Catchy or Clumsy?

March 19, 2002 | by James Bickers

For decades, advertisers have proven that a great way to get your products in customers' hands is to get your slogan on the tips of their tongues. You hardly have to think about some of the great ones; they leap to mind as if they never left. For example:

* "The ultimate driving machine."

* "It's the real thing."

* "The joy of cola."

* "Finger lickin' good."

* "Run for the border."

Pizza industry advertising also is slathered with slogans, some memorable, and some not. But studies show that even the best slogans don't always equate to high sales, and that those companies that are the busiest don't always have the best slogans.

Barbara Lippert, advertising critic for Adweekmagazine, says that while slogans can do much to build brand awareness, they are seldom directly linked to better sales.

"An example is Wendy's, 'Where's the Beef,' " Lippert said. "It was used in a presidential debate, everybody was talking about it, it was a part of the times. But I don't think it helped Wendy's sales very much."

Lippert also points out that many times, an ad campaign might be particularly memorable, while the slogan itself is not. She points to the ubiquitous Budweiser "Wassup?" series of ads, noting that most people don't even remember the actual tag line, "True."

Eager to understand why some slogans work, asked some experts to weigh in on some better-known brands' taglines. We asked them to describe why some stick in listeners' minds while others slipped right through.

We asked a psychology professor to discuss the impact of slogans on consumers' psyches, a linguist to consider the value of slogans' syntax and structure, and an ad critic to shoot straight from the hip with a "loved it," or "hated it" opinion.

"Better Ingredients. Better Pizza.": Papa John's.

Perhaps the most infamous pizza slogan of all, "Better Ingredients. Better Pizza." landed at the center of a tumultuous legal battle between Papa John's and Pizza Hut that raged from 1998 to 2001. By claiming the slogan's assertions were false and misleading, Pizza Hut won a court battle forcing Papa John's to stop using it. Papa John's appealed the ruling and won, which led Pizza Hut to counter that with an appeal to the Supreme Court, no less. Ultimately, the Dallas-based company lost, and Louisville, Ky.-based Papa John's kept its claim.

So, were these four words worth the fight? "It's solid, if not exactly brilliantly catchy," said Lippert.

"I like the simplicity and balance of this slogan," said Lisa Huber, who has taught linguistics at the University of Louisville in Louisville, Ky. "It is positive, uses repetition of sound, is balanced visually and syntactically (the latter through use of a parallel structure: adjective noun, adjective noun), and uses a semantic structure that reinforces its claim. It is concise, containing only content words."

"The use of the exclamation mark, in print and the exclamatory intonation in the spoken version, along with the repetition implies, 'Pay attention to these words -- there's something important you need to know."

Lisa Huber
Professor of Linguistics, University of Louisville

"Compared to the other ads, this one may be more likely to appeal to individuals who are influenced more by reasons than by image," said Lynn New, professor of psychology at East Texas Baptist University, in Marshall, Texas. "The ad suggests a possible reason why this pizza may be better."

According to Huber, subconscious reasons why this slogan works so well may come in to play.

"There's repetition of a sound at the beginning of each noun phrase: b-,b-. This alliteration makes the slogan easier to remember," Huber said. "It is balanced: two words on either side of the comma, visually and aurally. The final noun phrase has fewer syllables than the first noun phrase. That and the rhythm of the final noun phrase -- each word has two syllables: bet-ter piz-za -- make the slogan flow toward a strong ending."

Huber also says that this phrase is strong because of the familiarity of its form: It uses an "if x, then y" or "because x, then y" framework, a comparative form of reasoning to which most people are accustomed.

"The Best Pizzas Under One Roof": Pizza Hut.

This long-running Pizza Hut slogan is perhaps one of the industry's best known. But according to Huber, it does not achieve its goal.

"This is a weak slogan in a number of ways," she said. "First, why 'pizzas'? I think the term 'kinds of pizza' is what the slogan is after, while 'pizzas' would refer to the number of pizzas only. And what's the roof got to do with anything? I vaguely remember that Pizza Hut has a distinctive roof on its restaurant; but that is especially irrelevant to take-out orders and mall-based outlets that don't have a roof."

New agrees, saying that this phrase is not particularly striking. "The basis of (Pizza Hut's) appeal seems vague, or at least not as obvious as those of some of the others."

"This slogan doesn't have a rhythmic structure, nor any other linguistic devices to aid memory," Huber added. "Indeed, there are too many words that don't relate to the message or pizza -- 'the,' 'under,' 'one,' 'roof.' Only 'best' refers to the pizza."

"Avoid the Noid", and "Bad Andy, Good Pizza": Domino's Pizza.

Advertising, our experts said, strives for a two-fold goal: immediacy and instant recognition of the advertiser. Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Domino's use of fictional characters didn't hit the mark in either case because it first required consumers to know the identity and purpose of both the Noid and Bad Andy.

" 'Someone is bad: Domino's pizza is good,' is the only message available to uninitiated readers," said Huber of the badly received and short-lived 'Andy' campaign.

Additionally, both she and New said the slogans are rendered largely ineffective beyond TV advertising. If someone doesn't tune into the tube, they'll likely have no idea what these characters are trying to communicate in a print ad.

"People remember that the Noid is really annoying, or that Andy was really obnoxious, but they don't remember what he's selling," Lippert said. "There was not enough linkage to a product."

Huber seems to imply that "Bad Andy, Good Pizza," might be a roundabout way of emulating the success of Better Ingredients, Better Pizza.

"As with Papa John's slogan, (this slogan) contains only four words and uses parallel structure (adjective noun, adjective noun) for an easy-to-remember structure," she said. "'Bad-good' is a familiar antonym pair, though 'good-bad' is the more common order."

