Tag Archives: advertising


Yesterday at a traffic light I stopped alongside a tractor trailer. I don’t recall the name of the company, but the tagline stayed with me:

Ahead of the curve in refrigerated logistics.

Ooh, a clichéd metaphor matched with an esoteric phrase. Is this the latest trend in brand marketing?

I’ve been thinking about taglines lately, wondering if my little company should have one. I’ve long felt that I don’t need a tagline for the sake of having a tagline. After a brief online search of commentary on the matter, it seems most experts agree. In fact, there are plenty of arguments against.

Once, after completing a project, I received a note from the client, complimenting my work and saying that what I produced made her “comfy.” My firm’s president jokingly suggested our tagline should be “Making clients comfy since 2002.”

It strikes me that the Dish network’s “Let’s watch TV” or Delta Airlines’ “We get you there” were ripped off by their marketing firms, which set the bar as low as it could possibly go. No imagination, and no particular reason to choose one company over another.

On the other hand, these oversimplified slogans might be superior to over-jargoned technical gobbledygook, which might fit on the side of a semi but not on a business card.

Quick – what’s your nomination for:

Most creative tagline?
Most ambiguous?
Funniest, without intending to be?


Filed under Marketing/Advertising/PR

Dunce upon a mattress

Several readers have asked me to discuss the difference between lie and lay.

I hadn’t obliged until now, primarily because I thought it obvious. Also, the worst offenders either don’t read language blogs or don’t care enough to bother. But maybe there’s room in the middle for a refresher.

Raise your hand if you know the difference between lie and lay.

You’d think mattress marketeers would know.

There’s a mattress commercial running lately that encourages shoppers to come in and “lay down.” ARRRGGGHHH!

I recently saw mention of another manufacturer’s product, called the “Lay Down and Sleep.” ARRRGGGHHH!

One of the oldest mattress retailers is known for its jingle, which begins “Lay on it …”


Now, I know plenty of people who “lay down” when they’re tired, “lay on the beach” on a sunny day or “lay in bed” on Saturday mornings. As I type this, even spell check is cringing.

I hate to have to even say it, but it’s lie. When we recline, we lie down—usually on a mattress.

I admit, it gets confusing when the past tense comes into play:

Present tense = lie (She lies awake at night.)
Past tense = lay (She lay awake last night.)
Past participle = lain (She has lain awake since midnight.)

When do we use lay? When there’s an object involved. We lay something down. We lay down the law. We lay a book on the table. Now I lay me down to sleep (technically, it should be reflexive, I lay myself down to sleep, but that spoils the meter of the prayer).

The tenses of lay are as follows:

Present tense = lay (Every year I lay a wreath on the grave.)
Past tense = laid (She laid a mat at the front door.)
Past participle = laid also (The hen has laid an egg every morning this week.

Dear readers (you know who you are), did I explain this clearly, as you requested?

Dear offenders (you know who you are), would you consider making better word choices?

Dear mattress makers (you know who you are, though chances are you’re not reading this), are your marketing agencies asleep on the job?

Maybe instead of “Lay on it, play on it,” they could sing “Lie on it, cry on it,” Lie on it, sigh on it,” “die on it,” “get high on it,” “eat pie on it,” WHATEVER.

To be fair, as lie versus lay goes, there’s bad behavior beyond the bed business. Just listen to some of your favorite songs and you’ll find some doozies.


Filed under All Things Wordish, Marketing/Advertising/PR, Rants and Raves

Ape for annuities

Let’s see. How long is the list of companies whose commercials contain grammatical errors? I can count Boniva, Honey Bunches of Oats, Miller Genuine Draft and a few more I can’t recall at the moment. Today I am adding Honda for its recent tagline: “To each their own.” Sheesh.

Another one has been bugging me, not for its grammar but for its mixed metaphor. What has me puzzled is—as is often the case—how it escaped the smart and well paid execs who craft and place television ads.

Take a look at one of Axa Equitable Life Insurance Company’s most recent spots and tell me if you notice it.

“What do I know? I’m just the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”

Pick one, guys. It’s either “the 800-pound gorilla” or “the elephant in the room.” These expressions mean two different things, the latter being more apt for Axa’s campaign. Perhaps the elephant failed the audition.

Just before Axa Equitable launched the campaign during the 2007 Super Bowl, the company said in a press release that it sought to encourage the approximately 77 million baby boomers in America to “stop ignoring the 800-pound gorilla in the  room” and buy their variable annuities.

 Four years later, the campaign continues. The commercials have won numerous industry awards and still, no one is challenging their metaphorical duplicity. Naturally, retirement planning and life insurance are important subjects that many prefer to ignore; in this vein, the commercials are hitting the intended demographic target. It’s just that Axa has picked the wrong spokesmammal.

Do we need a refresher?

“The elephant in the room” represents a sizeable subject that everyone is aware of but no one wants to talk about. It might be a looming crisis or a relative’s drinking problem. Everyone knows it’s there—it’s too big to ignore—but we pretend not to notice it. 

An “800-pound gorilla” is a bully, a goliath, a behemoth. Just think of the old riddle.

“Where does an 800-pound gorilla sleep?”
“Anywhere he wants.”


Filed under All Things Wordish, Marketing/Advertising/PR

Toy commercials

It seems to me that, the older we get, with all the life experiences we’ve accumulated, the less easily shocked we should be, when, in reality, the more easily shocked we actually are.

I was puttering around the house yesterday afternoon and had the television on in the background. The channel was Comedy Central and the movie Coneheads was playing. Fun little film, based on the 1970s Saturday Night Live skit. Star-studded. Light-hearted. PG-rated. My son saw and enjoyed it when he was five. It provided a sweet backdrop for the chores I was doing on my lunch hour.

