This blog is about the quirks of the English language, about writing and writers, about punctuation, grammar, where words come from and the close relationship between language and culture.
An important area of writing, language and culture upon which we have not touched (never end a sentence with a preposition) is advertising. [If I may digress before even beginning - one of the most famous, variously quoted and perhaps apocryphal stories about Winston Churchill's language standards relates to an assistant or editor who clumsily rearranged one of Churchill's sentences so that it ended in a preposition, causing him to write in reply, "This is the sort of English up with which I will not put."]
Anyhoo. This post is about advertising, which is an expression of culture, often a driver of behavior and consumption habits, a setter of trends, and a context in which language is sometimes played with rather brilliantly. Advertising has to be short and pithy – no War and Peace epistles in this realm.
We do need to note the obvious, that advertising can be annoying, and many people despise it. H.G. Wells wrote that "Advertising is legalized lying." I think that's a bit harsh, but, well – cigarette ads, various snake oil concoctions to cure you-name-it – okay. Lying. Equally cynical is Will Rogers: "Advertising is the art of convincing people to spend money they don't have for something they don't need."
William Bernbach wrote, in contrast to Wells, that "The most powerful element in advertising is truth." There is probably something in that. Consumers may be seducible, but they are not generally completely stupid, as least not in the long term. Most people will, sooner or later, recognize the elements of both truth and lie in the advertising they see, read and hear. The truth will speak to them. Especially if it rhymes, has a catchy tune or a clever combination of words that lodges in the brain.
Advertising is a necessary part of selling goods and services. I disagree with Will Rogers on this one. He wrote: "If advertisers spent the same amount of money on improving their products as they do on advertising then they wouldn't have to advertise them." Shakespeare appears to be saying the same thing in As You Like it, when Erasmus says, "For salable wine, there is no need for hung-up ivy." Hmm. I'm pretty sure that advertising does sell products, and that even excellent products need to get their message out there.
Marshall McLuhan, the great analyst of media and popular culture, wrote that, "Advertising is the greatest art form of the 20th century" (21st, too, I believe he would add). Put in a slightly different way, the most powerful element in successful advertising is creativity. Advertisers need to catch people's imaginations, with a clever slogan, a memorable visual display or a great rhyming jingle that consumers find themselves singing in the shower. The advertising industry gives out Clio awards for excellence in advertising, and this always means awards for exceptional creativity, and often humor. Creativity makes a message stick.
High on the list of careers I regret not having is being a creative advertising copy and jingle writer. No shame in that. Some famous musicians wrote advertising jingles: Barry Manilow wrote for State Farm and Band-aid ("stuck on band-aid"), and he wrote the enduring "You deserve a break today, so get up and get away" for MacDonald's. Randy Newman wrote for Dr. Pepper, and believe it or not, before they were famous, The Rolling Stones wrote for Rice Krispies. Brian Jones wrote the jingle in 1964 and the Stones performed it. Unfortunately, it was only aired in the UK. Listen to it here: https://www.openculture.com/2011/11/the_rolling_stones_sing_jingle_for_rice_krispies_commercial.html
I'll bet every person reading this blog can remember five advertising slogans or jingles from their youth - rhymes, slogans and songs that stuck then and are still stuck now.
From the DeBeers diamond people, in 1948 (we will not reference here the terrible human rights history of the African diamond industry) – Diamonds are forever. That one really stuck.
Timex – takes a licking and keeps on ticking!
American Express – don't leave home without it.
Nike: Just do it (see http://www.adglitz.com/blog/2010/08/top-n-best-100-ad-slogans-taglines-punchlines-advertising-campaigns for the somewhat grisly origin of that one)
Believe it or not, this Coca Cola slogan originated in 1929 – The pause that refreshes. The good ones stay around, becoming part of common parlance.
Wheaties – Breakfast of Champions (1930's)
One of my all-time favorites, from Budweiser: Bud Lite. Everything you always wanted in a beer – and less!
And then you have the jingles. Oh, how I love the jingles! The ones below, as well as others, can be listened to at https://www.qualitylogoproducts.com/promo-university/top-10-advertising-jingles.htm ):
"I wish I was an Oscar Mayer Weiner (with the dancing weiner) …
Alka Selzer: "Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is…" (Bet anyone over a certain age can sing those last two)
And who among us, including vegetarians and others who have never eaten a Big Mac, can't sing the classic Big Mac ditty? "Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun…"
And "In the valley of the jolly - ho, ho, ho - green giant."
Ah, memories. I searched and searched for my favorite advertising song, wanting to share it with you. Alas, it was nowhere to be found. A Canadian ad for natural gas, aired perhaps in the early 1980's, it showed black and white 1950's teenyboppers jiving to the rock and roll jingle, "Cheaper now than in '56 – it's a natural gas! Natural gas…" Anyone else remember it? Got a link??
I would love to hear about the slogans and jingles you remember. In the meantime (from a future blog post perhaps, famous TV theme songs – who knows this one?), "Happy trails to you, until we meet again…" Go on, sing the next line. You know you want to.
Till next time.