Category Archives: Corporate Identity

MasterCard: I’m sorry

I received a phone call from a MasterCard spokesperson after he read my recent blog on their new, poorly-conceived tagline.

He denied the slogan was MasterCard’s.

I apologized.

I did state, however, that I was pretty sure it was theirs.

He said that MasterCard had been using the very same slogan and ad theme for ten years now. You know, the one that ends: “MasterCard: priceless”.

I give MasterCard kudos for sticking with a theme for ten years. Most advertisers get tired of their messages – some even before they’ve had a chance to penetrate the collective minds of the target population. These advertisers get impatient. After all, they’ve seen the commercials and heard the words hundreds of times. They want a change, especially if they perceive sales aren’t advancing fast enough or steep enough to affect this quarter’s bottom line.

But I digress.

The MasterCard spokesperson did think it was possible that a MasterCard product or division could have used a new slogan without him being aware of it. He said he’d check that out.

He did agree with me that “the card that won’t hold you back” was vapid.

So if I just dreamed this new slogan and attributed it to MasterCard, I do again apologize. If it belongs to another credit card service and I wasn’t paying attention until that tagline “yelled” at me, I apologize.

But the first blog made a point about taglines and that’s what was important to me. I’ve never been “out to get” anyone.

So MasterCard, I’m sorry if I misrepresented you. I’m also sorry if you let this tagline slip by your corporate communications people because that’s an error in brand quality control.

Martin Jelsema

A tagline that actually differentiates the brand

If you get here often, you know I’ve been decrying the poor taglines some very large and sophisticated marketers have recently adopted.

To whit: American Airlines: we know why you fly, and MasterCard: the card that won’t hold you back.

So it’s time to feature one that’s a winner.

The commercials eBay has been running are, in my estimation, really well done and based on the way eBay is different because it’s an auction (or can be an auction, anyway). There are everyday people competing for a prize object. They may be fighting in the end zone for a “Hail Mary” pass of an unusual vase, or cantering with the hounds chasing a valued 1950’s lunch box. In each spot the winner is triumphant.

And the accompanying tagline: shop victoriously.

Right on, eBay. You’ve played to your strength and your defining characteristic: running auctions. Auctions are fun and thrilling and competitive. The tag captures all that and very clearly differentiates eBay from common retailers.

Contrast eBay’s slogan with MasterCard and American Airlines.

If you’re a copywriter, or an approver of ad copy, use this blog as your guide. By finding the emotional trigger that communicates your difference, you’ll come up a winner, too.

Martin Jelsema

Another lame tagline exposed

A few posts ago I blogged on taglines and the thought that they are at their best when differentiating a brand.

Well, I’ve run into another blue-chip advertiser whose adopted a tagline at least as useless as the example I gave last week: “American Airlines: We know why you fly”.

This time it’s MasterCard in the barrel.

I’m not sure how long they’ve been using “MasterCard – the card that won’t hold you back”.

But I can tell you it’s not a very strong competitive position, nor does it resonate with customers (at least with the six or seven I asked about the slogan). It’s not relevant as far as I can tell. Unless one of their competitors isn’t living up to promises they’ve made to customers. I own Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover cards and none of them have held me back, except that all of them rise interest rates, and I’m pretty sure that’s a function of the bank, not of the credit card provider.  In fact, I don’t know how any card provider could hold me back. It seems to me they’re addressing a phantom issue.

So, what’s the point? It’s a tagline that doesn’t…

Differentiate the advertiser…
Isn’t relevant…
Is not engaging…
Help make MasterCard more competitive…
Seem to increase MasterCard awareness or preference…
And finally, definitely falls into the platitude classification…

Isn’t your reaction to this slogan, “well, I should hope so”?

I’m at a loss. I speculated last week that desperation was the cause of American adopting its lame slogan. Is this the case here?

Or am I missing something.

I’d like to know what you think.

Am I so far out of sync with Mad Ave’s latest thinking that I’ve missed the point? Please let me know.

