Some Things Never Change

“You can kill a horse, but you can’t kill a Cadillac.”

That slogan appeared in ads for the Cadillac Automobile Company in 1905, a few short years before being purchased by General Motors. The slogan changed throughout those early years, always somewhat lengthy by today’s standards. After the Great War, slogans got shorter.

Some people refer to them as “taglines”. Doesn’t matter. Slogans are one of those things that advertisers can’t seem to let go of. They’ve been around for close to 150 years.

They’re everywhere and every advertiser uses them. And some of them become part of the lexicon, at least in this country. Those in particular have been around a while, probably longer than you’d think. Nike says, “Just do it.” That’s from 1988. Subway says, “Eat fresh,” from 2000. McDonald’s has been saying, “I’m lovin’ it,” since 2003. Maybe time for a change on each of those, but maybe not.

The reason slogans are here to stay is because just saying the name of the company or product in an ad isn’t enough. Marketers want to leave you with a thought in your mind. And that’s not to say they want just to tell you that their’s is so good you can’t live without it. Saying that probably won’t make you run out and buy it.

Maybe back in 1905, people were more receptive to it, but over time—and certainly now—we’re much more jaded.

Giving a product an attribute—a quality no other advertiser has thought of—will set it apart from the rest. That gives the product a new quality that even the creators of that product hadn’t thought of. It’s about perception.

Above is a small collection of automobile logos with their respective slogans, as they appear in TV ads. Notice that most of them use a slogan as a suggestion for you to look at their brands in a different light.

Ford says, “Go further,” a reference to suggest maybe more MPGs or maybe a longevity of ownership. Or something else. In this way, what they suggest becomes interpretive, meaning that they’re making you think. The process becomes interactive in your mind. Does it stick?

Chevy asks that you “Find new roads.” Toyota says, “Let’s go places.”

Land Rover goes a step further by saying, “Above and beyond,” (almost like Buzz Lightyear’s “to infinity and beyond”.)

But BMW brings it back down to Earth. They just talk about the car in no uncertain terms. Is that a German thing? Even Mercedes Benz says, “The best or nothing.”

The thing is, it’s about perception, what the advertiser can place in your mind. It’s no longer just a car. It’s an adventure.

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First Impressions Mean More

Design is all about perception.

It all starts with a germ of an idea. A concept. But once a designer puts that idea to paper, sketching out his/her idea, it’s already changed. It’s evolved from a smidgeon of thought to a graphic entity. And that’s a translation the designer has now to grapple with.

But once that idea gets fleshed out, the designer has to make that idea have the kind of perception that denotes quality.

How do we perceive? By our senses, of course: seeing, hearing, feeling. We judge the value—the projected worth—of something by its appearance. We’ve often heard the adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But that no longer carries much weight.

Reason? Actually, here’s a few: 1) in the marketplace, we tend to associate worth with brand; Consumer Reports aside, brands carry a lot of equity with the buying public; 2) we live in a society where commercial reaction has been reduced to soundbites; regardless of the 15-second TV spot, repetition of an ad becomes rote; 3) Internet sales have eliminated the tactile sensation of handling an item before purchasing it: the silk tie, the wool sweater, the grip and feel of that new golf club.

Why do we buy item A instead of item B? In food packaging, marketers have come to appreciate the value of appetite appeal on the box, knowing that mom will be swayed more easily with a great photograph of that food.Other buyers may be tempted to try that boutique package instead, with hand-drawn type and a white, “pure’” background, thinking the item in that package is more organic or specialized.

But one thing is clear. Packaging a product is all about perceived value. Marketers will use terms like “upscale” to denote that the item has an affluent-based value.

When Steve Jobs was putting together his Apple Computer Company back some 35 years ago, one of his partners taught him the value of perceived quality. Mike Markkula instilled in Jobs that the total package was important, but essentially taught him that the package itself was at least as intrinsic to the perception of it as anything else. He never forgot it.

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