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The Brand Intelligencer

Swystun Communications' newsletter of great content spanning branding, marketing and design is out.

Check out over 30 stories, ideas and inspirational work in The Brand Intelligencer.

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Excess to Austerity: Advertising Language in a Recession

British researchers have discovered a strong correlation between what they call a book’s “literary misery index” and the economic misery index. The former is the frequency of words such as “anger,” disgust,” “fear,” and “sadness” found in fiction books and the latter are measures of unemployment and inflation. It proves that a book’s vocabulary is influenced by hard economic times.

The study produced a graph of literary misery by cataloguing the frequency of words of roughly five million digitized books. They ran an algorithm that compared the frequency of sad words with that of happy ones.

According to Joseph Stromberg writing on, “Their analysis showed that, in the U.S., literary misery peaked in the early 1940s, just after the Great Depression. It dipped during the 50s, Recessionfollowing the economic boom driven by the country’s entry into World War II, and then slowly rose again during the 70s and 80s, after years of economic stagnation, rising unemployment and relatively high inflation rates.”

The researchers checked their U.S. findings by examining 650,000 German books. When compared to German economic conditions, they found exactly the same trend. This may not seem overly shocking that bad conditions influence the literary capture of those times, as one of the researchers put it, “global economics is part of the shared emotional experience of the 20th century.”

It made me wonder about how much this misery index creeps into the marketing and advertising of the times. Since our recent global economic crisis has marketing messaging been notably influenced? My desktop research revealed one study that supports this notion. The National Communication Association in recession_specialthe U.S. analyzed print magazine advertisements for banks, credit cards, investment firms, and insurance providers and found that those “financial organizations shifted away from emotional messages in favor of informational messages during the recession.”

Michael Maslansky, president of Luntz, Maslansky Strategic Research noted in 2009, “The whole language of consumerism has changed. Frugality is in. Smart choices are in. Doing things that aren’t flashy and that have purpose are in.” He went on to note that actual word choice and tonality had gone from promoting ‘wants’ to emphasizing ‘needs’.

Kelly O’Keefe, professor at Brandcenter graduate program at Virginia Commonwealth University believes that Super Bowl 2011 signaled a change back to more familiar themes. It was a stark departure from the Empathy-Articleprevious year’s theme of wounded manhood in the face of reduced income and unemployment. 2011 saw a return to post-adolescent guy humor suggesting that good times were returning.

Marketing has always been about the right message for the right time. When sociologists and business historians look back on these recessionary times, it will clearly show that “spend big” became “spend smart”. What is equally interesting is how quickly the former came back and how much more comfortable consumers are with messages of excess.

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The Top Taglines

The 100 Most Influential Taglines Since 1948: based on a survey by the Tagline Guru.

