Silk’s new tagline—such a beautifully subtle, effective little sleight.

As with most commercials, I don’t recall the content of the Silk commercial, other than the tagline. I’m sure I’m more susceptible to this kind of selective memory and perception than most, given what I do. In this case, As is often the case, with me at least, the rest of the content, aside from the tagline, is secondary, even inconsequential.

So, let’s talk about this tagline.

Silk Tastes Like Better

They could have just said Tastes Better. This would put them in the ranks of hundreds? Thousands? of other brands of food products. And it would have rendered the tagline impotent, meaningless and invisible.

But, in the simple act of transforming the adjective “better” into a noun, the tagline provides that little bump, that nanosecond of pause and replay in the brain that forces just the slightest engagement, the slightest bit of processing. And this, in turn, renders the tagline meaningful, visible, effective.

Lactaid’s tagline: simple, smart, human.

A good tagline doesn’t have to express a grand thought or be extremely clever. The new tagline for Lactaid Milk makes this point nicely.

The tagline is this:

The milk that doesn’t mess with you

At first glance, rather unremarkable, right? but here’s what I like about it. First, by saying “The milk”, this tagline establishes that Lactaid Milk is, in fact, milk. It avoids the question of whether this is a milk substitute, a pretender of some kind, by being assumptive up front. Answered. No need to ask.

Second they’ve chosen to put the benefit in conversational, colloquial language—it’s milk that doesn’t mess with you. They could have talked about lactose intolerance or lactose sensitivity or something like that. But they characterize the problem very empathetically in a way that anyone who is lactose-intolerant understands.

Also, the use of the word “mess” is very smart. The manifestation of lactose intolerance can be messy indeed. But the Lactaid folks dial it back just a little, avoiding the grosser connotations of that word by using it as a verb, not a noun. So the allusion to the “mess” is very subtle, implicit, indirect. Tasteful, without becoming euphemistic. It doesn’t evoke the messy end result, but rather, the gassy, crampy, uncomfortable experience of lactose intolerance.

You think you know the Menards tagline, but you don’t.

Those of you who live within advertising’s distance of Menards have had their main message imprinted on your brain for many years. But, if I asked 100 people what their tagline is, 100 of them would be wrong.

You’ll Save Big Money at Menards. Right? Wrong. Okay, I’ll admit that this is their de facto tagline. But if you were to pay attention to the end of one of their TV spots, for instance, in most cases, the official Menards tagline appears on screen underneath their logo right there at the end of the spot. It even is trademarked.

You still have no idea what I’m talking about, right?

Okay, I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. Menards’ tagline is . . .

Arconic reveals print ad innovation!

Paging through Fast Company recently, I came upon an ad for Arconic. Having read the ad, I have very little sense of what they do. They seem to be an engineering firm.They make “materials and technologies.” Another thing they make, as evidenced by this ad, is taglines. Three of them in this one ad alone.

Two of the taglines are in customary positions for taglines. There’s this one positioned directly below the logo:

Innovation, engineered. Boring and generic.

Then there’s the tagline that sits in bold at the end of the block of body copy:

Arconic. Where the future takes shape.

“Future” = “Innovation.“ “Takes shape” = “engineered.” So, at least they’re being consistent, both with their brand’s message and with how boring and generic both taglines are.

Diminishing poets by making them pitchmen.

When advertising practitioners stoop to a new low, it must not go without comment.

Recently, it seems that some advertisers have decided to parade the world’s greatest poets as pitchmen. Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road” has been co-opted by Grey New York for its client, Volvo. There’s now an Infiniti spot featuring William Blake’s The Tyger. And some entity called “America’s Pharmaceutical Companies” has stolen Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.”

Borrowing or stealing from cultural sources in advertising is nothing new. In fact, it happens all the time. And doing so isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s really case-by-case, a question of degree, context and target audience.

But, when ad agencies feel compelled to resort to the borrowed greatness of other people’s writing, rather than challenging the copywriting talent within their own cubicles, it’s clear that, in this era of the visual, our industry has not only devalued language, we’re not even bothering to articulate the brand’s message. Just stick some poem in there. It’s borrowed interest, pure and simple, the language equivalent of exploiting the image of a large breasted woman to sell hamburgers or car parts. It’s apparent that either there is a glaring shortage of competent—never mind talented—copywriters, or, there is no such shortage, and ad agencies are simply squandering or disregarding their own copywriting resources due to a combination of laziness and an obsession with the visual image that blinds them to the power of language.

