Elephants Charging Towards Brazil!

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The press have recently reported on the slogans chosen by each of the teams taking part in the Brazil World Cup to appear emblazoned on their team bus.

The slogans were submitted and chosen through a public contest sponsored by Hyundai, with predictably varying results.

However, for a copywriter, the whole thing is quite fun – the slogans equivalent of the Eurovision song contest. Here’s my take on each of the entries.

AlgeriaDesert Warriors in Brazil
Good – rooted in a point of difference about the country and sounds like the subtitle to an awesome movie. 8/10

ArgentinaNot just a team, we are a country
Mystifying statement of fact. Arguably more meaningful the other way round: Not just a country, we are a team. 1/10

AustraliaSocceroos: Hopping Our Way Into History
Cheerfully embraces the national stereotype, but ‘into History’ makes it sound like they will soon be history in the negative sense. Drop the alliteration and up the optimism: ‘Hopping Our Way To Glory’. 6/10

BelgiumExpect the Impossible
A mind-bending concept, but at least acknowledges that winning is an impossibility. Given the popular misconception about there being no famous Belgians, I'd have gone with: ‘Audrey Hepburn was technically born in Belgium.’ 4/10

Bosnia and HerzegovinaDragons in Heart, Dragons on the Field
Should be epic, but somehow isn't. 5/10

BrazilBrace Yourselves! The 6th Is Coming!
The kind of over-confidence that could end up backfiring badly. But then they are Brazil. 5/10

Cameroon A Lion remains a Lion
Strong. Suspect the original meaning is closer to ‘A lion will always be a lion’. But the odd phrasing gives it a mystical quality. 8/10

ChileChi Chi Chi! Le Le Le! Go Chile! 
This is how you write a slogan for a national team. Joyful, optimistic, fun. Contrast with USA. 10/10

ColombiaHere travels a nation, not just a team!
Cross-reference with Argentina. You know what they mean – the whole country is with you. But it says very little. Humour may have helped – Addicted to Victory / The Drugs Do Work. 2/10

Costa RicaMy passion is football, my strength is my people, my pride is Costa Rica
My slogan is lame. 3/10

Ivory CoastElephants Charging Towards Brazil!
A stunner – four words, nationally relevant, creating a memorable and massively exciting visual image. The new benchmark for all slogans – it’s good, but it’s not Elephants Charging Towards Brazil! 10/10

CroatiaWith Fire in Our Hearts, For Croatia all as One!
Fire in their hearts, rather than Dragons (see Bosnia and Herzegovina), but sounds like they’re trying to convince themselves. 4/10

EcuadorOne Commitment, One Passion, Only One Heart, This Is For You Ecuador!
Ecuabore. 2/10

EnglandThe Dream of One Team, the Heartbeat of Millions!!
Completely unEnglish line. Two exclamation marks? (Although in its favour, at least it’s not ‘Keep calm and score goals’.) In honour of the John Barnes goal against Brazil, they should have gone with ‘Get round the back’. 3/10

FranceImpossible is not a French word
Seems to have been lost in translation, as ‘Impossible’ definitely is a French word. Reminiscent of George W Bush’s ‘The trouble with the French is they have no word for ‘entrepreneur’.’

GermanyOne Nation, One Team, One Dream!
1/10

GhanaBlack Stars: Here to Illuminate Brazil
Poetic. Sounds disconcertingly race-fixated until you realise it’s a play on the national flag. 7/10

GreeceHeroes Play Like Greeks
Given the way they won Euro 2004 and the fact these slogans are being printed on the side of a bus, they should have gone with ‘Where do we park this?’ 3/10

HondurasWe are one country, one nation, five stars on the heart
So many of these slogans are obsessed with numbers. And a country is a nation, so the repetition grates even more. 1/10

IranHonour of Persia
A dignified slogan which I am not going to criticise as it’s from Iran. 7/10

ItalyLet’s paint the FIFA World Cup dream blue
Stop sucking up to FIFA, Italy. 3/10

JapanSamurai, The Time Has Come to Fight!
Yes. Solid and whole-hearted embrace of national stereotype. 9/10

South KoreaEnjoy it, Reds!
I want to give this slogan a big hug. 5/10

MexicoAlways United, Always Aztecas
Expect better from the Mexicans. 3/10

NetherlandsReal Men Wear Orange
This is good. Bit of humour, bit of attitude, very Dutch, sounds like a proper slogan. 9/10

NigeriaOnly Together We Can Win
Lighten up, Nigeria. 3/10

PortugalThe past is history, the future is victory
They seriously put ‘The past is history’ in their slogan. 1/10

RussiaNo one can catch us
The campest of all the slogans (even the Dutch). Conjures up images of a bare-chested Putin sneaking into the room, tagging you and then running away giggling. 3/10

SpainInside our hearts, the passion of a champion
You can just about get away with talking about ‘passion’ when you’re a Mediterranean country (imagine this line spoken by Antonio Banderas), but this still talks about passion instead of showing it. It’s not Elephants Charging Towards Brazil!

SwitzerlandFinal Stop: 07-13-14 Maracana!
Check Switzerland out with their fancy numerals, no doubt set in Helvetica. 03/10

UruguayThree million dreams… Let’s go Uruguay
Rare example of a line that would be improved by an exclamation mark at the end. I worry for their mental state. 4/10

U.S.A.United by Team, Driven by Passion
Good in the sense it could only have come from America. Straight out of the corporate manual of buzzword collage that is handed out to every MBA student. United by Team? What does that mean? Should have gone with the @usasoccerguy approach: ‘GOALSHOT! Team USA with the deathstrike! #worldsoccerchampionship’ 2/10

All in all, an entertaining tournament, with Chile and Ivory Coast cruising into the final, which Ivory Coast go on to win 12-0. 

Abstract nominalisation never stops

Betterneverstops

I discovered recently that the official slogan of the British Olympic team (or ‘Team GB’) is ‘Better never stops’. It’s a strange slogan. Partly because, in the context of the Olympics, ‘better’ isn’t a very satisfactory aspiration – why not go for ‘best’? But mainly because it’s another example of the fashion for abstract nominalisation in brand lines.

I call it abstract nominalisation because I can’t find a better term for it.* It’s the practice of taking an adjective or adverb (‘better’) and turning it into a noun denoting an abstract, intangible quality. Other examples include Sky’s ‘Believe in better’, BUPA’s ‘Helping you find healthy’ and Adidas’ ‘Impossible is nothing’.

According to this post by Nancy Friedman, there are plenty of examples on the other side of the Atlantic, including the bizarre ‘The Do Inside’ by Lenovo and ‘Enjoy the Go’ by Charmin. In those cases, it’s verbs that are being turned into nouns, but the effect is similar.

Brand

Inevitably, the word ‘brand’ has come in for the same treatment – I notice Wolff Olins has long been talking about ‘brand’ as an abstract concept. This is a slightly different case, as ‘brand’ is commonly used as a noun. But it’s usually with a definite or indefinite article to refer to a particular brand, rather than Brand as an abstract entity.

While looking into this, I came across a post by copywriter Tom Albrighton talking about the disruptive effect of this type of usage. It’s deliberately intended to trip you up and make you take notice. If BUPA’s line read ‘Helping you be healthy’, it would mean the same thing, but wash straight over you. ‘Helping you find healthy’ strikes you as odd, which is at least a reaction. As Tom suggests, it’s debatable whether being deliberately obtuse is a good brand strategy in the long term, but it’s a strategy of sorts.

However, there are many ways to ‘disrupt’ language in order to get attention. What interests me is why many brands are choosing to be disruptive in this particular way – by turning an adjective into an abstract noun. My theory is that it’s the inevitable linguistic outcome of two competing urges among brand strategists.

