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

Naming Tips – Number 40 in a Series

Wow! I didn’t know I had 40 naming tips in me!

As far as I know, I haven’t repeated myself even though some tips might have hammered on a particular principle. Well, it seems I’ve still got a few thoughts to share, so here goes number 40…

In the beginning of any naming project, I’ve always suggested (hammered home) creating a naming brief that specifically delineates what is to be named, the name’s  function, to whom it must appeal, etc. The idea of a name’s function might need further clarification.

Other than identifying the brand, what function, from the list below, should the proposed name perform?

Convey an emotion or tone concerning the offering.
Suggest the offering’s category.
Identify with a specific market.
Tie-in with the corporate name/identity (if a product/service).
Suggest a specific application or function.
Pinpoint a particular differentiating feature/benefit.
Identify the offering as a member of an existing line.
Suggest a specific strategic differentiator (newest, heritage,etc.)

By being clear on one or two “secondary” functions of a name you’ll be better able to focus on relevant name candidates.

The name function, along with the other naming brief contents, should provide you with a very precise method of evaluating names as well.

Martin Jelsema

Two more branding info sites just discovered.

Perhaps I’m behind the times, but in case you, too, never knew about SlideShare and Idris Mootee, you’ll find this blog informative.

First, there’s SlideShare, a source for branding information and education, as well as many, many other subjects..

It’s a uTube-like site where people and post and retrieve slideshows. And if you search under branding you’ll find dozens of presentations and tutorials on the subject.

I found the site while doing some research using the Google Image Search. Just typed in “branding” and all sorts of charts, graphs, illustrations and devices where displayed. With a subject as visual as branding, I found some real kernels for displaying branding concepts.

One image led me to SlideShare.

I found SlideShare to be much more fruitful for business topics than uTube. Most of the presentations – PowerPoint formats usually – are informative white paper types. Yes, there are some that are completely self-serving sales pitches. But it’s worth the effort to sift them out and get to the really meaty material.

One resource I discovered there was a series of slide shows – six completed and two more to be posted – on branding by Idris Mootee. His series is called Brand MasterClass and you can begin at the first presentation by clicking its name. Very comprehensive but concise handling of this complex topic.

I also found Mr. Mootee’s blog to be intriguing and full solid content. It’s called Innovative Playground. I’m adding his blog to my “Other Blogs” list to the right.

Hope you’ll find this info as valuable as I did.

Martin Jelsema

Naming Tips – Number 39 in a Series

Here are a few comments and opinions about naming product features. First thing is, like most issues, there are pros and cons to naming features. And also there’s the ultimate weasel phrase, “It depends”.

So let’s explore names for features.

First of all, is the feature a product in and of itself?

Certainly the GM North Star system is a feature of higher end autos, and an option for lower-priced vehicles. As an option North Star is a product. As an included sub-system it is a feature. And because this system is exclusive and has become a valued reason to buy a GM car or truck, it has been promoted and advertised as a product. It helps differentiate the vehicle from competitors in a significant way. So, yes, naming this feature/product makes sense and contributes to the success of GM vehicle sales and profits.

But not all features deserve a name in my estimation. Many product features do not differentiate the product in a meaningful way. The marketer may believe that naming a feature common to a product category will make a difference, but I believe that kind of naming strategy only drains credibility from the offering – at least in the eyes of rational, informed buyers. 

I was once involved with evaluating names for four features being incorporated in a new line of lawnmowers. The features were all common to most high-end power mowers. Once we looked at the list of “winning” name candidates, we found there was no real advantage in naming them, particularly since the common descriptive phrases were already known and accepted by the respondents to the survey.

Having a list of feature names people are not familiar with, coupled with a product line name and a model name is just too much for a buyer to handle.

So here’s my rule-of-thumb guide to whether to name a feature or not: If the feature is truly a differentiator like North Star, and you plan to promote that feature at least at the point-of-sale, name the feature. But if it’s a “me-too” feature you just want to hype, forget it.

Also, keep in mind buyers want to simplify the buying process. By introducing a new name into the mix is just another factor to weigh, and may make the decision more difficult.

Remember, a confused prospect will not buy.

Martin Jelsema

Get vacuous slogans by the dozen

I commented about the new American Airlines tagline a couple of days ago. I thought it was weak to the point of being inane. Their “We know why you fly” slogan is bad branding that neither positioned the airline nor communicates a benefit. The slogan is a “given” if you’re an airline. It is clearly a platitude.

Then yesterday, a blogger from Selengor, Malaysia, linked up to my site. I followed the link to “A Hermit’s Muse” where I found a nice, iconoclastic “recreational” site. I was curious why she, the hermit, would want to link to my site. I found while scanning the page a link in the right hand column to a site known as “Sloganizer”.

Was this why she’d linked up? Don’t know, but I followed the link and came upon a “randomizer” site which suggested it was the answer to all me tagline worries. All I had to do was type in a “keyword” (name, descriptor, concept, etc.), push “submit” and the site would supply a slogan. “Wow”, I though, “What a great idea.”

So I tried it out.

I typed in “branding” as the keyword and got the following:

 “Branding makes dreams come true”

That didn’t really work for me  – there was no differentiation, just a vacuous, impossible promise. So I tried another time and got:

 “You can’t stop branding”

No good. So again I tried. This time it regurgitated:

 “Branding moments”

What? One more time got me this gem:

“Branding nonstop”

I quit after another half-dozen tries.

So here’s my point: this demonstration of “a thousand monkeys” approach to slogan writing was flawed from the beginning. There was no way the compiler of this database could know (and probably didn’t care) how to differentiate a generic product/service/event, or even impart a distinct benefit. He or she just thought up or borrowed cute phrases that copywriting hacks have foisted upon their clients for years. The creator of this clever – and dangerous if taken seriously – site has actually developed a “platitude generator”.

Like many real-life copywriters, this exercise relys on “clever” as a substitute for “relevant”, “meaningful” and “engaging”. 

You might want to go to the Sloganizer site and try it out on your product, concept, feature, etc. You might get lucky. But I think the lesson learned will be twofold: first know what differentiates your offering from competitors, and two, create a tagline that communicates that difference with power and credibility.

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