My take on the 2017 Super Bowl ads.

Meh.

Happy is the tagline word du jour. Why so late to the party?

A few years ago, Best Buy endorsed the following edict in its tagline: Buyer Be Happy. More recently, Coca-Cola has encouraged us to Open Happiness. Febreze wants us to Breathe Happy. Hershey’s suggests that we Welcome Happy, and, alternately, that we say Hello Happy. Hello Hershey’s. And Lay’s explains to us that Happiness is Simple. Some online service called Live Happy promises Happiness delivered right to you!

It doesn’t surprise me that the advertising world has glommed onto that word. What surprises me is how long it has taken to get to this point. After all, the word happy has a long and storied tradition in song titles, (Happy by The Rolling Stones, Happy by Pharrell Williams, Happy by C2C—and that’s just titles consisting entirely of just that word); book titles, (10% Happier, The Art of Happiness, Authentic Happiness, The Happiness Advantage, The Happiness Project, etc); movie titles (I found 22 such titles in Wikipedia); surprisingly few band names, (Happy Mondays, Happy Go Lucky, The Happy Goodman Family, Happy Flowers, Happy Rhodes); lots of consumer products and many other forms of popular culture. But, if memory serves, (and it seldom does these days), the occurrence of happy in taglines, at least with such frequency, is a relatively recent development.

Taglines, according to most people, should allude to a key benefit of the product or service. Happiness could be considered the ultimate benefit.

Further proof that no advertising “idea” is too stupid to be mimicked.

Back in the 60’s and 70’s, Imperial Margarine ran a TV campaign with a memorable, if irritating, mnemonic device. When someone in one of their commercials bit down on some food with their margarine spread onto it, a crown would magically appear on the person’s head, and a trumpet would announce the arrival of this crown with a four-note fanfare: ta—ta ta da.

Now, 40 years later, we  have a campaign for Jimmy Dean foods in which we see a person biting a Jimmy Dean sandwich, smiling and growing a crown on his head, which he now infects someone else with by smiling at them, and that person smiles at someone else who in turn grows a crown.  So, apparently, you can enjoy the benefit of Jimmy Dean by association,  just by being somewhere in proximity to someone who was smiled at by someone who ate some Jimmy Dean product. The Jimmy Dean folks call this passing on of the crown “shining it forward”.

(In fairness, the animated “crown” in these commercials is intended to be more like sun rays emanating from the person’s head, but it looks like a crown to me. In either case, it’s oh so hokey.)

Let’s hear it for a somewhat better than average tagline.

 

In between the rare great tagline and the countless bad, boring, invisible taglines that account for the bulk of the tagline population are a some taglines that have some merit, some something that elevates them above the massive tagheap of crap taglines.

It is often some very subtle something that accomplishes this lifting and separating. Such is the case with Turkish Airlines’ tagline:

Widen Your World.

Yes, the alliteration is helpful. But what caused me to pause when I encountered this tagline was the use of the word “Widen”.

Apart from doing its part in the alliteration, it is, to me, a somewhat interesting choice of verb. There are many ways to articulate the general notion expressed in this tagline. We speak of broadening or expanding our horizons, our outlook or our perspective. But “widen” isn’t really in that list. The closest that “widen” gets to that notion in our ordinary language is as the latter half of “worldwide”. But as a verb, it doesn’t come up much.

This is not a striking or arresting use of the verb, but it is still not the most expected verb. It’s a little bit surprising.

Has anyone ever done a study on the effectiveness of taglines that refer to the date the business began?

Is there even one shred of evidence—even anecdotal evidence—that any consumer is interested in, or, more importantly, cares about or sees value in how long a company has been in business. Perhaps invoking the founding date means something in some categories where businesses are notoriously fly-by-night?

Companies who tout their year of birth no doubt really believe that their longevity is reassuring to customers, that they must be doing something right to have stayed in business this long, right? Companies generally take pride in having been in business for a long time.

But from the consumer’s point of view, does the date carry any weight? Is it meaningfully differentiating?

Let’s look at just two examples

I so love being right.

For many, many years now, I have been contending that the reason many good taglines are effective—get noticed, processed, evoke some kind of emotional response, and sometimes even get remembered—is that they involve some kind of play on words, some double meaning, where both meanings are relevant to the brand’s message.

