Last year, the Toyota corporation spent $1.5 billion dollars on media alone in the U.S. market to leave us with this message: “Let’s go places.”
By any measure, an uninspired set of words that could apply to anything from an airline to a skateboard maker to the New York City transit authority. The campaign first appeared in 2012. My calculator says that adds up to a cumulative investment of $13.5 billion - not including the cost of production and talent. Add 20%.
I find it impossible to believe that Toyota, one of the world’s great manufacturers, has nothing more important to say about itself than “Let’s go places.” It hits none of the marks on our five-point checklist. It’s a painfully small idea to be left with at the end of all that money.
Even though I’ve chosen to pick on Toyota, Toyota is hardly alone. Small, meaningless ideas and disposable, advertising campaigns have become the norm rather than the exception.
If you doubt that we’re in the midst of an outbreak of mediocrity, watch the next Super Bowl broadcast - that most orgasmic, ego-driven of all commercial media venues. $12 million for sixty-seconds worth of air time, plus production and talent. What you will see is lots and lots of entertainment, music, dancing, singing, celebrities galore, and embarrassingly expensive production budgets. What I’m certain you will not see is a single Big compelling Idea. Not one. What you will hear is the sound of $435 million worth of media money being flushed down the drain.
The tragedy is that, not all that long ago, in the golden age of advertising - and arguably that of American corporations as well - the advertising business was full of Big Thinkers and Big, insightful, pre-emptive, meaningful, memorable, compelling Ideas. Let’s say, from the early ’60s through the late ’80s. American business was at its creative best and, probably not uncoincidentally, so was the advertising business. And when the advertising business was good it was very good.
Some of the following may pre-date your birth. But I really don’t think it matters, their brilliance transcends time.
Bmw: “The Ultimate Driving Machine.”
NIKE: “Just Do It.”
Mcdonald’s: “You Deserve a Break Today.”
Volkswagen: “Think Small.”
Visa: “It’s Everywhere You Want to Be.”
Vespa: “Maybe Your Second Car Shouldn’t Be a Car.”
Ibm: “Machines Shoud Work, People Should Think.”
Apple: “A Computer for the Rest of Us.”
Avis: “We’re Only Number Two in Rent-a-Cars. We Have to Try Harder.”
American Express: “Don’t Leave Home Without Us.”
Fedex: “When it Absolutely, Positively Has to Be There Overnight.”
Those few carefully chosen words were the expression and the summation of that company’s soul, its promise, its Big idea, its reason for being - what playwrights call the denouement, songwriters call the hook, and copywriters call the theme line.
Those were the words, the campaigns, the promises that companies wanted you to remember. They invested heavily to make it happen. Great brands were built on them. And people who weren’t born when they last ran somehow know them because they’ve become part of the culture. They meant something. They were Big Ideas well communicated.
Big Ideas and great stories have vanished from today’s marketing communications. If you can think of a current marketing campaign that comes up to any of the above, I’d appreciate it if you’d send me a text message. Because I’ve been searching for one - just one - and I have yet to find it.
It’s no accident that those lines always came at the end of a commercial or at the bottom of an ad. It wasn’t just about filling an empty space.
Read more on ‘Whatever Happened’. (Next article will be published on April 13, 2021)
Read more on Martin Puris
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