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September 5, 2008
Cutting Off a Campaign’s Legs
Will we ever see long-lasting ad campaigns anymore?

I once worked for a Creative Director who, for every new account our agency won, set about redesigning that client’s logo. It was never requested by the client. But my CD just wanted to change the logo. And it was never an improvement; just an exercise in ego and a waste of the client’s money.

The things that over the years have come to symbolize brands like logos--and in particular, taglines—are being changed to quickly and so often that it’s hard to keep up. Consequently, no one does.

We all know how it works: Every time a new CMO comes along, he/she hires a new agency. And suddenly everyone at both the client and agency feel the need to piss on the marketing landscape and mark their turf. Which means a new campaign, a new tagline, a new logo, etc. It’s change for change’s sake.

It used to be a real virtue to present an ad campaign idea that “has legs.” Now, it doesn’t matter so much. Today, it seems we’re committed to prematurely amputate any campaign that has legs. Is that a good idea?

The result of this itchy trigger finger is that campaigns consist of short bursts of marketing that don’t make an lasting impact, or make much sense. I recently heard an Audi radio spot with the tagline "Truth In Engineering." I’d never heard it before. What does that even mean? What it means that we're living in The Age of Lame Taglines. Fine, Audi makes good cars, but “Truth in Engineering?” I suspect there’s little truth to be had there, just hyperbole. What’s worse, even as a consumer I have little interest in getting Audi to explain it to me.

Taglines, like all other parts of advertising, are an art. And it’s becoming a lost art. Part of it stems from ad schools turning out students who suffer from what I call “Tagline Dependency Syndrome” (TDS). TDS occurs when an ad makes no real sense whatsoever until you get to see, hear, or read the tagline, which purports to explain all that came before it. So every ad in a campaign with TDS, in order to work, must absolutely focus on the tagline. There aren’t too many ads that can do this for any length of time, limiting the life of the tagline, and thus the short-lived campaign.

If you think taglines aren’t a big deal, then you’ve obviously never had to come up with one, as I have many, many times.  It’s an assignment that inevitably devolves into a big, steaming pile of crazy.

But whether it’s a new tagline or a new campaign, the genesis is always the same. You know you’re in trouble when you hear this about a current campaign: “Consumers are tired of it.” Bullshit. We wish consumers cared about a campaign so much they’d get tired of it. No, it’s our industry that gets tired—the industry where new creatives, new shops and new campaigns feed the award-show and business press beast.

That’s the problem: It’s not that consumers have the short attention span. It’s that creative directors and CMO’s have them. And by not allowing any continuity, taglines become more trite and more meaningless. Collectively, customers simply don’t ascribe to them any value, in part because they’re so short-lived.

It’s only going to get worse. As more and more interactive work comes along, the only measure of success will be metrics like click-through rates, which rarely take into account anything beyond the immediate impact of a message.

In all forms of marketing, the analytics nerds are taking over in an attempt to prove once and for all what works: “Let’s test these 50 banner ads with these 10 different taglines, and see which one works best.” Good to know, except that we still won’t know what works over a substantial period of time, just the execution that has the most immediate impact. Nothing has time to develop, or simply grow on people.

Some of the most famous brands had campaigns and taglines than ran for years—decades in some cases. I’m beginning to think those days are long gone. Not because brands can’t benefit from long-lasting ideas, but as advertising professionals, our careers can’t be advanced by continuing someone else’s great campaign.

In a few years, will there even be ad campaigns as we’ve come to know them? Will any idea be big enough to last more than a month?

I suspect we won’t see too many campaigns with legs. Which is one more reason the best legs, attached to the best minds, don’t get into advertising in the first place these days.

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Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small. 

Visit his copywriting websitesee his LinkedIn profile or follow him on Twitter.

And please, buy his book for 99 cents.


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