The Phrase That Pays

On The AirAs a former DJ I always loved contests that used the station’s positioning line as the winning phrase–“I’ll take the 50th caller with the phrase that pays”. Usually something like “99X plays more music” or something like that.

I recall the late Phil Dusenberry, BBDO’s legendary Creative leader in the 70s, 80s, 90 (who worked in radio in his youth) using the terminology “the phrase that pays” related to strong advertising theme lines. BBDO had many of them in that era:

GE—We Bring Good Things To Life

Pepsi—Pepsi Generation

Wisk-Ring Around The Collar

Burger King-Have It Your Way

I also began my career at Needham Harper & Steers in the mid 70s and recall another ad legend Keith Reinhard, then the creative director of the Chicago office, presenting the new McDonald’s campaign, themed, “You Deserve a Break Today”. Brilliant.

I always believed then (as I do today) that a crisp, memorable theme line provides glue and a memory trigger for customers to remember your brand. In other works, a strong theme line puts the brand into the perceptual pole position, and there’s a direct correlation between top of mind awareness of a brand and its success in the marketplace. I read an interesting article from Hubspot on 22 highly memorable theme lines and their origins, called 22 Famous Brand Slogans (And the Little-Known Stories Behind Them). The stories behind of famous theme lines are interesting stuff for those of us who are fascinated by famous advertising (That’s me and many others).

Obviously in today’s digital world, merely creating a memorable “phrase that pays” is insufficient in itself to generate sales. On the other hand, a great theme line gets your brand remembered and that never hurts.

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