Although the use of words to sway opinions is as old as humanity, slogans and taglines in the modern sense have been around for about two hundred years. The widespread use of advertising slogans to sway public opinion began with the spread of mass media, mainly newspapers in the 19th Century.
The first widely used slogans in the United States were political slogans used in presidential elections. The early 19th Century US presidential elections were among the first time that a small group needed to influence the opinion of many across a large geographic region.
One of the first politicians to make use of catchy slogans was William Henry Harrison who used one of the first widely repeated slogans in the presidential election of 1840. The slogan was “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” Tippecanoe was a battle in which troops commanded by Harrison won a key victory over Native Americans. The tagline reminded voters that Harrison was an experienced general and an authentic war hero unlike his opponent Martin van Buren who was a professional politician. The tagline worked and Harrison won the election.
The use of catchy slogans in advertising began with the rise of brands that were distributed throughout the nation and the world. In the late 19th Century, entrepreneurs faced the challenge of convincing large numbers of people that their more expensive branded goods were better than traditional products.
Proctor & Gamble (PG) created one of the first slogans for its iconic Ivory soap. In 1879 it began releasing advertisements that said the soap was 99 and 44% pure, unlike homemade soaps and cheaper competitors. In 1891 two simple words “it floats” were added to Ivory’s slogan. The reason for this was that cheaper impure soaps didn’t float but the pure Ivory did. This became one of the most successful taglines in history, Proctor & Gamble, is still in business and Ivory Soap is still sold in nearly every supermarket in North America.
Other companies began following Proctor & Gamble’s lead. The New York Times launched its legendary “All the news that’s fit to print” in 1896. This was an attempt to set it apart from competing newspapers, which emphasized cheap sensationalism and political propaganda rather than news.
World War I saw the first large scale advertising campaigns and the emergence of many advertising techniques include professional slogan makers that became used in advertising. One slogan launched during that conflict, which is still with us, originated in Britain. The slogan designed for army recruiting was: “Your Country Needs You.” It was printed on a poster that showed war hero and popular general, Lord Kitchener, (who had been killed in the war) pointing out at a perspective recruit. US propagandists used an even more effective icon, Uncle Sam, and modified the slogan to “I want YOU for the US Army.”
World War I demonstrated the power of slogans for good and bad. As the 20th Century wore on, catchy slogans and taglines became part of the popular culture. New mediums such as radio, television and mass-market magazines brought taglines right into the home.
New consumer goods, such as cars, radios, movies, appliances and prepackaged food, made advertising more important than ever. Giant companies now had massive advertising budgets that paid armies of experts to think up new slogans. The phrase Madison Avenue entered the American language as advertising became one of the most pervasive forces in the nation. By the 1930s most Americans could easily recognize slogans such as the legendary one for Packard automobiles, “Ask the man who owns one.”
Radio led to the rise of the musical slogan, or jingle, which was even easier to remember. Examples of this included: “See the USA in your Chevrolet” for Chevy cars and “Plop, plop fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is” for Alka-Seltzer. Millions of Americans remember these slogans decades after they were abandoned.
During the 1960s the rise of a more sophisticated and jaded audience reduced the effectiveness of slogans. This led to the increased use of humorous and slightly cynical slogans such as IBM’s “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.”
The most interesting development in recent years has been the democratization of slogan making. Instead of relying on a few large advertising agencies based on New York’s Madison Avenue, businesses are turning to less expensive methods that take advantage of the internet and attempt to gauge public opinion.
One example of this was sloganizer websites which used complex computer algorithms to put words together in an attempt to create slogans. Another is the use of online advertising slogan contests that offer a prize for the individual who comes up with the best tagline. This is actually a “Back to the Future” technology because advertising contests were widely used in the 1930s. The difference today is that even small companies and startups can take advantage of them by using slogan contest websites such as Slogan Slingers. Click here to start a slogan contest now.