What’s in a slogan? One part elegant phrasing, two parts brand positioning, and a glaze of virtue and idealism. Oh, and don’t forget a pinch of good luck.
The year was 1907, and legend has it that President Theodore Roosevelt had just finished a cup of coffee at the Hermitage, the Nashville home of President Andrew Jackson, when he declared it “good to the last drop.” Ten years later, the folks who brewed the cup, a company called Maxwell House, made the former president’s coinage their official slogan. Some 90 years later, it still is.
Like diamonds, great slogans last forever. (As a matter of fact, De Beers’ rock solid “a diamond is forever” line is 64 years old.) Still, some of the most popular brands change their slogans annually. Forget nine decades. In the last nine years, Dr. Pepper has experimented with a dozen slogans around the world.
Here are some of the most enduring (and the most constantly changing) slogans in American business in a gallery prepared by editors at The Atlantic.
THE SCIENCE OF SLOGANEERING
A slogan is the public face of what is known in the marketing profession as a brand “positioning.” We want audiences to perceive not only a product, but also a higher purpose. The best slogans capture this higher purpose in a memorable way. The energy drink Red Bull wants to stand for not only hyper-focus, but also the invigoration of mind and body captured in the phrase “Red Bull gives you wings.” MasterCard aims for consumerism that complements the priceless things in your life: “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard.” Since 1988, Nike’s call to action “Just Do It” has resonated with athletes and would-be athletes alike.
Ideally a positioning taps into our underlying human motivations. The desire to be a good parent. The need to demonstrate status. The urge to have a good time. This is harder than it seems. Let’s say you’re Johnnie Walker whisky. Do you stand for casual hedonism? Well, you make rare, expensive liquor. So do you stand for luxury? Well, bar tenders serve you at dives. It took two years and extensive market research to identify the positioning of history, optimism, and personal progress captured by the slogan “Keep on Walking.”
There is a commonly accepted idea in marketing that a brand must identify and stick with a compelling “brand positioning” over time. But the changing values and attitudes of customers — plus the inherent difficulty of finding the right few words on the first (or twenty-first) try — means most slogans do not stand the test of time.
In the 1980s, British Rail tried to convince potential passengers that they were making significant improvements to their service with the slogan, “We are getting there.” Passenger experience suggested otherwise, and the much-ridiculed slogan proved short-lived. Ford’s “Quality is Job 1” met a similar demise around the same time. There is nothing wrong with slogans acknowledging weakness and being aspirational, but they do have to pass the test of experience. Avis’ current slogan, “We try harder,” was originally coined in 1962, as “We’re No. 2. We Try Harder.” Positive customer experience ratified the claim and helped Avis achieve significant sales growth.