THINK was one of the phrases and principles frequently used by IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, Sr.  Others included LEARN, STUDY, and THINK IN BIG FIGURES.  THINK appeared in IBM offices, plants, and company publications (it was the name of the IBM employee publication for many years) starting in the 1920s.  By the 1930s, THINK had begun to take precedence over other slogans at IBM.  It gained new popularity in the 1990s when, according to company legend, a researcher took a notepad with the word THINK written on it from his pocket and came up with the idea of a small, portable tool with which one could read, write, work, and think.  The rest is history.

This week we continue our look at Getting the Message Out.  IBM’s THINK is rare.  Most messages fall flat and miss the mark.  One that comes to mind is United Airlines’ “Rising.”  Do other airlines fail to rise?  Some messages come ever so close, but then ultimately fail.  A good example of that is Miller Beer’s “It’s Miller Time” campaign.  When it was launched, it required a bit of adjustment as people were going into pubs and saying “It’s Miller time, give me a Bud.”

Sometimes companies come really close.  American Airlines’ “We know why you fly” would have been perfect had they only used “We know why you fly American.”  Otherwise, it’s a rhetorical question that many may answer “to get from point A to point B.”

What does the IT industry have?  Apple Computer countered THINK with  “Think Different,” which suited Apple’s iconoclastic image quite well, even if it brought out the grammar police out in droves.  “The Document Company” certainly matched Xerox.

But a quick look at most IT industry messages tells a different story, one that is mediocre at best.  To wit,

  • Verizon – “We never stop working for you.”
  • Microsoft – “Where do you want to go today” or “Your potential, our power.”
  • Siemens – “Be Inspired.”
  • SAP – “The best run businesses run SAP.”
  • Cisco – “The power of the human network.”

What do any of these tell us about the company?  Frankly, not very much.  And why is Intel going away from “Intel Inside” to “Leap Ahead.”?  If “Melts in your mouth, not in your hands” was good enough for the makers of M&M’s for over 50 years, why not “Intel Inside”?  A classic message need not be changed for the sake of change.

While we’re at it, please tell me about slogans you find memorable or abominable.  E-mail me at  In the meantime, I’ll leave you with one that requires some more thought: “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.”

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

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