Has your advertising slogan got ‘it’?

ImageHave you noticed that, in the world of branding, there’s a lot of it about?

By which I mean, of course, the pronoun ‘it’ – the gender neutral, third person pronoun that can stand for just about anything.

Take, for example, Jaguar’s ‘Don’t dream it, drive it’ or L’Oréal’s ‘Because you’re worth it’. Or how about EA Sports’ ‘It’s in the game’. ‘It’ clearly gets around a lot.

But what’s it all about?

At its most basic, ‘it’ can be used as what linguistics call an anaphor, used to refer to something that’s already been introduced. For example:

Ronseal. It does exactly what it says on the tin.
VISA. It’s everywhere you want it to be.
American Express. Don’t leave home without it.
Red Bull. It gives you wings.

Other times, ‘it’ can be used to refer to that culturally-conventional concept of ‘desirability’, ‘sex appeal’ or ‘X-factor’ that people either have, or they don’t:

Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s Maybelline.
Virgin Atlantic. You airline’s either got it or it hasn’t.

But in the cleverest cases, ‘it’ doesn’t have a clear reference. Instead, it can mean exactly what the customer wants it to mean.

Ebay. Buy it. Sell it. Love it.
Argos. Don’t just shop for it. Argos it.
Interflora. Say it with flowers.

In the first two cases, ‘it’ neatly stands for pretty much anything you can buy or sell. In the second, ‘it’ becomes any human sentiment.

Three brands stand out as the masters of using ‘it’ in this way.

In Burger King’s ‘Have it your way’, the restrictive sense of ‘have your burger with or without gherkins’ opens out into a more general statement of customer empowerment. In McDonalds’ ‘I’m loving it’, the notion of enjoying ones burger becomes a broader associative statement of happiness and positivity.

Then, of course, there’s Nike’s classic ‘Just do it’. Now more than 25 years old, and inspired by the last words of a death-row criminal, this one phrase most clearly demonstrates the powerful potential of ‘it’. Here, is ‘it’ that 10 mile run you’ve been putting off, or that 5-aside football final your office team is desperate to win. Or does ‘it’ extend to referents outside the sporting world? Is ‘it’ that tricky conversation with you’re boss you’ve been putting off, of that flat-pack shed still waiting to be assembled?

It doesn’t matter, of course. ‘Just do it’ is a slogan that inspires you to do whatever it is you need to do – though not before buying a pair of trainers first.

Finally, if you still don’t believe the powerful potential of ‘it’, try putting that two-letter word into this random slogan generator. Here’s just a few examples it threw back at me – all of them, I’m sure, would make the Mad Men proud:

You’ve always got time for it.
We’re serious about it.
Every kiss begins with it.But I’d rather have a bowl of it.

So next time you need to find that winning slogan for your brand, remember that simple, two-letter, flexible friend.

And just use it.

 

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I’m Tired of Your Cheesecake: The Lyrics of Eurovision 2014

Photo: Daniel Aragay (https://www.flickr.com/photos/proteusbcn/2511676676)

Photo: Daniel Aragay (https://www.flickr.com/photos/proteusbcn/2511676676)

Everyone knows that in tonight’s Eurovision final, the lyrics will be the most important thing in deciding who the eventual winner is. Forget about the melodies, the chord progressions, and the height of the high notes. Forget the costumes, the mise-en-scène, the fancy footwork, and the people trampolining in the background. For the 26 contestants representing their respective countries, it’s all about the words.

In that spirit, I did a brief analysis of the lyrics of tonight’s finalists. Here’s what I found out:

Multilingualism

Thanks to the ubiquity of English in pop culture, of the 26 songs, 20 are in the language of the Beatles. Nul points there. Refreshingly, however, there are 5 entries which aren’t – from France (in French), Italy (Italian), Montenegro (Montenegrin, a form of Serbo-Croatian), Poland (Polish) and Spain (Spanish).

Code-switching

4 songs feature a mixture of languages, or ‘code-switching‘, cunningly trying to appeal to multiple language communities, home and abroad. The Polish, Slovenian and Spanish entries all feature large chunks in English. The French entry, the hirsute ‘Moustache’ by Twin Twin, goes one step further. It also features Spanish in the chorus:

Mais moi j’voulais une moustache
Une moustache, une moustache
I wanna have a moustache
A moustache, a moustache
Quiero un bigote

Rhyming

As you might expect, rhyming plays a vital role. I have plenty of respect for the syllabic sorcery of Iceland’s entry, for example (‘Even if you’re taller / Or someone who is smaller / Or perhaps you’re thinner / Or one who loves his dinner’). Nul points to Ukraine, however, for rhyming ‘clock’ with ‘tick-tock’:

Tick-tock, can you hear me go tick-tock
My heart is like a clock
I’m steady like a rock

Schwa it up

The unstressed middle vowel that you get, for example, at the end of words like ‘better’ and ‘deeper’ – the schwa – is the most important phoneme in pop. As you might expect, schwa’d contractions like ‘wanna’ and ‘gonna’ feature heavily in the 26 entries. As well as Greece’s ‘music makes me wanna / grab somebody rise up’, how about this from the Belarus’ pastry-themed ‘Cheesecake’:

I don’t wanna
I’m not gonna be your boy

Humour

Happily, among the earnestness of the ballads, there’s a fair bit of humour in there. Most strikingly, there’s the 1970s-style smutty innuendo of the Polish entry, ‘We are Slavic’ (‘cream and butter taste so good’), as well as in the name of the cross-dressing Austrian singer Conchita Wurst. Personally, I quite like the more absurd lines in the comical French entry, especially the one about not wanting to show emotion in the gym. After all, who doesn’t try to stay stoical on the treadmill:

Je n’aime pas montrer mes émotions
A la salle de musculation

Common themes

A quick statistical analysis of all the lyrics reveals the most commonly occurring words across the 26 songs. Interestingly ‘Rise’ is one of the most common one, as heard in Austria’s defiant ‘Rise like a Pheonix’ (‘Retribution / You were warned / Once I’m transformed / Once I’m reborn’) and Greece’s ‘Rise up’. The weather also features heavily, particularly among the northern nations. For example, the Norwegian, Swedish and Dutch entries all feature the word ‘storm’, metaphorically or otherwise. Finally, if Latvia’s ‘Cake to Bake’ had made it through the semi-final, there would have been a strong culinary theme. Fear not, those with a sweet-tooth. We still have Belarus’ Teo performing ‘Cheesecake’:

I look over all the maps trying to escape
’cause I’m tired of your sweet cheesecake

Nonsense sounds

The disconnection of linguistic form (phonology, morphology and syntax) from meaning (semantics) is a characteristic feature of what linguist Guy Cook calls ‘language play’. As you might expect from this celebration of pop, there’s plenty of ooh-ahs (e.g. Malta) and la-la-las (Iceland). My favourite is the upbeat Danish entry ‘Cliché Love Song’ which starts:

skuba duba dabda dididaj
skuba duba dabda dididaj

Just plain nonsense

And of course there’s plenty of plain nonsense. What on earth artist Sebalter is talking about in the Swiss entry, for example, I’ll never know:

Like an evil satellite, twisting the truth then leaving us alone
In this mad and moody world, society without love
I state my heart has been well trained, I’m gonna be your candidate
I am the hunter you are the prey, tonight I’m gonna eat you up

And the winner is…

Finally, possibly the most sophisticated piece of linguistic creativity in all of the entries, is this nouning of an adjective (‘sad’) in Sweden’s ‘Undo’:

Undo my sad
Undo what hurts so bad

Will it be enough to win them the title? We’ll just have to wait and see.