A catchy catchphrase is forever

If you spend enough time around people who run successful businesses, you will notice something they all seem to have in common.

Monday, 21st May 2018, 8:10 am
Updated Monday, 21st May 2018, 8:21 am

They can, pretty much without exception, explain what their business stands for in just a few words. This ability to capture the essence of what a brand means – as opposed to simply what it does – is important because it helps to give a company purpose. It makes it distinct. It can even embed a brand in our cultural consciousness.

Fundamentally, it makes it easier for customers to choose one brand over another. This is why many brands invest in developing straplines – pithy slogans typically used in marketing campaigns.

The best straplines are so effective they work in isolation. “Because you’re worth it.” “The ultimate driving machine.”

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So powerful are these phrases that they conjure up brands like spells, without the need to even mention the company name. Sometimes the inspiration for these killer straplines comes from unexpected places.

Dan Wieden, the advertising executive behind Nike’s iconic “Just do it” slogan, coined the phrase in 1988 after learning of the final words of a convicted murderer as he stood before the firing squad. “They asked him if he had any final thoughts and he said: ‘Let’s do it’. I didn’t like ‘Let’s do it’ so I just changed it to ‘Just do it’.” Nike’s slogan has been hugely successful in defining the brand, but in terms of cultural impact, even “Just do it” cannot compete with a slogan from 1947.

That year a young copywriter named Frances Gerety, working for the advertising agency N.W. Ayer, was tasked with helping the De Beers mining company popularise the concept of diamond engagement rings – at the time still something of a novelty. Gerety came up with “A diamond is forever” – and her phrase has been used in every advertisement for the company since. Documents produced by N.W. Ayer at the time describe how, “there was no direct sale to be made. There was no brand name to be impressed on the public mind. There was simply an idea — the eternal emotional value surrounding the diamond.”

By Guy Cookson, Partner at Hotfoot Design