Even this is better…

How Hillary Clinton and the Democrats lost to the man-thing we now have in office is a case study on screwing up. The reasons vary depending on whom you ask and how honest they wish to be. Regardless, the DNC must get their marketing right the next time. And at the tip of that spear will be a bold tagline. Like it or not, “Make America Great Again” resonated with a lot of people. The Dems need something simple and catchy that captures what they stand for. With so much access to creative talent predisposed to your party’s positions, this should be an easy fix.

Early returns suggest otherwise. Way otherwise. Take a gander at the DNC’s new slogan:

A Better Deal: Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Wages.

While some joked it sounds just like Papa John’s tagline, Better Ingredients, Better Pizza I’m afraid that’s the least of this slogan’s problems. At best, it reads like a line from a trade ad, a dismal piece of copy in a paragraph no one will ever read. At worst, bullet points from a strategy statement.

How can the Democrats be so tone deaf? Especially given their failure in November for essentially the same thing. Did Nancy Pelosi write this? “Better wages.” Who even uses the word wages anymore? No one under eighty, that’s who. The word is an artifact from New Deal era politics. Speaking of deals, it that the best way Democrats can assert their new platform –a better deal? Yes, we have a joker in the office but you’re not going to beat him or anyone else with a pair of 2’s.

Here’s what probably happened. They started with a valid insight: that Dems need to better reach out to the working class. Then too many people got in a room and processed too much data – a fatal flaw, I might add, of the Democrats themselves. A committee wrote this line and we can tell. Obama won two terms with “Hope & Change” not “Deals & Wages.” We can only “hope” the DNC “changes” this inept tagline or we’re all singing Hail to the Chief for President Pence.


The slogan generator, a silly App created by bored creatives, could do better. Or better yet, give me a call. I’ll write you a theme line with Curious Strength.

Sorry son, only the tagline lives on…

This is not your father’s Oldsmobile. The line has become a pop culture catch phrase, in the same ilk (albeit attached to worse advertising) as “Got Milk?” Try reading your morning paper and not finding a variation on it. For example, about a candidate: “This is not your father’s Democrat.” About a technological innovation: “This is not your mother’s sewing machine.” And so on. Sadly enough, more Americans are familiar with the Olds’ slogan than they are of Shakespeare’s finest sonnets. Way more.

As I remember it, a soft-spoken creative director at Leo Burnett by the name of Joel Machak wrote that famous line. Yours truly actually came up with the campaign’s tag: “The New Generation of Olds.” Both pieces were intended as lyrics. That’s right, a jingle! As a matter of fact, I was brought in (just a kid at the time) to help Joel come up with the refrain. The piece went together as follows (sing along): This is not your father’s Oldsmobile…This is the new generation of Olds.

Given it’s continued popularity I decided to write a piece about it, in 2008. Since then the story continues to provoke readers to comment on the campaign. The debate mainly revolves around who actually penned the line, including a recent missive from then creative director, Don Gwaltney. (Hi Don!)

Before I go on, let me state that all the posted arguments are more than less valid. Don Gwaltney. Ted Bell. Jim Ferguson. David Caldwell. Joel Machak. Me. We were all in the proverbial room when said campaign got said. Have a look at the string and catch up on your ad history: My post, 2008

What’s ironic is that when this campaign was in its heyday most of us were not particularly proud of it. We knew it was catchy but we also realized it was damn silly. As the commercials caught on I remember feeling pretty foolish about what I’d created. It wasn’t until years later I actually put a couple of the spots on my reel and even then I did so with trepidation. To my recollection the campaign never won a single creative award. A few years later Oldsmobile went out of business. The adline proved true to a fault. This was not your father’s Oldsmobile. Dad’s Oldsmobile was good. These cars were mediocre and overpriced.

Be that as it may, the campaign became a part of advertising history –even American history. And people want their props.

With equal parts embarrassment and pride, I give you one of the first commercials, which I wrote, for “Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile.”

Bill Shatner & Daughter \"Space Age!\"

I presume they are not talking about Mom…

“Bags fly free!” I’ve been extolling Southwest airline’s now-famous tag line for days; been tweeting it as well. I flew Southwest to Kansas City for Thanksgiving. Family of five. Four of them girls. That’s a lot of bags. And guess what: my bags flew free! I’m a big fan of the service (it seems ridiculous and unfair for airlines to charge for suitcases) and I’m an even bigger fan of the phrase. This is a piece of copy that says what it does, in no uncertain terms. There is a noun (bags) a verb (fly) and an adjective (free). Nothing more… for nothing more is needed. The line is as frugal and pragmatic as the airline it was written for.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this tag line is how blatantly obvious it is. Void of any double meaning or clever phrasing, “Bags fly free” is absolutely, positively blunt. It couldn’t be more un-clever if it tried, which, thankfully, it doesn’t. It’s anti-catchy.

As a copywriter, I have always fancied fancier taglines -pithy, arch, and ripe. My favorite tagline of all time is “Nothing runs like a Deere” for John Deere tractors. It’s a beautiful pun. It looks as great on a tee shirt as it does on a TV screen.

“Bags fly free” doesn’t work like that but it is a lightning strike never the less. Airlines are in trouble. The economy is broken. People are angry, worried and scared. Via one delightful promise, Southwest removes a great bit of that angst, positioning the airline above it all or, as their other (cleverer) brand line states, “free to move about the country.”

I can think of two other lines of end copy that work this way, one I like and one I don’t. The first is Geico’s ubiquitous mantra: “15 minutes could save you 15% on auto insurance.” Here is a mantra that also says what it does and does what it says. Geico surrounds the thought with all sorts of crazy, fun advertising (cavemen, geckos, etc.) but the ingenious “15 minutes” line remains at the core of every ad.

The second piece of copy is the one I don’t like, even though I believe it’s effective. “He went to Jared” has been bugging the crap out of me for several years now, especially around the holidays. Unlike the Southwest and Geico adverts, the ads attached to this copy are cloying, girly and annoying. But I do get the message. If I can’t afford Tiffany or Cartier I better get my ass to Jared.

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