November 15, 2006

You Can Say That Again: How To Get Ahead In Advertising

I’ve now got my own column in the Warwick Boar which is clearly a terrible great acceptable idea by the editorial team. This was the first column and I’ll stick some more of the older ones up over the next day or so… Warning They get better, but not by much!

As anyone desperate to make it in advertising can tell you, a snappy sound bite is like a small chunky nugget of gold. Condensing the message into a handy phrase that even the most distracted commuter can absorb is a precise and somewhat hit-and-miss art. Thus the wannabe Saatchis must surely take little pleasure in those who accidentally come to define an era with their phrases. Let’s face it, even classics like “You’ve been Tangoed” cannot compare to “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.

That Neil Armstrong’s words, famously, don’t quite make sense is just a part of their charm. Here he was, in the most historic position imaginable and he messed up a little. Around the world people feel relief that even the highly trained explorer heading for immortal fame was still human enough to fluff his lines. It also resonated well within the context of the times. The power of human endeavour. Another famous phrase remembered from the 1960s is “To boldly go where no one has gone before”. It was a decade which stuck its head in the clouds and those lines reflect this.

It’s the case with other decades. From the 1940s, a time of united defiance of evil forces, we recall Churchill’s speech asking the nation to “fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds… we shall never surrender”. Less well remembered is Churchill’s exchange with Lady Nancy Astor, who informed him that “Winston, if you were my husband, I’d poison your tea”. Churchill’s riposte was brilliant. “Nancy, if I were your husband, I’d drink it.” Funny, but it doesn’t really sit as comfortably in the memory banks of people who see Churchill as the belligerent but heroic leader.

However since the 1970s (“I am not a crook”, “Use the force, Luke”) the nuggets have become a bit dispiriting. More than a few people will recoil in horror at the thought of yuppies smarming “Greed is good” at each other across nouvelle cuisine and slap bass heavy background music (ick). And there’s the 1990s howl of “Vindaloo, na na!” which could, at a push, be a sign of multiculturalism and integration… or not. Probably not. Let’s not even bother with New Labour’s claim that “Things can only get better” as all they’ve managed is to stand perfectly still, good moves forward like the minimum wage crapped on by the fallout from the Iraq War. Plus nicking your catchphrase from a cheesy gurn of a record was never going to be a solid foundation for immortality.

So the 2000s, eh? Still a few years left but at the moment we could be looking at a curious run in for the title. In there with the best is “Not in my name”. Simple, eloquent and, for many people, an accurate representation of how they feel in these times of disenchantment with pretty much every form of authority. Interestingly it could be argued that “Not in my name” is simply the middle class version of one of its main contenders. So altogether now – “Am I bovered?”


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