Slogans that stand the test of time

In 1988 Nike told us to ‘Just Do It’. Thirty years on, that ad campaign remains one of the most successful of all time. From KitKat’s ‘Have a break’ to L’Oreal’s ‘Because you’re worth it’, Suzanne Harrington examines the power of a slogan.

Slogans that stand the test of time

In 1988 Nike told us to ‘Just Do It’. Thirty years on, that ad campaign remains one of the most successful of all time. From KitKat’s ‘Have a break’ to L’Oreal’s ‘Because you’re worth it’, Suzanne Harrington examines the power of a slogan.

What is it with the enduring power of slogans? Why do some stick, and others sink? This year, we’ll have been Just Doing It for 30 years. Nike first suggested we just do it in 1988, their enduring slogan based on the last words of American killer Gary Gilmore. “Let’s do this,” Gilmore said as he faced a firing squad 11 years earlier in 1977.

On hearing about Gilmore’s last words, advertiser Dan Wieden tweaked them slightly and pitched his version to Nike, who bought it and trademarked it, resulting in one of the most successful commercial slogans of all time. Just Do It was the start of a new era for the Nike brand, which in 1988 appeared alongside Walt Stack, an 80-year-old runner. So firmly has the slogan become embedded in everyday speech that it has spawned its own spoof, Just Did It.

Because you’re worth it is even older, dating almost half a century and still in use both by L’Oreal and the wider culture. In 1973, when L’Oreal first broadcast their new slogan, the advert showed a woman walking to camera, patting her hair and saying, “I use the most expensive hair colour in the world...because I’m worth it.” The slogan was created by Ilon Specht, a 23-year-old copywriter at New York’s McCann Erickson agency; it was revolutionary because it had a woman talking directly to camera about herself and her purchasing decisions. Until then, such products were advertised by mutely decorative women and male voiceovers, which Ilon Specht was fed up of.

“One of the best things I’ve ever written was done in a moment of anger. I thought, it’s not about men, it’s about ourselves. It’s not for you that we’re going to do our hair,” she later told an interviewer. “I’m not making my hair so you should like me.”

And it stuck. ‘Because I’m worth it’ became ‘because you’re worth it’ and is currently ‘because we’re worth it’; brand ambassadors have included Jane Fonda, Andie McDowell, Julia Roberts, Beyonce. Oh, and David Ginola.

So what makes a slogan velcro itself to the public consciousness, and stay there? “A sticky slogan has to communicate the idea of the brand in a way that blends it into the language and culture of the audience,” says advertising strategist Omaid Hiwaizi. “It communicates the benefit of the brand in a way which means that people remember it — this is called creating ‘mental availability’.” Like thinking that have a break means having a KitKat. Or being thirsty means Drink Coke.

“Terrible slogans don’t do this,” says Hiwaizi. “They communicate nothing of value and do it in forgettable ways. Sometimes, though, terrible ones stick because they’re so bad. Many car insurance adverts do this to annoy you into remembering their odd character or animal, so you always go to them when you need a quote.” (That bulldog, those meerkats.)

“Going forward, with internet search engines, and ever decreasing attention spans, ideas that communicate how brands are different and better are more and more important for those brands to stand out and survive. Sometimes these will be summarised in a catchy slogan, and sometimes it’ll just be a word, logo or colour.” Think yellow arches, or the small blue ‘f’ or turquoise bird of social media.

Yet the most successful slogans are pre-digital, coming from the 20th century’s golden age of advertising, and predate the complicated mental clutter of online. Let’s take a walk back through some of them:

Aah! Bisto will be one hundred next year and is still in use, except these days there’s a vegan option. Rice Krispies’ Snap! Crackle! Pop! first appeared in 1932, with the three elves coming later in 1949. Their slogan widely translated — Pif! Paf! Pof! in Belgium, Poks! Riks! Raks! in Finland, Knisper! Knasper! Knusper! in Germany.

The 50s produced several memorable junk food slogans — Kentucky Fried Chicken’s 1952 Finger Lickin’ Good lasted until a rebrand in 2011, where it became KFC’s So Good, in an attempt to convey ‘healthier’.

1954’s Melts in your mouth, not in your hand slogan for M&Ms is, according to the Washington Post, the most liked ad slogan ever, and 1957’s Have a break, have a KitKat is still in use, despite Mars failing to legally trademark the words ‘have a break’. Beanz Meanz Heinz celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017 with limited editon cans and an event at Selfridges, making the appeal of the humble baked bean more enduring than 1969’s classic chocolate slogan, All Because The Lady Loves Milk Tray. Not anymore she doesn’t — tastes have moved on considerably from strawberry crème, despite Milk Tray creating one of the most enduring characters in 1970s advertising — the Milk Tray Man.

Coca Cola got on the hippie bandwagon — belatedly — in 1970 with It’s The Real Thing, while Carlsberg’s Probably the best lager in the world slogan from 1973 was rivalled a year later by Heineken promising it Refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach. Both claims remain as unlikely as the 1980 slogan A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play. It’s equally unlikely that Australians wouldn’t give a XXXX for anything else, as was suggested by Castlemaine lager in 1984, or that Fox News was ever Fair and balanced, like the station claimed in 1995.

Not every slogan does exactly what it says on the tin, although Ronseal’s 1994 unpretentious promise got snagged in our consciousness as synonymous with reliable and straightforward. So did Audi’s 1982 Vorsprung Durch Technik, despite nobody ever knowing what it actually meant — it didn’t matter because it sounded efficient, capable and modern. American Express attempted creating the same sense of reassurance with its 1975 slogan Don’t Leave Home Without It.

The 1948 De Beers slogan, A Diamond Is Forever, inspired not just a Bond movie, but the idea of using diamonds in engagement rings. Post WW2, diamond sales had fallen — a Philadelphia copywriter, Frances Gerety, came up with the slogan which continues to create a mental association between diamonds and marriage proposals. Thank you, capitalism — selling us stuff we didn’t know we needed since the 1300s.

Irish adverts

Alcohol features heavily. Guinness is good for you, time for a Guinness, my goodness my Guinness — everyone from toucans to Michael Fassbender has helped sell the stuff.

Harp lager had Sally O’Brien and the way she might look at you. On first tasting Baileys, randomly named after a bistro in London’s Soho because Irish names were thought to sound quaint, one American pundit apparently exclaimed, “That shit will never sell!”

As well as boozing, themes of emigration are popular in Irish ads — Aer Lingus went with You’re Home, while in the 1980s, the ESB produced a tear-jerker starring the Irish mammy awaiting the arrival of an adult child from the airport, turning up the heating to combat the Irish weather.

Sometimes though, simplicity wins. Brennan’s bakery nailed it with Today’s Bread, Today.

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