The first is what copywriter Mike Reed describes as a ‘portentous straining for a big idea/essence’. A common gambit in any branding brainstorm is to elevate a product offering to the most abstract possible level. If you make chocolate, then you’re making something people enjoy. And if they’re enjoying it, that means they’re happier. So the more chocolate you make, the happier people are. So you’re not really making chocolate, you’re making joy. So Cadbury is no longer about chocolate, it’s about joy.

You can go through the same thought process with any brand. Sky may be a broadcaster, but is that all they are? Isn’t it about broadcasting in a better way? Making people’s lives better? Continually improving things? So they’re not specialists in broadcasting, they’re specialists in ‘Better’.

There is some merit to this way of thinking. It’s a more sophisticated form of the old sales maxim about selling the sizzle, not the sausage. Every brand should be aware of the ultimate emotional benefit it offers and its bigger purpose in the scheme of things. But the obvious danger is that, whatever the nuts and bolts of a particular brand, once you start that process of abstraction, you’re always going to end up at something impossibly big and generic – ‘better’, ‘healthy’, ‘happy’ and so on.

Having arrived at that big, generic territory, you’re then faced with the problem of turning it into a positioning line that sounds differentiated and tangible. Which is where the two competing urges come in. How can you be simultaneously generic and differentiated, abstract and tangible? The answer is to turn an adjective into a noun. It’s a verbal trick that allows you to couch a generic thought in language that, even while it remains generic, at least has the feel of something more distinctive. And it sort of works. When you hear new language, your subconscious instinct is to feel there must be a new thought behind it.

I don’t think the people behind these lines are doing it quite that consciously or cynically – it’s more that this particular strain of brand thinking inevitably leads you to that logical impasse where something has to give. It’s like two tectonic plates rubbing up against each other, and eventually rupturing the language to form a new usage.

That’s my theory anyway. I’m sharing it because of a conversation on Twitter involving @reedwords, @acejet170, @hollybrocks, @davidthedesigna, @gray, @bull, @daninfragments, @neilbaker, @tomcopy, @linguabrand, @lateofnewmills and others, which ended with me promising to write at more length about it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed it, because this blog is ultimately about making people feel more informed and content – hence our new strapline: Blog Yourself HappyTM.


* Linguists’ corner footnote

Enquiries on Twitter have led to a number of suggestions. Nominalisation is the practice of turning a verb or adjective into a noun, so certainly applies here. ‘Nouning’ or ‘nounification’ are more conversational versions of the same thing.

However, those terms don’t quite seem to cover what’s happening in ‘Better never stops’ and ‘Believe in better’. Nominalisation of adjectives happens all the time in language – we talk about supporting the reds, for example. But this is an unconventional type of nominalisation that feels like it needs an extra or alternative descriptor. There's something about the fact that it involves an abstract usage – not just 'the better' of two options, but 'Better' as an entity. The closest parallel is the way we talk about believing in 'good' and 'evil', which are nominalised adjectives, but so common that they don't strike us as odd any more.

Others have suggested ‘modifying adjective for an elliptical noun’ and hanging comparative – in other words, ‘better’ is essentially still acting as an adjective for a missing noun that isn’t explicitly there, but which we read in anyway. For example, when we say Of the two runners, the faster won, fasteris still acting as an adjective for a missing 'runner that we read in anyway. So, with Believe in better it’s really ‘Believe in better [things]’. But I’m not sure about this – especially when it comes to ‘Better never stops’ – what would be the notional missing noun there? It seems to me what it really means is ‘Better [as a state of mind in which one permanently strives to improve] never stops [by its nature].

There are also the terms reification and hypostatisation, which refer to the practice of treating an abstract concept as though it were real – which is certainly the case with ‘Helping you find healthy’. Maybe we’re dealing with a hypostatised abstract nominalisation.

I haven't fully understood what I'm writing for at least the last four paragraphs.

LOCOG unveils new (brief for a) slogan

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Some thoughts on the London Olympic slogan, which has been ‘unveiled’ by LOCOG today. (Not sure how you unveil a slogan). The chosen slogan is ‘Inspire A Generation’, which most commentators agree is pretty uninspiring.

As I said on Twitter, it reads more like the brief than the answer.

Slogans are tricky things to generate – many of the best ones arose by accident, conceived as part of an ad campaign, often without a long-term future in mind, but growing naturally to take on the status of a brand line. As soon as you begin a formal process to generate a slogan, you’re facing an uphill struggle.

This is partly because even the best slogans can never tick every box in the brief. They’re not rational animals. If Nike had drawn up a detailed brief for a new slogan, ‘Just do it’ would probably have been rejected. The brief would have asked for something warmer, more engaging, less confrontational. As it was, ‘Just do it’ was a last-minute line conceived for a single campaign, which then grew in status after it received a positive response. It’s hard to re-create a process like that.

That said, LOCOG could have done a better job. ‘Inspire A Generation’ is a reasonable sentiment and ties in with the overall bid theme, which is a focus on young people and the legacy that the games will leave. But the best way to inspire a generation is to have a more inspiring brand message.

At this point, it would be nice if I could supply a brilliant answer myself. Given the brief, my first reaction would have been to question whether they needed a slogan at all. Is it really worth trying to hang everything on one phrase that will probably get slated by the media in any case? I’d also have warned them not to expect a single slogan to answer all their expectations. I’d have supported the idea of an open competition, but also encouraged them to get a panel of copywriters to cast an expert eye over them and suggest other answers. And I’d have sent them the recent Creative Review slogans issue, which shows how haphazardly a great slogan comes into being.

But some first ideas? I wondered about something trendy like #GBPB – the idea being that everyone in Great Britain this year should be aiming to achieve their PB in whatever they do. (PB = personal best – we’ll hear the abbreviation a lot this summer.). It’s a message that appeals to everyone and is cast in the language ‘the kids’ speak. Maybe #worldpb is less jingoistic. Either way, the media would probably hate it.

A more grown-up version of the same sentiment might be ‘Excel yourself’, in the sense of urging people not simply to spectate, but to get involved in the Olympic spirit – do whatever you do better than you’ve done it before. It’s a hard one to say ‘meh’ too on Twitter without sounding like a lazy oaf.

I’d like to think I’d arrive at a better answer than either of those, but they’re there to demonstrate the point that, if ‘Inspire A Generation’ is the brief, there are many potential creative expressions of the same thought.

But ‘Inspire A Generation’ will do its job to an extent – it gives the media something to talk about for a few days. It’s a three-word slogan that you can stick on all the merchandise. And it won’t scare the horses – no one could really object to such a safe sentiment.

Doubt it will make the next slogans issue of Creative Review though.

NB: I was going to use the 2012 logo to illustrate this post, but decided to use Daniel Eatock's alternative logo instead.

Top twenty tweaks

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I’ve been meaning to blog about #clienttweaks, a hashtag that came out of a Twitter conversation last year, full of imagined amends to classic lines. It was partially documented on this Creative Review post.  

I thought it would be interesting to take the top 20 slogans from the recent edition of Creative Review and imagine how they might have been tweaked in the hands of less imaginative clients. Amends are detailed below.

1. Beanz Meanz Heinz
Nice – just a couple of typos:
Beans Mean Heinz

2. Just Do It
Love the sentiment, but it’s a bit abrupt – can we make it more of an invitation?
Feel Free To Do It

3. Does Exactly What It Says On The Tin
Not all our products are in tins, and we need to emphasise how we add value:
Does Exactly What It Says On The Packaging – And More

4. Make Love Not War
Can we cover ourselves by adding in a message about safe sex? Something like:
Use A Condom, Not A Cannon
(Needs work)

5. Every Little Helps
Sounds small-time – please amend to:
Every Massive Saving Helps

6. Have A Break. Have A Kit Kat.
Let’s not confine ourselves to breaks – we need to occupy the entire snack territory:
Have A Kit Kat Any Time, Anywhere.

7. Vorsprung Durch Technik
Love it – this will be ideal for our German market.
Please let us know the English version.

8. Think Different
Pretty sure this should be an adverb:
Think Differently

9. It is. Are you?
Definitely use this, but need to tweak it as we’re not independently owned any more:
It is, in spirit. Are you?