Then, all of a sudden, thwack. It could have been one of SNL’s commercial parodies. But it was real. It was shocking. It was noon, for heaven’s sake.

The commercial was advertising the Tri-Phoria Massager. “Tri” because it’s three massagers in one. “Massager” because, if you look online, you will see the product name that isn’t permitted on television. I’ll give you two clues that reveal what it is. One, it’s manufactured by Trojan. Two, it’s shaped like a, well, like a Conehead.

I won’t be inserting, uh, er, placing any links in this post to product websites or video commercials because I’m already embarrassed and paranoid about where my research has taken me. You can find these on your own.

Just a word of advice: if Coneheads comes back on over the weekend, don’t watch it with your kids. And, if you do, plan ahead to explain why the Tri-Phoria is different from other toys they see advertised on TV.

Tri-Phoria, Transformer. Could be a frightening mistake.

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Filed under Marketing/Advertising/PR, Movies, Television and Radio, Uncategorized

One less product to buy

Do we really need to go over this?

I have received suggestions from readers that I review the rule for “fewer” versus “less.”  I confess, I dismissed these because the rule is clear and I assumed most people knew the difference.  I am sorry to say I was wrong.

Last week I said I wouldn’t be taking Boniva or buying Honey Bunches of Oats for the same reason:  my boycott of products whose commercials contain grammatical errors.  Now I must add to the list MGD 64, the dieters’ version of Miller Genuine Draft.  According to its current television commercial, MGD 64 has “less calories” than other reduced-calorie beers.

I am too tired to rant again so soon over the ad industry’s growing disregard for correct language.  Instead, might I just ask, why not say “fewer calories?”   I am tempted to believe it is less an oversight than it is a presumption that “fewer” flies over the heads of Miller’s target demographic.  Please tell me I’m wrong.

Is it possible that advertising companies intentionally use poor grammar to appeal to a specific class of consumers?  The ad gurus at Grey Poupon hit their high-brow target with their famous commercial years ago.  Pardon me, but it seems Miller is deliberately going for a less sophisticated crowd with its overt illiteracy.

Everyone knows “less” refers to an amount of something, as in less beer.  “Fewer” refers to a number of something, as in “fewer calories.” 

Less snow, fewer snowflakes.  Less hair, fewer strands.  Yes, got it.

Now can we move on to something a little less obvious?

Postscript:  Speaking of intentional poor grammar, am I the only one wondering why yesterday South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham phrased his question to Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, “Where were you at on Christmas Day?”  He knows better.


Filed under All Things Wordish, Food, Marketing/Advertising/PR

Ambush advertising

The new Kraft mayonnaise commercial is not only entertaining but extremely clever.

Have you seen it?  It’s a takeoff on the Extreme Makeover shows.  The wife was always making tiny finger sandwiches, like the ones you’d have at high tea, and the husband was forlorn.  Kraft bursts in and does an extreme sandwich makeover with its new seasoned mayo and an oversized roll, and the result moves both husband and wife to tears.

Advertising Age ran a story earlier this year on Kraft’s push to step up its marketing strategy following the company’s acquisition of Cadbury.  Kraft has produced some pretty memorable ads over the years.  Remember the famous “And I helped!” for Shake and Bake? Ad Age points out that the company continues to wear a bit of a down-home label when it comes to its commercials.

Twenty-four years ago, Neil Postman wrote Amusing Ourselves to Death:  Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, in which he discussed how television and other entertainment media spill over into politics and public dialogue.  Even after 24 years, while the entertainment media are vastly transformed, a point Postman made regarding television advertising holds true today, as Kraft proves in its Sandwich Makeover campaign:  “What the advertiser needs to know is not what is right about the product but what is wrong about the buyer.”

What better way is there than an ambush makeover to make a consumer feel bad enough about herself to run right out and buy mayonnaise?

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Filed under Food, Marketing/Advertising/PR, Movies, Television and Radio, Reading

Operation Buzzword

Marketing firms have perfected the art and science of crafting compelling campaigns.  The best campaigns reach a level so deep that targeted consumers are left with indelible memory retention, emotional engagement and motivation to act.  Think back to some age-old advertising slogans.  Even after more than 20 years, we remember the peace of mind we had upon hearing “Don’t leave home without it.”  Or “Plop plop fizz fizz, oh what a relief it is.”  Or “You’re in good hands.”  

We know that marketing  and ad campaigns see the light of day only after they have been fleshed out, flushed out, looked at upside down and inside out, extensively field and focus group tested, to ensure the message reaches targeted eyes and ears in the most stirring manner possible.

I found it interesting to read recently that military operations are named using a similar process.  In “Operation Name Game:  Where Military Might Meets Marketing,” The Washington Post’s Christian Davenport looks at how U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are named–so as to rile the troops, intimidate or soften up the enemy or comfort those on the home front. 

For example, he points out that campaigns directed internally at the troops (e.g., Operation Scorpion Sting) are named differently from those aimed at local population (e.g., Glad Tidings of Benevolence) to elicit the desired response.

He added that campaign crafters are also charged with identifying potential downsides, to avoid serious consequences – such as being ridiculed in late night monologues.  Davenport upholds Winston Churchill as one of the best marketeers in history but notes Churchill didn’t have to worry about Leno.

But think about it.  The same opinion research, buzzwords and psychographics are in play among military strategists that might have gone in to Staples’ Easy Button.  Click; it’s that easy.  Northrop Grumman should get in on that one.

Read Davenport’s piece; it’s brilliantly written.

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Marketing/Advertising/PR, News