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."

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