10. It’s Finger Lickin’ Good
Nice – just missing the ‘g’:
It’s Finger Licking Good

11. Say It With Flowers
Too generic – need to own it:
Say It With Our Flowers

12. Keep Calm And Carry On
Please change to:
Keep Calm Going Forward

13. It’s The Real Thing
Please change to:
It’s The Genuine Article

14. You Either Love It Or Hate It
Love the opening – rest seems a bit negative. Please change to:
You’ll Love It!

15. Because I’m Worth It
Love this. Any suggestions for making it more exploitative would be great.

16. Snap! Crackle! Pop!
Nice three-part structure, but can we get more selling points into it? Something like:
Taste! Nutrients! Value!
… not quite the same ring to it yet, but I’m not the writer.

17. Never Knowingly Undersold
Love the simplicity, but legal have asked if we can tone down the ‘never’:
Infrequently Knowingly Undersold

18. Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité
Très bien. Fraternité est un petit peu sexiste, n’est-ce pas? Tant mieux!

19. Refreshes The Parts Other Beers Cannot Reach
Like it, but the url and Twitter handle will be a problem. Can we go with:
Refresh Yo’ Head

20. No One Likes Us, We Don’t Care
Really brave. Can we try flipping it round to emphasise the positive? Something like:
Everyone Likes Us, Because We Care

Otherwise, all good to go.

 

Footnote: You can read more about the original #clienttweaks here, with Mike Reed as one of the early pioneers, alongside Tom Albrighton, who later initiated the entertaining #xmasclienttweaks over the festive period. Many others have contributed to the hashtag, although it was sufficiently long ago for Twitter to have lost the results. Will have to excavate them and put them all in one place at some point.

Sloganz Meanz Commentz

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I recently had the strange experience of being quoted at length in the Daily Mail. They'd picked up on the recent top twenty slogans edition of Creative Review, which placed 'Beanz Meanz Heinz' at number one. The most entertaining thing was reading the 69 comments that followed.

It should be said that laughing at Daily Mail commenters isn't so much like shooting fish in a barrel as draining the barrel of water, nailing the fish to the bottom and hiring fifteen trained marksmen to spray them liberally with machine gun fire.

There is also the lingering suspicion that these may be spoof comments, possibly even written by someone at the Daily Mail to keep the traffic up. Nevertheless, they have the ring of truth about them. 

The poll may have had most people pondering what makes a good slogan, and which one might be their personal favourite. That's most people. Daily Mail readers immediately fear for the future of our once great nation:

Livingonbeans

Mr G of South Yorkshire angrily dismisses Heinz and marches off to Aldi:

Aldi

This sparks off quite a debate, with the suspiciously named Albert Hall:

Sainsburys

Mr or Mrs Wind in the Willows tries to make the peace, reminding us that beans are good whatever the brand:

Cantbeat

I'm not sure what this next comment is getting at, but I think they're suggesting a rewrite of the greatest slogan of all time:

Rewrite

Meanwhile, Paevo from across the Atlantic has perfected the Daily Mail tone of voice:

Withans

Paul from Lancashire makes what is surely a spoof comment, but then who knows?

Liberallefties

A Spurs fan from North London makes a telling point that may lead to a reprint of the Creative Review issue.

Alltime

But my favourite comment came from Mr M in London. It's not the spelling, it's the contribution itself:

Heineken

There's a kind of genius in that one. My favourite is that one I can't remember.

The story appeared in the Mirror as well, but no one commented on it.


(Top image taken from The Guardian, following Google image search for 'Daily Mail reader'.)

The best slogan of all time

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The new issue of Creative Review features the top twenty slogans of all time, with 'Beanz Meanz Heinz' a welcome winner.

I ended up being closely involved in the issue, joining the panel to decide the top twenty, writing an introductory article for the magazine, and being asked to ponder ideas for the front cover. 

