What Happened To Legendary Lines?

Throughout the ’80s and the ’90s, you could mention a single, simple sentence — a cluster of a few words — and immediately guess the name of the brand that delivered them.

“Just Do It.”

“Think Different.”

The mere sight of these clauses is enough to make a tick or an apple pop into your head.

This, however, was 20, or in some cases even 30 years ago. How many legendary lines have there been in the last decade? Any?

Sure, there have been some memorable ones, epithets that are whimsical enough to entrench themselves in a certain strata of society for a short while, but are they truly as universal as those listed above? Can “The Pursuit of Perfection” really compete with “the Ultimate Driving Machine”? I think we all know the answer to that.



So the big question is – whatever happened to the legendary line? Did we simply run out of creative juice? Did all the good ones get mined? Or has something else, something a little more complex, occurred?

I would argue the latter.

There are more people working in advertising than ever before – not because the industry has grown to that extent, but because it has mutated and evolved such that myriad different skill sets are required to maintain brand communications with people all over the world.

People don’t simply sit and watch TV. We know that. So we can’t just create a sweeping communication line, a high-budget spot, and expect the world to react with open wallets.

Audiences are fractured, dispersed. They exist across digital realms and in a constant state of flux, such that in order to reach them, we have to be even more mobile in our delivery of the messaging.

Attention spans are shorter — “Second Screen” is, in fact, the first way of viewing nowadays. That may divide people’s focus, but it does double the media by which we can reach them.

So why won’t a single line work? Because, in my opinion, a brand can no longer be one thing to all people. It has to be many things to many people … and in as many ways and as many places as those audiences require.

Have you ever tried to be one single person for all your family, all your friends, your work colleagues, and strangers at drive-thrus? No, of course not; you tailor your behavior, the way in which you communicate, to suit your situation. Advertising is doing likewise out of necessity. That means screaming one line from a mountaintop will not suffice.

We alter our messaging to suit the medium. We know the audience that attaches itself to a certain channel, so we speak to them in the way they like to be spoken to. Sure, we still bellow a bit from the TV, but we whisper quietly on YouTube to those who are slightly more sensitive of hearing. For those who don’t like to be interrupted, we go native, letting them know about brands by way of the content they enjoy reading off their own back without any force-feeding. And for those whose attention can only be held fast by the opportunity to game for hours on end, well, we create little nuggets of content that are incorporated into those very games they play.

In short, the line has not vanished. It has evolved, split, evolved again, and proliferated in its smaller, yet no less concentrated manner, across all means of communication.  

In the future, brands will not be known by the single line upon which their ethos is founded, but rather by the cohesive, recognizable tone of the experience they are able to provide via their products and the multiple ways they tell you all about it.

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