Reading between the tag lines.

“We Meet by Accident.”

You have to like a slogan like that for a body shop (Ernie’s, West Acton). It’s a known fact that when staring at a dented front end and multiple $$$, such prophetic phrases can be soothing or at a minimum, distracting.  Slogans and bylines do evoke certain emotions, at least, the best ones will.

And they’ve been doing it for some time.  Ad slogans began around the late 19th century, at the time when products began to be produced in large quantities and the fight was on for consumers’ attention and dollars.

The New York Times was quick to put words to paper (unsurprisingly), coining the phrase, ‘All the news that’s fit to print’ in 1896.  That still works today.

The invention of radio in the early 20th century further accelerated the tag line fury.  The ad execs at Camel cigarettes must have been subconsciously aware of the addictive nature of nicotine, because in 1921, they penned the line, ‘I’d walk a mile for a Camel.’  At the other end of the health spectrum, Wheaties offered ‘The breakfast of Champions.’  Who knew the real trophy would be to get your picture on the box?

But some of these marketing geniuses must have honed their skills in the political arena.  As far back as 1856, slogans were being used to promote not products but candidates.  In the run for the presidency that year, John Fremont campaigned with ‘Free soil, free labor, free speech, free men, Fremont.’  That was a lot of work for not such a great result, as Fremont lost to James Buchanan by a solid 60 electoral votes.

1884 was probably the start of negative campaigning as we now know it.  James Blaine’s campaign held signs taunting Grover Cleveland saying ‘Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?’, referencing Cleveland’s illegitimate child.  However, President Cleveland got the last word after the election with signs saying, ‘In the White House, ha, ha, ha.’

President Johnson carried it even further with, ‘In your gut, you know he’s nuts,’ against Barry Goldwater.  Mounds and Almond Joy candy bars countered with, ‘Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t.’  (OK, they weren’t really responding to the campaign…)

Studies by The Journal of Advertising Research have shown that people can be amused but also influenced and even motivated by slogans.  The best slogans are remembered long after the campaign is over or the product ceases to exist.  That’s no accident.  😉

  • Tony

    So many angles to this (remember that brief period back in the 80s, for example, when everyone was walking around saying “where’s the beef”?) you could do a Part II.