The front cover is normally an entirely visual affair, but there seemed a good opportunity to do something more words-based. The natural answer was to use the slogans in some way and I thought it would be good to compress them all into one big slogan. Given the quality of its constituent parts, it must logically be the best slogan of all time.

This is how it reads:

Keep calm and just do exactly what it says on every little finger lickin’ tin of beanz and pop because you’re never knowingly worth the parts other beers cannot think different with flowers are you the real thing we don’t care have a break make love not vorsprung durch fraternité or hate it and carry on.

Catchy, isn’t it?

It’s been brilliantly brought to life by illustrator Miles Donovan and photographed by Stephen Lenthall, under the watchful eye of Creative Review art director Paul Pensom.

Feels like a rare honour to write a Creative Review front cover, albeit by cutting and pasting words by other people.

Will write more about the results in a separate post. (They've already been picked up in the Daily Mail, which is deeply unsettling.)

Every little probably does exactly what it says on the tin of beanz and Pop!

Beanzmeanzheinz_0

Creative Review is in the process of working out the 20 best slogans ever created. They've invited some people to send in their personal top fives. This is what I went for: 

1. Every little helps

I put this ahead of the others because it’s not just an advertising endline – it’s also a proper brand positioning. This is the comment I left on the original Creative Review post:

For me, the best strapline ever is also arguably the most evil: Tesco’s ‘Every little helps’.

It’s clever because it’s rooted in folk wisdom – a saying that has been passed down through generations. Exactly the kind of thing your grandma used to say. So it carries the everyday authority of a proverb.

It’s tonally appropriate – conversational and impossible to misunderstand (unlike John Lewis’s mind-bending ‘Never knowingly undersold’).

It’s strategically spot-on, because it taps into the customer’s mindset, and also works as a brilliant internal motivator. It’s about the tiny things that add up to a big difference – the penny cheaper on the baked beans, or the penny off the price you get from a supplier. Multiply tiny differences by something as big as Tesco and you have world domination.

And that’s the evil bit. The line is a classic example of verbal misdirection. ‘Little’ ought to be the last word you associate with Tesco. You should think of them as a multinational giant crushing everything in its path. But instead they plant that word in your head, with all the folksy charm it implies.

I don’t like it, but I admire it very much.

2. Beanz Meanz Heinz

The classic brief – associate our name with the generic product. The prosaic answer would be ‘Think beans. Think Heinz.’ This is the poetic answer – a brilliant piece of wordplay rooted in the brand name.

3. Does exactly what it says on the tin

Created a new idiom that will probably survive in the language long after Ronseal has gone. It’s a kind of anti-strapline – no wordplay, no clever twist, and a message so obvious it shouldn’t need saying – why wouldn’t it do what it says on the tin? But the hyper-clarity is perfect for the bewildering world of DIY.

4. Snap! Crackle! Pop!

The definitive example of a strapline driving an entire brand. Like many great lines, it wasn’t conceived as a strapline – it was part of a radio ad that got picked up and developed into a series of characters that are still used today. Interestingly, the product makes a different sound in other countries: Pif! Paf! Puf! (Denmark), Cric! Crac! Croc! (France), Knisper! Knasper! Knusper! (Germany), Pim! Pum! Pam! (Mexico).

5. Probably the best lager in the world

A classic example of a brand taking ownership of a word. Look up ‘Probably’ in a dictionary and you half-expect a TM to appear next to it. It’s even better because Orson Welles voiced the original TV ads – the greatest voice reading one of the greatest lines. They don’t make them like that any more. (They make ‘That calls for a Carlsberg.’)

Also-rans:
Other contenders included ‘Yes we can’ (reinventing the political slogan), ‘Made in Scotland from girders’ (the surreal approach), Wasssup (dated now, but fresh in its time), and for sheer longevity: ‘Say it with flowers’ (Interflora). But I could probably have picked several more.

You can see all the other top fives here.

 

UPDATE: I've just remembered another personal favourite slogan, for Boost. "It's slightly rippled with a flat underside." Voiced by Vic Reeves. A nice deconstruction of the strapline.