1. Got milk? (1993) California Milk Processor Board
2. Don’t leave home without it. (1975) American Express
3. Just do it. (1988) Nike
4. Where’s the beef? (1984) Wendy’s
5. You’re in good hands with Allstate. (1956) Allstate Insurance
6. Think different. (1998) Apple Computer
7. We try harder. (1962) Avis
8. Tastes great, less filling. (1974) Miller Lite
9. Melts in your mouth, not in your hands. (1954) M&M Candies
10. Takes a licking and keeps on ticking. (1956) Timex
11. When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight. (1982) FedEx
12. Reach out and touch someone. (1979) AT&T
13. A diamond is forever. (1948) DeBeers
14. Finger-lickin’ good! (1952) Kentucky Fried Chicken
15. The uncola. (1973) 7-Up
16. Let your fingers do the walking. (1964) Yellow Pages
17. There are some things that money can’t buy. For everything else there’s MasterCard. (1997) MasterCard
18. What happens here, stays here. (2002) Las Vegas
19. You’ve come a long way, baby. (1968) Virginia Slims Cigarettes
20. We bring good things to life. (1981) General Electric
21. Please don’t squeeze the Charmin. (1964) Charmin
22. Does she or doesn’t she? (1964) Clairol
23. Have it your way. (1973) Burger King
24. I can’t believe I ate the whole thing. (1966) Alka-Seltzer
25. Come alive! You’re in the Pepsi generation. (1964) Pepsi
26. The ultimate driving machine. (1975) BMW
27. The quicker picker-upper. (1991) Bounty
28. Look, Ma, no cavities! (1958) Crest
29. Pork. The other white meat. (1986) National Pork Board
30. Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon? (1980) Grey Poupon
31. Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. (1992) U.S. Dept. of Transportation
32. Have a coke and smile. (1979) Coca-Cola
33. I love New York. (1977) NY State Dept. of Econ. Development
34. Betcha can’t eat just one. (1981) Lay’s Potato Chips
35. Think outside the bun. (1998) Taco Bell
36. The mind is a terrible thing to waste. (1972) United Negro College Fund
37. It keeps going, and going, and going… (1989) Energizer Batteries
38. Hey, Mikey…he likes it! (1972) Life Cereal
39. This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions? (1987) Partnership for a Drug-Free America
40. They’re gr-r-r-eat! (1950s) Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes
41. The happiest place on earth. (1960s) Disneyland
42. Beef. It’s what’s for dinner. (late 1980s) National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn.
43. With a name like Smucker’s, it has to be good. (1962) Smucker’s
44. Nothing comes between me and my Calvins. (1979) Calvin Klein Jeans
45. Is it live or is it Memorex? (1970s) Memorex
46. Because I’m worth it. (1967) L’Oréal
47. The few, the proud, the Marines. (1991) U.S. Marines
48. Our repairmen are the loneliest guys in town. (1967) Maytag Appliances
49. Put a tiger in your tank. (1964) Esso (Exxon)
50. You quiero Taco Bell. (mid-1990s) Taco Bell
51. How do you spell relief? R-O-L-A-I-D-S. (1970s) Rolaids
52. This Bud’s for you. (1970s) Budweiser
53. When EF Hutton talks, people listen. (mid-1980s) EF Hutton
54. It’s everywhere you want to be. (1988) VISA
55. I’ve fallen and I can’t get up. (1990) LifeCall
56. We make the money the old-fashioned way—we earn it. (1980s) Smith Barney
57. Intel Inside. (early 1990s) Intel
58. Don’t get mad. Get GLAD. (early 1980s) GLAD
59. Like a rock. (1990) Chevy Trucks
60. It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken. (1972) Perdue Chicken

61. We will sell no wine before its time. (1970s) Paul Masson
62. Fly the friendly skies. (1966) United Airlines
63. Lifts and separates. (1960s) Playtex Cross-Your-Heart Bra
64. Thank you for your support. (1985) Bartles & Jaymes
65. Try it, you’ll like it. (1970s) Alka-Seltzer
66. Think small. (1962) Volkswagen
67. We answer to a higher authority. (1975) Hebrew National
68. Get a piece of the rock. (1970s) Prudential
69. The world’s favourite airline. (1983) British Airways
70. Nothing runs like a Deere. (1972) John Deere
71. Leave the driving to us. (1950s) Greyhound
72. The world’s online marketplace. (late 1990s) eBay
73. Quality is job one. (1979) Ford
74. Drivers wanted. (1995) Volkswagen
75. Think outside the box. (1990s) Apple Computer
76. Bayer works wonders. (1960s) Bayer Aspirin
77. The relentless pursuit of perfection. (1990s) Lexus
78. The king of beers. (1950s) Budweiser
79. Hertz puts you in the driver’s seat. (1961) Hertz
80. Cotton. The fabric of our lives. (1989) Cotton Incorporated
81. I want my Maypo. (1956) Maypo

82. RAID kills bugs dead. (1966) RAID
83. Fosters—Australian for beer. (1990s) Fosters Australian Beer
84. Catch our smile. (1970s) Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA)
85. Pepperidge Farm remembers. (1970s) Pepperidge Farm
86. Solutions for a small planet. (mid-1990s) IBM
87. For those who think young. (1961) Pepsi
88. My wife, I think I’ll keep her. (1971) Geritol
89. Never let ‘em see you sweat. (1980s) Gillette
90. I’d rather fight than switch. (1960s) Tareyton Cigarettes
91. For fast, fast, fast relief. (1950s) Anacin
92. A silly millimeter longer. (1970s) Chesterfield Cigarettes
93. Take it all off. (1960s) Noxzema
94. The spirit of ’76. (1960s) Unocal
95. It’s not a job. It’s an adventure. (1980s) U.S. Navy
96. Did somebody say McDonald’s? (1997) McDonald’s
97. Ring around the collar. (1968) Wisk Laundry Detergent
98. It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile… (1980s) Oldsmobile
99. The toughest job you’ll ever love. (1970s) U.S. Peace Corps
100. Share moments. Share life. (1990s) Kodak
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