Furthermore, it has been my naive, intuitive, common sense speculation that the reason such taglines work so well is that the two meanings tickle two different parts of the brain, causing those two parts of brain to get together and confer and come to some agreement on the meaning and emotional effect of these two conjoined bits of input. It’s not just that these taglines are, in some vague sense, clever, whatever that term means. There is a brain-science-based explanation for how and why most good taglines work so well.

But I’ve had no objective, empirical basis for holding to this theory. Until now.

Let’s play Creative Director.

Okay. Here’s the situation:

Let’s say a creative team under your supervision brings you an ad concept for Scotch Blue Painter’s Tape that features a new tagline:

Scotch Blue Painter’s Tape. Pull Off a Better Paint Job.

It’s a clever tagline with a fun play on the phrase “pull it off”, since it refers to pulling the tape off the wall after you’re done painting, as well as highlighting the benefit that the tape does such a good job, it’s instrumental in the resulting accomplishment: “a better paint job.” Not an easy thing to “pull off.”

Bravo.

Except, the ACD, who is in the room, feels compelled to point out that there was an ad campaign for PAM cooking spray, that debuted six or seven years ago, which carried the tagline:

PAM helps you pull it off. In this case, the “pull it off” refers to pulling food off the surface of the pan because PAM is a good lubricant, as well as pulling off a successful family meal because the food doesn’t get charred and cleanup after the meal is much easier, sans all that scraping. This campaign is still active, though the PAM folks have been modifying the tagline lately to fit whatever the latest message or benefit they’re touting.

I’m officially old.

I read an article in the Chicago Tribune awhile back about a new ad for Wheat Thins done by an agency named The Escape Pod. The ad is based on the realization by someone at the agency that, imbedded in the name “Wheat Thins”, are the words, “Eat This.” According to one of the principals of the agency, Vinny Warren, “In terms of concepts, it’s just amazing that it exists.” (Vinny Warren, by the way, is credited with having created the “Whassup?” campaign for Budweiser back in the day. He has an impressive, accolade-laden resume and portfolio.)

Being old, I wasn’t even aware of the existence of The Escape Pod. I visited their website, looked at the work, read the “about” section, which consists of a testimonial by one of their clients, Dana Anderson, who now works at Kraft and used to work at DDB, where Vinny also used to work.

Their website is appropriately modern and cool. Most of their work is appropriately modern and cool. There’s clever stuff. There’s pretty stuff. There’s charming stuff.

The problem with a tagline that depends on an ad campaign to make sense.

Smaller businesses that can’t afford to support a sustained ad campaign need to be sure that their tagline doesn’t depend on such a campaign to invest the tagline with meaning.

Case and point: Buddig. For those who may not be familiar with this brand, Buddig is known primarily for it plastic bags of thinly sliced, pressed meat. It is a “value brand” and has been a main stay of people on limited budgets for decades, perhaps a notch or two up from Ramen noodles. In my mind it occupies a space shared by Hormel, Underwood, Velveeta, Banquet and the like.

Full disclosure: I worked on projects for Buddig for several years maybe 20 years ago. I wrote headlines for FSIs (free standing inserts—those slippery sheets that fall out of the Sunday paper with coupons on them). I was also enlisted to write them a tagline at one point, although the client dictated three of the words that had to be included in the tagline—quality, taste and value. This kind of tied my hands, as you might imagine. The best I could do with that fatal constraint was the tagline they finally bought and kept for a few years:

Budding. Where quality, taste and value all meat.

An open question for Wendy Clark, CEO, DDB North America

In a recent Fast Company, you make this proclamation: “ We get infinitely more productive when we have time to think.”

Being the cyniskeptic that I am, I immediately wonder if you truly subscribe to this tenet. Or is this just more ad-agency-upper-management lip service, of which there is already a never-ending supply?

If you mean what you’re saying, how have you instituted this belief at DDB? I’m asking this question because I really don’t know. I haven’t been in the corridors of DDB for several years, but I can assure you, this tenet was nowhere to be found back then.

I assume that, if you are serious about this time thing, you are building time into the creative process at DDB, so that your people can be more productive, not by routinely working through lunches and into the evenings and weekends, but by doing whatever works for them during working hours, the way exercise apparently works for you.