And if you’ve run in to taglines you’ve found dumb, please share them here. Also I’d like your candidates for great, differentiating taglines, too.
Just click “comments” below.

Martin Jelsema

Tagline Panic Setting in at American Airlines?

So it’s Sunday night and I was just watching the Colorado Rockies win their third consecutive game against Arizona. It’s an incredible run.

But that’s not the reason I’m blogging.

I want to comment on an American Airlines commercial that got through my ad filter during the game. Know I didn’t actually see the spot, I just picked up on their tagline, “We know why you fly.”

I immediately reacted: “Well, I should hope so.”

In fact, at least a majority of the taglines I hear today get that same response from me.

I first heard that response presented by Rich Harshaw and Ed Earle of Y2Marketing in a two-disk, no-nonsense mini-course called Monopolize Your Marketplace.

Their point is that most taglines (aka slogans and positioning statements) are platitudes that mean nothing, that don’t engage the audience and certainly don’t differentiate the advertiser. Their test for platitudes is the line, “Well I should hope so”.

Clever phrases that don’t differentiate, or at least imply a benefit, are a waste of money.

Just what had American Airlines in mind with that wimpy statement?

Had research shown that the flying public thinks other airlines don’t know that people fly to get to a destination? That they fly for business? That they fly on vacations? That they fly to visit friends and relatives?

No, there’s something else going on here. American Airlines, at the urging of their ad agency no doubt, believe by making a statement that another airline has not already made, that they can preempt a position.

But it’s not a differentiated position, nor is it one that is specifically benefit oriented. Knowing why you fly just means you’ve done market research. Taking action is what counts. I think they just got desperate. That deadlines were approaching. That they had seen so many tag candidates that they finally accepted one that was least objectionable. I don’t know how else such a lame tagline bereft of concept could have been adopted.

Anyway, I vote for taglines that aren’t platitudes.

And I’ll cheer on those amazin’ Rockies.

Martin Jelsema

Branding a Law Firm to Fill a Niche

Recently on late hour television here in Denver there’s been a flight of commercials directed at motor cycle riders by a local law firm.

Not only have they found a niche, they’ve branded their firm as the law firm for motorcycle-related legal matters.

Their name says it all: Lawyers That Ride.

Not only do the attorneys in this firm know the law and niche their practice, they are involved in the biker community. According to the commercial, they all ride. They wear leathers. They hang out with bikers at biker events. They are bonafide members of the community they serve.

They share a passion with their market, and have looked upon their market as a network of like-minded people.

We all know the lessons of the Harley-Davidson “cult”. We also know that bikers come from all occupations, cultures and backgrounds. But when they get together, they identify with one another. They have a bond and they express it and associate it with the Harley-Davidson BRAND. That’s what makes them a network first a market second.

This law firm, probably started over a beer or two at a biker’s hangout one Saturday, capitalizes on being part of the network in which they are passionate, and which values the unique services associated with legal problems of bikers.

Truly a great case of “Having your cake and eating it, too.”

And though the commercial is pretty amateurish in production values, the message comes across with impact: If you’re a biker needing a lawyer, call Lawyers That Ride. You’ll be with attorneys that know and relate to your problem.

Niche marketing means you must belong to the niche to be truly successful.

Martin Jelsema

Here’s a modest product with pro-like branding

Usually you’ll find me criticizing a branding travesty on these pages.

I can’t help it. There are so many of them and they stand out because they cause discord and disharmony. (And don’t give me the old story that any notoriety helps your brand. Not when with a little care and attention good vibes can be achieved for the same amount you’d spent on lousy branding.)

 Anyway, today I’m here to praise.

I saw an ad for a tattoo removing solution in last week’s USA Weekend. A 3/4 page, modestly colored ad with the headline “Finally…TATTOO REMOVAL. Beneath the headline a picture of the box was tied to the tagline, “It’s easy as opening this box.” The copy, a column on the right interspersed with visuals, speaks to the product’s advantage over laser procedures and a risk-free guarantee. Then an 800-number and an “ask for order” with bonus close.

