It's curtains for the commercial catchphrase

Once we all remembered them. Now advertising slogans are failing to reach the parts they used to: they've been Tango'd by snappy design and image.

In the good old days, Happiness was a Cigar called Hamlet, Heineken refreshed the parts others failed to reach and Beanz Meanz Heinz. Or do I mean meant? Today's advertising slogans are staccato by comparison: Just do it. You've been Tango'd. It could be YOU. Proof, some fear, of the demise of the copywriter's craft.

"Advertising reflects what's going on around it," says Tim Mellors, creative director at Mellors Reay & Partners. "For instance, the wall-to-wall visuals of MTV, psychedelic club imagery and the distressed design of many dance magazines." While this has enhanced visual imagery, Mellors points to a definitedownside: "Slogans are often seen as corny and unsophisticated. The undue emphasis on visuals is often at the expense of ideas."

A new generation of British advertising creatives stand accused by their peers of producing incomprehensible and unmemorable ads, of allowing style to triumph over substance.

Take Peugeot's Search for the Hero commercial. Striking film, catchy song - but which car was it again? Or Grolsch's new ad, a roller-coaster of subliminal images cutting, in the blink of an eye, from lightning to polar bear to firestorm to shark. Or the black-eyed, silver man cavorting with hags in a desert to sell us Dunlop tyres? Just some of the growing number of advertisers who, like the grand masters Silk Cut and Benetton, have adopted the purely visual as house style.

Of course there are exceptions, such as the new campaign from Guinness. Its new slogan - Not everything in black and white makes sense - is accompanied in one ad by the image of a fish pedalling a bicycle. "An instant classic," proclaimed Marketing magazine's survey of best-remembered new campaigns (Guinness entered the top 20 at No 2).

But the enduring value of a memorable ad slogan - and the dearth of fresh examples - is highlighted this month by Maxim magazine, which reveals that people are two and a quarter times more likely to recognise an ad jingle than a famous quote from British culture.

Ninety four per cent of people surveyed correctly finished the phrase "Have a break, have a (Kit Kat)". Sixty two per cent correctly concluded "If you like a lot of chocolate on your biscuit (join our Club)", compared with only 16 per cent who could finish "Land of hope and glory (mother of the free)". Ads were selected for their "cultural relevance" and "classic status" - and, as the magazine states, it couldn't find one - not one - meeting these requirements that was new.

Dave Trott

Walsh Trott Chick Smith

Advertising has come to rely too much on the visual at the cost of core advertising values, says Dave Trott, creative director of Walsh Trott Chick Smith, still remembered for penning "Hello Tosh, Got a Toshiba?"

"In the past five years, it has become more about design. There's nothing you can remember - all you see is the trendy graphics.

"Good advertising copy blends the right strategy with a line that stands out without being patronising or crass: 'Australians wouldn't give a XXXX for anything else', 'Vorsprung durch Technik', 'It's a lot less bovver than a hovver'. All are campaigns I wish I'd done. Take Castlemaine XXXX. It's aimed at guys in the pub who like Paul Hogan, swearing and back-slapping. It's slightly naughty. But it's right for the market. And it still works.

"This is unlike 'Slam in the lamb' or 'Scream for cream'. The approach there was all wrong. The problem isn't lack of awareness of either lamb or cream - it's more complicated, and needs more than a rhyme to sort out. Catchy lines are all too often a knee-jerk reaction to conceal a lack of idea. The mind is geared to looking for patterns: people will always search for an easy way out. Sometimes, hanging everything on a catchline is just that."

Nick Welch

Amirati Puris Lintas

A true sign of an enduring ad slogan is when it passes into everyday speech. Such as Heineken's "Refreshes the parts", and more recently, "You've been Tango'd". But the changing nature of the business acts against the development of universal advertising catchphrases, believes Nick Welch, creative director at Amirati Puris Lintas.

"The key to establishing a memorable slogan is consistency and continuity - there seem to be fewer longer running campaigns about today as the business and fashions change faster and faster. Not that a catchy slogan always works. In the Fifties, 'You're never alone with a Strand' was the archetypal failure. The ad featured a man crossing a bridge, smoking, alone. He stops, tossing a spent match into the Thames below. Everyone remembered the slogan, but no one bought the product. They thought: 'These fags are for losers'."

"People now realise you don't need a slogan to hold a campaign together. In fact, products like Levi's and Pepsi make a virtue of not having one at all. A slogan can become an albatross - although popular, it may hold you back, creatively. Heineken's 'Refreshes the parts' inevitably dictates the content of each ad. Levi's, however, can trim its advertising to reflect shifting styles."

Robert Saville

Gold Greenlees Trott

"The era of the classic, jinglesque ad slogan has passed," says GGT joint creative director Robert Saville, whose credits include Holsten Pils (notably the "No shit" and "Arsehole" ads). "The old end slogan has become the equivalent of a chat-up line. It's all very well, but not the basis for a deep and meaningful relationship.

"Instead, current ad campaigns use verbal monikers - such as Nike's 'Just do it' or Holsten's 'Get real' - to condense and summarise an attitude to the product (and life in general). The Nineties consumer is a more aggressive, vigilante consumer. He or she wants deeper reasons for getting involved with a brand. These are people who believe they can stop a motorway being built. The won't fall for glib marketing. Advertising has to work much harder.

So, the AA's Fourth Emergency Service is not so much a slogan as a statement: "It says 'We'll be there, for you. Trust us.' Compare, 'You can with a Nissan' with 'A car you can believe in' from Volvo. To work, a successful advertising copyline must operate on more than one level.

"Visual imagery has replaced words in a number of campaigns. But ads featuring words used solely as an aide-memoire rarely stand the test of time. There's a saying that a picture is more powerful than a thousand words - well, a good idea is more powerful than a thousand images."

Viv Walsh and Jo Tanner

Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising

"It's more primeval to look at an image than to read one. And it's more universal, too - which is always going to be attractive to larger advertisers," according to Viv Walsh and Jo Tanner, the Saatchi & Saatchi creatives behind the Club 18-30 campaign.

"Use of advertising slogans is undoubtedly in decline as people become less 'book-led'. Generally, advertising people used to be from old universities. They wanted to write novels, and saw writing ads as something to do in the meantime.

"Words need to be read. A visual happens for you. We're trying to save the viewer time and energy - getting the message across to them more quickly, as fast we can.

"Commercials director Tony Kaye is the spiritual leader of young creatives today - truly a vision-smith. Images from his Dunlop commercial, for example, lasted in minds longer than the ad itself. Now, that's saying something."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

Ashdown Group: Web Developer - London - £40K plus benefits - Salary negotiable

£38000 - £40000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: A leading consu...

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£12 - £15 Hourly Rate: Sheridan Maine: Are you an experienced Accounts Assista...

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Payable Clerk

£21,000 - £24,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a new opportunit...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat