Eoin Butler: writer, journalist and Mayoman of the Year

Tripping Along The Ledge


Published: Mongrel Magazine, April 2006

A concise anthology of deadly advertising slogans

Because You're Worth It

nike-swoosh Marketing has been with us in one guise or another for over two thousand years. In fact, it’s often reckoned to be the world’s eighth oldest profession. (Some wags have commented on its remarkable resemblance to the thirteenth oldest; research marketing. That’s a fair point.) But for all that it has done for the betterment of mankind, there remain those who look upon this profession with distain.

For proof, look no further than the books of Naomi Klein, the comedy of Bill Hicks, the paranoid ramblings of Thom Yorke or any of the host of other more up-to-date pop culture references I will no doubt have come up by the time this article goes to print…

Put aside though, for the moment, any moral quibbles you may have about conning gullible idiots into buying stuff they don’t really need. Hear me out, and I think you’ll find that marketers are deserving of the same respect as – if not surgeons and great architects – then at least parking attendants and dishwasher repairmen.

(Authors note: I have of course no formal grounding in this subject. Where gaps in my knowledge occur I have striven, as far as possible, to fill them in with conjecture and supposition.)

AUDI: Vorsprung durch Technik

In a recent survey 89% of respondents concurred that Pablo Picasso was one of the great Europeans of the 20th century. But only 16% of them could identify him as the artist behind such masterpieces as Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and Guernica. The remainder thought that he designed hatchback motor cars. The lesson for marketers is that playing up to your customers’ pretensions pays – but there’s no need to overdo it. This applies to the motor industry in particular. Renault earned plaudits all round for their ‘Va Va Voom’ slogan, which was later revealed to have been coined by a two-year-old child. But even that can’t compare to ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ which became one of the most successful slogans in car history, despite actually translating as ‘Text will go here’. Suckers.

NIKE: Just do it

A bona fide classic. In the mid-1980s Nike honcho Phil Knight realised that old fashioned advertising slogans were not just boring for the public. They were also creatively stifling for the ad agencies and tended to tie companies to empirically disprovable claims. Like ‘A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play’ or ‘Guinness is good for you’. So he asked his marketing guys to devise a totally new kind of slogan. One that said absolutely nothing about anything. They came back to him with two ideas: ‘Please do it’ and ‘At least consider it’. The board liked them and they tested well. But Knight wasn’t quite satisfied. He approached marketing maverick Dan Wieden and asked him to come onboard. Wieden accepted and immediately started taking a more aggressive slant, with slogans like ‘Do it already’, ‘Fuckin’ do it’ and ‘You fuckin’ die’. The board hated these and wanted Wieden taken off the project. But Knight knew he was onto something. Finally Wieden hit paydirt with ‘Just do it’, which went on to become the most successful advertising slogan of all time.

Incidentally, you probably think the lesson here is that attitude is everything. Wrong. For his next venture Wieden convinced investors to back a brand that had behind it no market research, no distribution network and, ultimately, no product. It lost millions. The lesson here seems to be that thinking outside the box is fine, but you should at least try to stay on the page.

OXEGEN: Four stages, over a hundred acts… and you

In jazz it’s often said that the notes they don’t play matter as much as the notes they do play. Of course, when I tried out for the Chicago Jazz Ensemble in ’94 it was the notes I did play that really fucked my shit up. But that’s another matter. Imagine for a moment that it’s your job to market the Oxegen Music Festival to the public. What do you have to go on? Well, there are four stages. There are over a hundred acts. There are about sixty thousand pissed up teenagers trying to buy drugs off you and shouting “OOOOOEEE-OOOOOOEEE” into your ear every ten seconds. And then of course there’s you. Which bits go in and which bits get left out? I’m not going to tell you the answer here folks, but this one will definitely be on the test.

HUGO BOSS: Your fragrance, your rules

On the surface, this slogan consists merely of two trite and (in the context) utterly meaningless statements, sandwiched together like a pair of dolled up wannabes in a disco. But break it down a minute and there might be more going on here than you thought. Firstly, what is meant by ‘your fragrance’? Is Hugo Boss literally ‘your fragrance? Surely not. Hugo Boss Eau de Toilette is copyright of the Procter & Gamble Corporation. Or instead is the ad saying that 75ml of the fragrance can be yours if you stump up the cash and buy it in a shop? Yes, most probably it is.

The ‘your rules’ part is more problematic. On the one hand, this part of the couplet is literally true. There are no rules with Hugo Boss. But what kind of rules could there be with an aftershave? No tongues? Not in the house? Only on the weekends? To me, this is more like a riff on the different qualities of truth: Literal truth. Meaningless truth. Inconsequential truth. And the kinds of things you get away with saying only if you say them very fast and immediately change the subject. (Such as “the terrorists hate our freedom” or “Chomsky is the Elvis of academia”.) Like one of Shakespeare’s problem plays, this is a slogan that ultimately offers more questions than answers.

LYNX: Click Tease

A clever angle. What Lynx are asking their customers here is: Are you not doing as well with the ladies as shit Hollywood actor Ben Affleck? And do you believe that a €2.99 bottle could possibly rectify that situation? If you answered yes to both these questions then you are clearly a complete moron and therefore Lynx’s target demographic personified. Lynx would now like to fly you to their headquarters in Switzerland where they’ll put you on a salary and start pitching you some other product ideas they have in development. And if that’s not enough they’ll also throw in a souvenir pen… that makes a clicking noise!!!

THE NEW YORK TIMES: All The News That’s Fit To Print

Finally, I’m throwing this slogan in more as an example of how not to do it. The New York Times is one of the most respected newspapers in the English language. Its renowned for the high standard of it reporting (most of the time) and its journalists have been awarded the Pulitzer Prize ninety times. There’s a lot of good material for a good slogan there in other words. So what do they go to the country with? Look everybody, we’re the “no titties” newspaper! Big mistake. You don’t maintain a passing interest in marketing for as long as I’ve maintained a passing interest in marketing without picking a thing or two up. Believe me when I say, that’s not the angle they wanted to go. No sir.

Eoin Butler lectures in Marketing Theory weeknights in The Belfry public house in Stoneybatter