Funny You Should Say That! Something Catchy
By John Cadley
I write catchy stuff for a living. That isn’t my phrase. It doesn’t begin to describe the marketing knowledge, business insight and conceptual problem-solving skills that go into being an advertising copywriter. “Catchy stuff” is, however, the phrase I hear most often when I tell people what I do. “Advertising, huh? You mean you write that catchy stuff? Did you write that commercial where the bear eats the bar of soap and then takes a swig of the stomach medicine and gets a big smile on his face? Was that a real bear?” This is when I have to make the startling revelation that one copywriter does not write all the commercials on television.
Even clients say it. These are seasoned businesspeople with MBAs, and yet when it comes to giving an assignment, they will end a long, sophisticated briefing by summing up: “You know, give us something catchy.”
So catchy it is. I don’t mind catchy. It’s better than saying, “Oh, you mean you lie for a living.” This came from a person who wrote political speeches that used 10,000 words to say absolutely nothing. Still, it wasn’t very nice.
At any rate, one of the catchy things I’m asked to write is something called a “tag line.” This is a short, memorable phrase or sentence that encapsulates the soul of the brand. (Yes, brands have souls. Never mind how.) “You’re in good hands with Allstate” is a tag line. Home Depot’s “You can do it. We can help,” is another. It’s a little tricky, because it has to imply a lot more than it actually says. Some companies take this to extremes. (Notice I say companies, not copywriters, since companies frequently reject everything the copywriter submits and instead choose a line written by the CEO’s wife.)
Among my favorites are tag lines that talk about “solving tomorrow’s problems today.” It has a nice ring to it. Clever juxtaposition of words. Pleasing cadence. The only problem is that it’s complete nonsense. Never mind that if the human race has demonstrated one consistent trait throughout history, it is that tomorrow is the last thing we think about. If we could really solve tomorrow’s problems today we would have avoided every war, depression, epidemic and natural disaster that has ever befallen us, with the possible exception of American Idol, which appears to have been preordained from time immemorial.
The real issue is that a line like this is meant to convey ultimate control and foresight, and yet I can tell you from personal experience that it usually comes from a business operating on the brink of chaos, with people running around trying to fill yesterday’s orders, never mind about tomorrow. If one of “tomorrow’s problems” showed up on their doorstep they’d say, “Not now. I’m busy.”
Another favorite is the tag line embodying the notion that “our people make the difference.” Folks, I have to tell you that when a company says this it’s because there is absolutely nothing different about it. What that company is saying is, “We make the same product as everyone else, which you can get for virtually the same price, at most of the same places. But – you should buy from us because we’re really nice people.” Which they undoubtedly are – just like all the really nice people who work for their competitors.
And finally there is the local bank tag line, which is almost guaranteed to have the word “friendly” in it somewhere. For some reason every local bank wants you to think that doing business with them is as easy and carefree as talking to your neighbor across the backyard fence. They even say that in their ads: “We’re folks who live in the community just like you and when you come in we treat you like family.” This presumes that you would feel safe and secure having your neighbors and/or family members managing your money. I, personally, would not. My family members are more inclined to borrow money from me, and my neighbor is currently on parole.
Now I have to get back to writing a tag line for a hospital. I’m thinking of something like: “Solving your health problem today before it becomes even worse tomorrow, with friendly people who make a difference, because if they don’t, your prognosis is not very good.”
Catchy, don’t you think?
John Cadley is an advertising copywriter in Syracuse, New York. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.