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While it’s impossible to quantify what the best brand slogan is of all time, it becomes a little easier to sift through contenders when the slant of the investigation is tweaked slightly. A great slogan is every bit as much the story that went into the campaign as it is about the brand reaping financial gain.

As part of our ongoing #HSTBT series which explores an array of stories from a multitude of Highsnobiety-centric verticals, we discovered some rather curious and questionable origins of Nike’s iconic slogan, “Just Do It.” If anything, it proved that a lasting tagline doesn’t need to have bluechip origins. That’s the great thing about ideas; sometimes they’re better to be reappropriated than acted upon in their original form. Throughout the history of advertising, key slogans and the ideas behind them are as varied as the products themselves; with copywriters and creatives often fighting for or against an idea because at the time, no one could believe they were on the verge of advertising immortality. Here are our favorite stories behind 10 of the most iconic slogans of all time.

De Beers
“A Diamond is forever”
Agency: N.W. Ayer & Son 

When Frances Gerety was hired at the Philadelphia advertising agency N.W. Ayer & Son’s in 1943, she became only the second female copywriter to come on board – and the first to get an account that didn’t focus solely on women’s products. According to The New York Times, “Because De Beers controlled the world supply of rough diamonds, antitrust laws prohibited the company from doing business in the United States. The ads could not promote De Beers, or even show pictures of jewelry, so the agency commissioned bold paintings by artists like André Derain and purchased pre-existing works by Dalí and Picasso.”

Gerety spent her entire career – from 1943 through 1970 – working with one client. As to the famous slogan, according to the Washington Post, “When Gerety first suggested the line at a routine morning meeting in 1947, her colleagues in the copy department (all of them men) argued that it didn’t really mean anything. The word ‘foreve’” wasn’t even grammatically correct. Gerety didn’t think the line was one of her best, either. ‘I shudder to think of what might have happened if a great line had been demanded,’ she wrote in a letter 40 years later. Every copywriter in the Department coming up with hundreds of lines and the really great one lost in the shuffle.'”

California Milk Processor Board
“Got Milk”
Agency: Goodby Silverstein & Partners

Much like in the case of the work for De Beers, the idea of being grammatically correct almost toppled Goodby Silverstein & Partners’ work for the California Milk Processor Board before it even started. In filmmaker Doug Pray’s documentary Art & Copy which traced the origins of several pivotal campaigns, Rich Silverstein of Goodby Silverstein & Partners said, “It’s clunky. It’s not even English.”

According to Jeff Goodby, the man responsible for the iconic line, “Here’s what really happened: Jon Steel and Carole Rankin were at a focus group when the clouds parted and a woman said, ‘The only time I even think about milk is when I run out of it.’ [I] scrawled ‘got milk?’ on a poster board for a meeting and decided it might be a tagline.'”

MTV
“I Want My MTV”
Creator: Dale Pon/Nancy Podbielniak

While there is debate as to who actually coined the phrase – with legendary “Big Idea” man George Lois taking credit – according to the book I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, he in fact wasn’t the person responsible.

According to Fred Seibert, MTV’s first creative director, “The whole thing was the work of my mentor and friend Dale Pon. He’d been my first boss in the commercial media, at WHN Radio in New York when it was a country music station. He’d recommended me for my job at Warner Amex Satellite Entertainment Company, as the production director of The Movie Channel, and eventually as the first Creative Director of MTV: Music Television. We’d fallen in and out over the years, but in late 1981, when it came time for us to hire an advertising agency again —at first, our big boss had vetoed Dale as not heavy enough for a company like ours— with a lot of help from my immediate supervisor Bob Pittman, I was able to convince everyone that Dale understood media promotion better than anyone else in America. Besides, didn’t he have ‘insurance’ with his partner, legendary adman George Lois? Looking back, the core creative ended up being the most straightforward part. Dale’s closest friend and creative partner, Nancy Podbielniak had written the cable brats copy and had a tag line ‘Rock’n’roll wasn’t enough for them — now they want their MTV!’ That rung a bell in George Lois, someone who never missed a chance to abscond with someone else’s good idea, and decided to rip off his own knock off of a Maypo campaign from the 1950s and 60s (animator John Hubley originated it as a set famous animated spots, and George had unsuccessfully knocked it off usin g sports stars) and presented a storyboard that completely duplicated his version. Rock stars like Mick Jagger were saying ‘I Want My MTV’ and crying like babies, implying they were spoiled children being denied. No one was buying it until Dale let me know that there was no way he’d ask Pete Townshend or Mick to cry for us. ‘Pride! They need to show their pride in rock’n’roll! They’ll be shouting!’ After a little corporate fuss we were able to sell it in.”

