25 September, 2010

Do advertising campaigns need slogans?

Melbourne Herald Sun, 25 September 2010

There's something about an advertising slogan. It’s a reassurance, a thought you can hang your hat on. But it's also the cause of endless debate. Do they work, are they corny, do they just interfere with the message?

Slogans appeal to clients who see them as the pretty wrapping paper around a campaign. It can be hard to explain all the subtleties involved in campaign creation, marketing strategies and strategic plans. Whereas a slogan should be neat, and encapsulate the sales message. It saves long explanations and pleases the accounting mind of the marketer’s client. But is it really needed, does it give any value?

In recent times there have been fewer slogans around, if you ever stopped to notice. I think the ad community, and their young, educated clients, find them a little bit embarrassing.

But if the slogan is really good it can summarise the whole campaign in a few words. Think of the no-nonsense gruffness of “Carlton Draught. Made from beer”. What it’s really saying is “None of the mamby pamby poofy European stuff here, this is real Aussie beer,” greeted with grunts of agreement from the blokes propped against the bar.

The Victorian police have their own hard-nosed campaign running, justifying their increased breath-testing activities: “Victoria Police. We'll catch you before someone gets hurt.” Watching that, you’re glad you resisted that extra drink before driving home last night.

Sometimes you don’t need words at all for your slogan. The newest campaign for OPSM has a commercial following a pair of huge inflatable balloons around beach and town. One is shaped like an eye, the other is a big red heart. They are volley-balled around town by increasing crowds of happy shoppers and eventually reveal themselves to mean “eyes”, “love”, and finally the company name “OPSM”.

It’s cute and clever and the kind of indulgence you can afford when you are market leader with 40 per cent of the business. But smaller players need to be more canny, and it’s possible to be too clever. I still haven’t got my head around “That’s Sydnicity” despite many ads from our NSW sister showing off beaches and vineyards and their glorious harbour. The pictures are as beautiful as ever but the phrase is too twee for my taste, it doesn't ring any mental bells.

Now that mobile phones have become our pocket encyclopaedias, it might be time for Sensis to bring back that wonderful Yellow Pages slogan, “Let your fingers do the walking”. Only, instead of a phone book, these days the fingers walk on a smartphone.

So how long should a slogan be? My simple answer: as long as it takes. Sometimes it can summarise everything in three words: “Just do it”. How many milliseconds did it take you to think of the brand? There are a small number in the history books that are as strong as ever: “A diamond is forever”, “It’s time”, or “Finger lickin’ good” – another great slogan foolishly discarded.

Others are long, like “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight." Hands up who didn’t think of Fed Ex?

But you’ll notice something here. More than anything a slogan needs longevity. It has to get into the culture, become a meme (remember memes?) and it will go on toiling for your product with ever-increasing relevance.

The greatest problem is that slogans are killed too quickly. The client gets bored, the agency gets a new creative team - slogans are lucky if they survive a couple of years.

Yet the ones you remember were imprinted when you were still in nappies. "Helps you work rest and play", "Have a break, have a Kit Kat", "A glass and a half of milk" - how come it's the chocolate bars that get the long life? Although owners have changed and markets have expanded - these chokky bars survive. Does the slogan have something to do with it?

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