Now I can’t vouch for the product, nor am I a prospect. I dodged a couple of “lets go get a tattoo” episodes in my college days. Sometimes I wonder how I survived those days, but that’s a subject this blog will not explore. Ever.

Anyway, the product’s name is WRECKING BALM.

 Wrecking Balm package

Isn’t that a great name for a tattoo fading product? See the tension? Isn’t it memorable? Won’t that be the kind of name people will enjoy repeating to friends and associates? 

The logo goes well with the name even though it smacks of patent medicines of a hundred years ago. Yet it does depict a character, Doc Wilson, who may or may not be real. Nevertheless his name lends some credence to the product.

 Wrecking Balm logo

The color palette, a faded rust and black, provides contrast and seems appropriate. If Wrecking Balm ever makes it to store shelves, it will display very well.

All in all, I’d say this was a first-class branding and advertising effort.

Now that this product’s on the market, perhaps I’ll look into getting that tattoo I nixed 50 years ago.  Nah.

Martin Jelsema

Borrowed Interest Ads Are a Waste

I’ve learned a lot about how to make good ads from a column that’s been around since at least the mid-1960’s.

It started as “The Copy Chasers” in AdAge, then went to Industrial Marketing, and now resides at BtoB where it’s just called “Chasers”.

The columnists – always anonymous – critique ads submitted by proud B to B advertisers, only to have their pets drawn and quartered. Oh, occasionally an ad would get accolades, but I always wondered why ad managers and agency people would submit their dogs for public execution. 

Anyway, over time their teachings have made a great impression on me. Over and over Copy Chasers warned about reverse type, or 4-color type over a 4-color background, or layouts without headlines. But most telling had to do with ad concepts and clichéd executions.

The concept of borrowed interest was, again and again, panned as a poor communications vehicle produced by lazy and/or no-talent writers and designers. I still bridle at borrowed interest ads and marketing communications of all types.

Then, in the latest issue of BtoB appears an ad with the following visual and headline:

 Borrowed interest ad - poor use of ad dollars

The copy starts with “Chew on this: tough media planning decisions get easier…”. I won’t embarrass the advertiser by telling you who approved and placed this full page of drivel.

If only the Chasers of today could get their hands on this dog. But of course, ads must be submitted by the advertiser, and even then I’m not sure the editors would allow the Chasers within a rope’s length of this one. 

Anyway, I still believe that borrowed interest just means there’s no real value in the product or service you offer, or at least the agency people couldn’t find it, or were more concerned with a “creative” portfolio that might impress other ad people. But why on earth would the advertiser approve it?


Change of subject: be sure to come back on Monday to review what I’ve written on the common branding problem the twelve pundits of the BrandingWire are simultaneously tackling. Then go on to to review the other perspectives. I think you’ll be amazed at the diversity and creativity demonstrated in this monthly co-op blogging event.

Martin Jelsema

What were they thinking?

Television ads continually amaze me.

To find one that really works is rare these days. It seems that fewer and fewer actually make sense. They tend to ignore the product and its benefits so they may display the agency’s creativity.

I believe there’s more to advertising than mere attention-gaining.

And now I’m noting that brands themselves are boarding that same rickety bus. They are branding for attention, and only for attention.

Here’s the latest, and in my opinion one of the worst, of this mongrel breed.

FishEye Wines.

FishEye wines?

What were they thinking?

How in the world do you find any relevance in a name like that for a beverage? Do they squeeze the eyes of fish to make it? Do they inspect it with a special lens? Not only is it irrelevant, it’s repulsive.

Now this is a boxed wine. It may have its appeal, if any, with a younger target market I just don’t understand. But I can’t see any of my grown children finding FishEye wine to be at all appealing. Even if the price were in the “Thunderbird” range, it is a put-off.

I’d like to hear from members of the 20’s age group, particularly if they can point out something I’m missing.

I can only guess that they thought a brand name like FishEye was so out-of-the-box that it would sell boxed wines.

Unique is prized in branding, but there’s got to be more.

My consulation?

I’ll bet there won’t be many catching FishEye.

Martin Jelsema