Getting the Message Across

Once in a great while – and it’s rare – companies come up with great messages and slogans.

These messages and slogans share one or more characteristics, but generally they change how we think about a particular product or company and they are memorable.  Volkswagen’s “Think Small” (Doyle Dane Bernbach, 1959) and Avis’ “We Try Harder” (DDB again, 1963), numbers one and ten on the list respectively, are among Advertising Age’s top 100 campaigns.  Equally memorable and at the same time category-creating are McDonald’s “You deserve a break today” (Needham, Harper & Steers, 1971) and DeBeers’ “A diamond is forever” (N.W. Ayer & Son, 1948), numbers five and six on the list.

Good messages endure.  Who doesn’t know M&Ms’ “Melts in your mouth, not in your hands” (Ted Bates & Co., 1954) or AT&T’s “Reach out and touch someone” (N.W. Ayer, 1979) or, from  Motel 6, “We’ll leave a light on for you” (Richards Group, 1988), numbers 39, 80, and 91 on the list.  And let’s not forget number 30, Campbell Soup’s “Mmm mm good” (BBDO, 1930s).

I have a few personal favorites on the list:
12.)    Apple Computer, “1984″, Chiat/Day, 1984 (coming at a critical juncture for Apple, few commercials have ever been more influential).
49.)    Cadillac, “The penalty of leadership”, MacManus, John & Adams, 1915.  (An advert that ran only once and didn’t even mention automobiles or even the brand being advertised.  Rather, it expressed the dilemma of the pioneer who breaks with tradition and is subject to the “fierce denial and detraction” of his competition.)
51.)    Charmin, “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin”, Benton & Bowles, 1964 (does anyone not think of Mr. Whipple when entering a supermarket?)
84.)    BMW, “The ultimate driving machine”, Ammirati & Puris, 1975 (40 years ago, BMW invented the concept of the sports sedan).
87.)    Xerox, “It’s a miracle”, Needham, Harper & Steers, 1975 (who can forget the monks in the monastery?)
93.)    IBM, Chaplin’s Little Tramp character, Lord, Geller, Federico, Einstein, 1982.

…as well as a few that aren’t (yet) on the list:

  • “Can you hear me now?” Verizon Wireless
  • “Let your fingers do the walking” – Yellow Pages (Geers Gross, 1964)
  • “We’re the dot in .com” Sun Microsystems

Why did these work where hundreds of thousands of slogans and campaigns failed miserably?  The true test for a message is two-fold:
1.) whether the company actually messages out what it intended to say, and
2.) whether the recipient actually understands it as the company intended

This is, as evidenced by the information highway, which is littered with failed messages, much more difficult than it would appear.

Next week we’ll look at the IT industry and why, by and large, the message just isn’t getting through.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

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