Slogans: the good, the bad and the ugly

I thought you might like to share a few classic slogans that have worked, and some that – for me – haven’t, and why. And then, please comment and share the ones that have worked – or not – for you!

Slam in the lamb. This was put out by the official body that represents British lamb a few years ago and frankly, was enough to put me off eating lamb for the rest of my life despite some cute ads some of which featured the wonderful Geoffrey Palmer. Any talk of slamming and I think doors / teenagers / temper tantrums and that’s the last connotation I want to associate in a slogan about beautifully tender, slow-roasted leg or shoulder of lamb with some hints of rosemary, lemon and garlic. How the advertising wallahs could have thought that this rather feeble rhyme, or assonance, could be worth “butchering” their product for … I really don’t know.

Nothing sucks like Electrolux. There are many, many jokes around on the internet about slogans that have misfired for various reasons, and some of them are figments of someone’s imagination. However I am assured by various sources that this awful slogan actually did see the light of day back in the 1960s. Electrolux, being of Swedish origins, sadly were not aware of the US slang use of the word “sucks.” Although their vacuum cleaners are perfectly good, their choice of advertising advice isn’t.

Finger lickin’ good. I know that lickin’ your fingers is accepted as useful if they’re dripping with chicken grease, BBQ sauce, ketchup and various other things, but believe me if you – like I – have a strong association with horses, dogs and children not necessarily in that order, the last thing you want to do immediately post-drivethru is lick your fingers, unless you want to introduce a myriad bacteria and viruses into your body. This must have worked for Kentucky Fried Chicken in the USA where people are less fussy about hand washing, maybe, but the thought of that slogan still makes me heave to this day. It’s interesting to note, according to Wikipedia urban legends, that  ”an advertising campaign in China attempting to translate the slogan Finger lickin’ good! into Chinese failed miserably, proclaiming Eat your fingers off.” No points scored in China either, then.

Fly United. Simple, to the point, no fooling around. Damned good slogan for an airline. Until, that is, someone translated it into a sexual message using a very explicit cartoon illustration of two ducks (or geese? Have never been sure which) flying “united,” to resounding guffaws throughout the English-speaking world. Considering that  United are still a successful airline I imagine that their top table saw the joke and worked through it. And it WAS wonderful publicity, at least for passengers with a sense of humour.

Don’t be vague – ask for Haig. An old slogan that has that ring about it to suggest  that the CEO dreamed it up in the shower one morning and thought it was so clever insisted the company use it for the next 20 years.  This despite the fact that it is faintly insulting to consumers – i.e. that if you don’t choose Haig Whisky (now owned by Diageo) you’re a bit of a jerk. According to Wikipedia, however, The extremely successful slogan “don’t be vague ask for Haig” originated from Thomas Henry Egan who received GBP £25 (about USD $40) and a case of whisky from Haig. A small remuneration considering the years Haig used the slogan. What a shame he didn’t get a good lawyer on the “case”…

The appliance of science. This was a popular slogan in the early 1980s for the rather swish Italian domestic appliance manufacturer, Zanussi, later bought out by the Swedish company Electrolux (as in “nothing sucks like Electrolux” fame.) What I like about this Zanussi slogan is that it creates at a double-entendre hinting that the word “appliance” is being used as an alternative to “application” … while still making perfect sense. I’m reliably informed that the slogan was written by a certain Adrian Press here in the UK – so a gold star to you, Adrian. Wish I had written it! Zanussi-Electrolux revived the slogan back in the early 00s, too. It had become iconic.

Go to work on an egg. Another iconic slogan from British advertising which has been around for 50 years or more, and is fondly remembered. The double meaning here is particularly effective, I think – promoting the idea of having an egg for breakfast, but also of smashing the shell of your boiled egg! For some years I suspect the egg marketing people in the UK and elsewhere had their work cut out for them when medical wallahs warned that more than one or two eggs a week could raise your levels of bad cholesterol. However that theory has now been disputed by newer research. Good – so we can go to work on an egg again, every day…

Washing machines live longer with Calgon. This has got to be the hardest working slogan I’ve ever seen in ads on British TV. How do you get a message across in a 30 second commercial that this product is a water softener which stops limescale from building up in the innards of your washing machine so prolonging the machine’s lifespan? And make people remember it? It’s not as if it’s the most sexy product in the supermarket after all. But Calgon’s advertising people did it, not only with the slogan that’s still going strong today, but also with a little jingle that I can still remember, and was translated, according to Wikipedia, into more than 20 languages for the European market alone. Bravo.

Which slogans have appealed to you most in recent years? Which have you absolutely hated? Please share your views here!

Now: some super slogans for you!:

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

“English to English: the A to Z of British-American translations”…more than 2,000 business and social terms from the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

Comments

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Thoughts

  1. Adrian Press of “The Appliance of Science” fame sent me a lovely email about slogans, taglines, etc. – as well as a wonderful glimpse of what it’s like to be an advertising copywriter! – and kindly has given permission for me to share it with you here….

    ##########

    Hello Suze,

    I thoroughly enjoyed the slogan post on your website and thank you for your kind words about my Zanussi line (and for articulating the totally intended double entendre). At the time, a Campaign journalist
    (I use the term loosely) commented that it was a ‘bit clever’ and bad English – it should be The Application of Science, (which, you’ll agree, doesn’t have the same ring). For me, it’s shorthand for ‘the appliance
    borne of science’ but , hey, it has since passed into the language anyway, so who’s arguing?! Even the Italian’s coined their own rhyming version of it for use in the home market – ‘La potenza della scienza” (the potency of science)

    At the time, it felt right and went down very well when we pitched the creative work to the Zanussi clients. As a young cub copywriter at Geers Gross, I was watching the proceedings through the projection
    booth behind the presentation room. When the agency revealed the line, Zanussi ‘s Director of Sales had a Eureka moment, standing up and exclaiming, ‘That’s good, that’s it!’… and we got the business.
    In fact, I originally favoured a different strapline – Zanussi. The First to Last – based on the brand’s longevity claims, but thankfully, that got thrown out early on . I’ve since tried to recycle the line over the years
    viz: Russell Hobbs. The First to Last, but, sadly, there have been no takers. So far…

    On the subject of straplines, it’s often where I start when writing a new campaign. If you can crystallise the story and the product’s point of difference in a stand-out three to five word strap, it’s a good place to be.
    Clients who ask you to ‘knock out a few straplines’ in the belief that because they don’t contain many words , they don’t take long to write, don’t fully understand, that less is often more in hours spent.
    In my experience, straplines either come quickly, or you can torture over the right thought for days.

    Personally, I do favour a bit of cleverness in a strapline. I also don’t mind puns. They’re a gift of the English language and, when not excruciating, they’re perfectly acceptable and memorable, so why not!?
    I know some creative directors have an aversion to them, but I never did. I believe that, when they’re good, puns are fun and the punters like them. I also like a rhyme in a line, which is why I later went on to write
    ‘Get busy with the fizzy’ for Sodastream – still used on the packs, I believe.

    For me, Dave Trott’s ‘Ariston and on and on…’ and ‘Ello tosh got a Toshiba’ are the business, because, whilst not overly elegant , they’re very clever, funny, conversational and, most importantly, have the brand name in the line – job done.

    Cheers,
    Adrian

  2. I always enjoy Murder Must Advertise from Dorothy Sayers as her portrayal of an advertising agency (where she worked herself in about the 1930’s) was so brilliant.

    I think she was the one who came up with go to work on an egg, is that right? She also did the mustard club apparently for Colmans and the toucan thing for Guinness (one of her characters in her books talks about having a Guinness ‘because its good for you’ – product placement in a novel).

    Some of Lord Peter Wimseys catch phrases are quite fun, although the ‘Whiffle your way around England’ campaign wouldn’t work today …

  3. I think “Murder Must Advertise” probably was the most realistic portrayal of what an advertising agency was like, although as I wasn’t around in the 1930s I shouldn’t really comment!

    Subsequent portrayals have been pretty pathetic IMHO, and having worked in ad agencies as a copywriter for a number of years I think I’ve earned the right to be critical. Certainly now, the days of the long expense-account lunch and the subsidised wine bar in the building are mostly gone. I wonder if that has affected the creative quality? :-))

    As for “whiffle your way around England…” it’s probably more like “sniffle your way around England,” especially right now as we enter the hayfever season…

    Thanks for your comment Tessa!

    Sz

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