to keep sharp.

Why McDonald’s, you ask? Well, I don’t drink coffee so Starbucks and its ilk make no sense for me. Besides, I’m far more comfortable with the regular people who populate McDonald’s. And McDonald’s does have a lot to be said for it, at least for my purposes. Free parking. There’s almost always a comfy booth available. My large Diet Coke costs all of $1.10, with free refills.

Impaled on the Horns of the Freelance Copywriter’s Dilemma.

As if we freelance copywriters didn’t have troubles enough, toiling in anonymity, trying to breath life into lame creative strategies and forever scrambling for that next assignment.

What if we have the urge to go public, venting or ranting about this or that dumb ad or dysfunctional ad agency?

Most freelance copywriters are reluctant to write about the flaws and failings of companies who do marketing and advertising. No one really wants to bite any hands that might, at some point, feed them.

For those of us who, despite this concern, are inclined to raise a public stink about bad advertising or other sorts of bad behavior within this or that agency, the hand-biting risk is always there, as careful as we may try to be.

Me, I’ve always stunk at biting my tongue. Lord knows, there’s no shortage of stuff in Adland to criticize. Whenever I’ve had a forum to criticize an ad or an agency, I’ve almost always given in to the temptation to pull back the curtain in one way or another.

Let’s talk about Capitol One’s longstanding tagline.

What’s In Your Wallet? How many years has Capitol One been pounding away at this tagline? They must consider it to be very successful or they wouldn’t stick with it, right? It may be irrelevant that, by some measures, it’s a stupid tagline. Stupid because it doesn’t really tell us anything about Capitol One. Stupid because taglines in the form of a question are inherently flaccid, and foolish because they open themselves up to evoking the wrong answer.

Their tagline has crossed over to being memorable, easily recalled by just about anyone who is asked, “What’s Capitol One’s tagline?” Is this due to the brilliance of the tagline? Of course not. It’s due to a consistently heavy media budget. And, I suppose, it’s due to hearing the question so often out of the mouths of so many celebrities who have nothing to do with Capitol One. A classic example of borrowed interest in a bad way.

Capitol One isn’t really asking what’s in your wallet. They are asking if the credit card you use carries as many benefits, or benefits that are as good as you get with their credit card. The line is meant to give you pause, and make you realize your current credit card is lacking.

A month of silence from me. What gives?

I think this is the longest I’ve ever gone without posting something. Despite my constant monitoring of the tagline landscape, searching for something worthy of comment, nothing has triggered my wrath, (or my praise, of course.)

This is not for lack of new taglines, good and bad. And  there have been examples of really old taglines that are either still around or have been resurrected. The Quicker Picker Upper, for example, is intact, though it seems like Bounty spent many years recently trying out variations on that theme.

One reason that I’ve been reluctant to chime in with comments on this or that tagline is that, so often, that new tagline is guilty of the same sin I’ve made a stink about many times. I’ve made my point so often regarding so many stupid tagfads that even I grow weary of being a broken record.

So, c’mon people, let’s see a little imagination, let’s find some new ways to be stupid with our taglines, shall we? Give me something, anything to work with here. Sheesh.

Now, THATS a tagline.


It is rare to see a company truly embrace their tagline. And even rarer to use the tagline as a demonstration of the brand. Today I spotted the van above. Classic Color is a printing company. I don’t need to know anything more about them than the tagline, and especially the design of the tagline, to know they are a high end, high quality company.

It’s true that Classic Color has an advantage in that they are in a visual, art-related business which lends itself to such a tagline. That might mean something, if I hadn’t seen so many similar companies with pedestrian taglines, treated with a yawn, if they had a tagline at all.

A big tip of the cap to Classic Color. That is a brand name I will retain, entirely based on their tagline and its design.

Road Trip for Tagline Jim!

Before I regale you with road trip stuff, I must take a minute to thank Jim Anderson, who heeded my call for some research help (see previous post). I didn’t really expect anyone to respond to my request, but, as I said, I was desperate to find some info online and was having no luck. So, thanks again, Jim, for your tip on cognitive fluency.

Okay, so what’s this road trip business? My friend, Brian Nash, recently asked if I’d like to give his advertising class a talk about taglines. (Brian teaches a couple of classes at Grand Canyon University in addition to his regular job.)

Brian intended my talk to be via Skype. But I saw a chance to hit the road. So I told him I’d like to give the talk in person. Doing this accomplishes two things for me. First, there’s the road trip. I love the occasional solitary road trip, since I can only spend so much time with the humans, and I’ve spent a ton lately.

The other benefit of giving the talk in person is that I can attempt to videotape the talk, in the hope of adding said video to the Aloud section of my website, which is designed to encourage people to invite me to give talks. All of which is intended to expand my author “platform”, which is apparently a prerequisite to getting my book, Agents of Stupidity: Why advertising is even stupider than you think, if that’s even possible.

Help me! My research is coming up empty.

This is an act of desperation. I’m always looking for new insights about taglines, and recently I’ve been looking into certain aspects of many taglines that studies have show the brain to be attracted to. For example, certain kinds of poetry, especially poetry that rhymes, seems to be pleasing to the brain. I’m trying to learn more about how that works in the brain. I’ve already come across some source material that hypothesizes just how the brain processes puns and other forms of humor and how the brain deems these pieces of language to be pleasurable.
Now for the desperation part. Intuitively, it seems to me that the brain is drawn to short pieces of language that “wrap things up in a tidy bow.” They either summarize something neatly or in some other way encapsulate stuff that might otherwise be messy or complicated. The brain must work efficiently in processing language and all the cognitive input it is inundated with constantly. It only makes sense that it would be attracted to language that “short-handed” stuff or somehow made its job easier.
But I’ll be danged if I can find any material out there that supports this idea or examines it. It doesn’t seem possible that no one has studied this topic or something related to it, right? So, if you pride yourself on your research chops, please spend a few minutes probing around and let me know if you come up with anything. I would so appreciate it. Thanks.

Addendum to the Australia Post.

In fairness to Australia, I did come across two other taglines that I thought were worthy of some mention during my recent trip.

One was for a company called Purple Brick that apparently helps you sell your house without having to pay a commission. Theirline is:

Save Yourself from Commisery.

Now, I must say that I would have modified that line to read:

Let Us Put You Out of Your Commisery. This wording would have leveraged the way in which that expression is ordinarily used, but still, at least they made an effort.

The other tagline, which I really like a lot, is for a bank of all things.

It’s Qudos Bank’s tagline:

Why the dearth of good taglines in Australia?

I’ve just come back from a month in Australia. We covered a lot of ground in that month, and I kept my eyes peeled for taglines the entire trip. I was very surprised and disappointed to find almost no interesting, engaging, funny,charming or otherwise evocative taglines. Granted my time watching TV, reading magazines and being online was limited. On the other hand, I saw a lot of trucks, the sides of which can be a tagline goldmine. The only tagline that elicited even a tiny smile from me was for a nut company called Nobby’s. The tagline is: Nibble Nobby’s Nuts.

It is baffling to me that a culture so imbued with strangeness,charm and humor hasn’t produced taglines that reflect those qualities. Some of the advertising was goofy and funny or clever, often a little quirky. But not the taglines or straplines or whatever they call them there.

Finally, in an act of mercy, I took a side trip to DDB in Sydney, dropped off a stack of my business cards, explaining to the receptionist that the creatives there seemed to be in desperate straits, tagline-wise, and I was volunteering to help.