A truly great slogan can be a golden goose for a brand. It becomes a touchstone of familiarity for customers and a rallying point for employees. Imitators inadvertently reinforce its excellence, as does parody, and even mockery.
But what makes a slogan stand the test of time and competition? Here’s a little background on a few classics that help tell the tale:
Just do it. Nike’s three-word challenge to couch potatoes and athletes alike originated in 1988. The campaign helped Nike increase its share of the North American domestic sport-shoe business from 18 percent to 43 percent, and from $877 million to $9.2 billion in worldwide sales in the next 10 years. It has remained a fixture for a brand that has expanded its reach across sport and into almost any kind of physically active lifestyle concept.
The Ultimate Driving Machine. BMW’s slogan, now 40 years old, was originally created by a relatively unknown ad agency, Ammirati & Puris.Although “A company of ideas” joined it briefly for a few years as a co-slogan, “Ultimate” has represented a brand that has gone from less than 1 percent market share to the leading luxury car brand worldwide in 2014.
You’re in good hands with Allstate was written by an Allstate Insurance Company salesperson in 1956, who wanted to depict a strong and trustworthy institution committed to its customers.
A diamond is forever. This slogan, created by DeBeers in 1938, is really a form of branding for the entire category of diamond jewelry. Why would DeBeers take such a seemingly altruistic approach? Perhaps because they have largely controlled the production of diamonds for three-quarters of a century. So, any purchase of a diamond is likely to benefit their company and their brand. The DeBeers company not only coined one of the longest-running slogans in the history of branding and marketing, they also successfully created and marketed the concept of giving a diamond ring as the most socially acceptable way of proposing marriage.
So, what makes a slogan last forever, or at least a quarter century or more?
Great slogans speak to core human emotions. The right words convince us that a diamond isn’t just a gem, it’s a symbol of undying love. That this isn’t just a car, it’s the best-performing vehicle imaginable. That everyone has a little bit of the competitive drive of an elite athlete, even if that just means taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
Great slogans contain layers of meaning that give it dimension. “You’re in good hands…” not only makes you feel safe and protected from financial loss, it also makes you feel like a good provider and protector of your family. “The Ultimate driving machine” conveys both a sense of being a great driver, and also a sense of status or achievement for being able to afford one.
Great slogans stay relevant over time. Why are Shakespeare’s plays still relevant 400 years after they were written? Because the basic human condition is still the same. The Bard wrote of power, love, betrayal, and loyalty. But we humans also embrace the emotions of security or safety, empowerment, status and commitment to another person. Great slogans—and great brands—tap into these basic desires. It’s part of the classic principle of branding: People buy brands that make them feel better about themselves.
By way of contrast, let’s look at a couple of newer slogans and think about which might last longer. McDonald’s “i’m lovin’ it” has been around since 2003, and while it may have layers of meaning, it doesn’t really address a specific human desire, but just says, “you’ll like our food.” While it’s lasted more than a decade, the brand is under a lot of pressure to improve slumping sales. The tagline could be headed for the dumpster.
“Open Happiness” has been Coke’s tagline since 2009. While relatively new, at least compared to the others here, it has been consistent with the brand’s focus on linking their product’s moments of refreshment to a little moment of joy (or happiness) that people share in their day-to-day lives. Cute polar bears, handing a Coke to someone else who is thirsty, and teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony are all examples of this. Coke does hit on a human desire that is timeless and has layers of meaning to it. Their slogan could be in for a long run, which, as strong as Coke is, has rarely happened for them in their history as a great brand.
As published in the Central Penn Business Journal and Lehigh Valley Business.