"The thing that Bad Andy was trying to do, I guess, was appeal to the subversive pot smoking 20-year old that orders a lot of pizza at night," Lippert said. "But maybe that's not what you want to ride your multi-million dollar campaign on."

"It's not delivery, It's DiGiorno": DiGiorno Rising-Crust Pizza.

The best slogans, it seems, rely on wordplay that hits the listener on some subconscious level. Here, the DiGiorno slogan appears to accomplish its goals.

"I like this slogan because of the play on the sounds 'di' and the Italian feel of adding the morpheme 'di' to a noun," said Huber. "For the most part, however, in English, 'di' or 'de' is not a separate morpheme, that is, it doesn't add meaning to a root."

According to New, this phrase utilizes "downward comparison" in order to make the product seem special. "This may be like those instances in which people make themselves feel better by comparing themselves to those who are less fortunate or less capable," she said. "Here the pizza is special because of what it is not; it is not ordinary delivery pizza."

"When one reads or hears 'it's not x, it's y,' one assumes that x and y are related semantically," Huber added. "DiGiorno and delivery aren't obviously related words, hence we must work to figure out how they are indeed related.

"Unlike with Domino's, we don't have to work that hard or rely on extraneous knowledge, or accept absurdity. That they begin with the same sounds is initially a clue, but that turns out to be misleading. The semantic relationship refers to the unstated topic of pizza and quality. Implied is that one could mistake DiGiorno pizza for delivery (i.e., tasty, good) pizza."

"The Best Pizzas You Remember": Pizza Inn.

"The weaknesses in this slogan mirror those of Pizza Hut's," Huber said of the Plano, Texas-based company's catch phrase. "It does have the pronoun 'you,' which speaks directly to the reader-hearer. That is somewhat engaging. The verb 'remember' is odd, however. When it comes to pizza, remembering isn't the verb I think of -- unless it's remembering the phone number to order it. Eating, wanting, craving, maybe," could be used instead.

"The best pizza in town ... honest!": Mr. Gatti's.

"As in Pizza Inn's slogan, this has somewhat irrelevant wording in the way of the message," said Huber of the Kerrville, Texas, company's jingle. "Why 'in town'? There's no real information added by that phrase. So perhaps the writers thought the intonation of the slogan needed more beats to contrast with the one beat in the final word. And the two syllables of 'pi-zza' are balanced by the two syllables in 'in town.' "

"This ad may intend to suggest that the pizza makers are people capable of honesty and thereby suggesting quality," said New. "Many people assume that if someone possesses one virtue, such as honesty, he or she probably is good in most other ways including being good in one's work of pizza making."

Still, the power of punctuation helps this message, said Huber.

"With an exclamation mark, the implication is, 'Really, truly, no kidding, pay attention. Even though the claim is big, you can believe me,' " Huber said. "It's interesting to think about how the slogan would be different if the final punctuation mark had been a period. With only a period, the meaning would be more, 'I am serious. There's no more to be said.' "

According to Lippert, this slogan might be selling Mr. Gatti's short. "Saying it's the best pizza in town doesn't say much," she said."

"Pizza! Pizza!": Little Caesars.

Simplicity and symmetry are highly effective in this, the shortest slogan on the list, which is now a quarter century old.

"This slogan uses simple repetition of the key word to make its point," Huber remarked. "The use of the exclamation mark, in print and the exclamatory intonation in the spoken version, along with the repetition implies, 'Pay attention to these words -- there's something important you need to know.' It has the fewest and simplest words of all the slogans. There's a rhythm and humor to the word pizza that is emphasized by saying it twice."

"Where a Kid Can Be a Kid": Chuck E. Cheese's.

Our experts found that this slogan does a good job of singling out the differences between it and other pizza companies.

"This ad provides a type of social message that may be appealing to individuals who are influenced by image-oriented messages," said New. "It may offer a kind of affirmation to parents by suggesting that they are helping their kids to be themselves, or by appealing to the kid in the adult."

"People attend to messages that have relevance to their personal lives. This ad suggests a connection between pizza and your busy life."

Lynn New
Professor of Psychology, East Texas Baptist University

"Pizza is nowhere to be found in this slogan," Huber said. "And that's as it should be, given what Chuck E. Cheese's is selling. The rhythm of the phrase puts the emphasis on 'kid': where a kid can be a kid. This slogan appeals to parents, who know what 'being a kid' means -- running around making a lot of noise -- and to kids, who know that most restaurants require them to suppress those parts of their beings."

"I personally never liked that," Lippert said. "What it's saying is, your kid should be able to go and throw things at each other and act like little varmints, just because they're at a restaurant for them."

"Get the Door. It's Domino's!": Domino's Pizza.

Of all the slogans surveyed, Domino's current tagline got the most enthusiastic review -- much warmer than "Andy" and the "Noid".

"This slogan differs from all the others in a number of ways," Huber said. "First, it is comprised of two syntactically complete sentences instead of phrases. Second, it includes an attention-getting command -- get the door -- that speaks to the reader/listener directly, telling us to do something. Third, this slogan uses the name of the brand, Domino's. In that way, it stands out and is, perhaps, 'stickier' despite the extra words ('the' and 'it's') and lack of syntactic or semantic or rhythmic balance."

"People attend to messages that have relevance to their personal lives," said New. "This ad suggests a connection between pizza and your busy life; it is at the door."

"I like the fact that it sounds like part of a conversation and emphasizes the laziness of ordering pizza," Huber added. "Not only is the speaker not cooking, he/she doesn't even want to get off the couch to answer the door."

James Bickers
James Bickers is the former senior editor of Retail Customer Experience, and also manages webinars for Networld Media Group. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist and innovative content strategist, with publication credits in national, international and regional publications. wwwView James Bickers's profile on LinkedIn

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