Apple
“Think Different”
Agency: TBWA\Chiat\Day

Apple’s “Think Different” slogan was utilized in their legendary commercial spot, “Here’s to the Crazy Ones” which utilized black-and-white footage of important world figures like Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammad Ali and Mahatma Gandhi.

Rob Siltanen, creative director and managing partner at TBWA/Chiat/Day, recalled to Forbes“Steve was highly involved with the advertising and every facet of Apple’s business. But he was far from the mastermind behind the renowned launch spot. In fact, he was blatantly harsh on the commercial that would eventually play a pivotal role in helping Apple achieve one of the greatest corporate turnarounds in business history. The soul of the original ‘The crazy ones’ script I presented to Jobs, as well as the original beginning and ending of the celebrated script, all ultimately stayed in place, even though Jobs initially called the script ‘shit.’ I’ve also read a few less than correct accounts on how the ‘Think Different’ campaign was originally conceived. While several people played prominent parts in making it happen, the famous ‘Think Different’ line and the brilliant concept of putting the line together with black and white photographs of time-honored visionaries was invented by an exceptionally creative person, and dear friend, by the name of Craig Tanimoto, a TBWA/Chiat/Day art director at the time.”

According to Ken Segall, another creative at TBWA/Chiat/Day, “The team quickly came to the conclusion that Apple isn’t like other companies. It doesn’t follow the rules. It thinks different.” He continued, “With the concept in focus, it was now just a matter of developing the campaign that could best deliver it. We went down many roads – with and without a human presence, with and without mice (yes, mice). The breakthrough came when we stepped back and realized that the spark driving Apple existed long before Apple. In fact, it existed long before electricity. The ability to think creatively is one of the great catalysts of civilization. So the logic seemed natural: why not show what kind of company Apple is by celebrating the people Apple admires? Let’s acknowledge the most remarkable people – past and present – who ‘change things’ and “push the human race forward.”

BMW
“The ultimate driving machine”
Agency: Ammirati & Puris

According to Automotive News, “In the summer of 1971, Eberhard von Kuenheim was busy mapping out the future of BMW. Newly installed, the 43-year-old CEO enticed a 39-year-old sales-and-marketing executive from General Motors’ Adam Opel subsidiary to join him in the effort: Bob Lutz.”

With his assignment focused on bringing greater awareness to the company in the United States – who often thought BMW stood for “British Motor Works” – Lutz decided the company was best suited to seek out the services of boutique ad agency Ammirati & Puris who he thought had done excellent work with Fiat. When Ralph Ammirati – one of the founders of the agency – was asked why the slogan they came up with, “The ultimate driving machine,” still works today, he said, “Because they work! Clients tend to get tired of these things and then they change them, and then they see that sales are suddenly affected, and then they jump back to it—it never fails. A couple of years from now another marketing genius will step in and say, ‘let’s do something different, let’s sell the car based on price’—I mean, that sounds silly but that actually happened to me one time, which doesn’t make any sense. So these terrific lines keep coming back because they work. We can see that line from the pitch for the business back in 1974, that’s what we presented in Munich to the BMW board. And it perfectly describes that car and the experience that you get driving that car. And that’s why it works. Fortunately at BMW, the company is run by engineers, and that’s why that product is as great as it is. And as long as they are in charge, it will remain.”

City of Las Vegas
“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”
Agency: R&R Partners

For anyone who has visited the City of Sin, there’s no shortage of branding that encourages people to “live a little” because the people who work and play in Las Vegas operate under a singular philosophy: “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

Created in 1998 by Mark E. Brown of R&R Partners – who had been championing tourism endeavors in Las Vegas for decades – the firm settled on the direction based on a case study. According to The Week, the study discovered that “The emotional bond between Las Vegas and its customers was freedom. Freedom on two levels. Freedom to do things, see things, eat things, wear things, feel things. In short, the freedom to be someone we couldn’t be at home. And freedom from whatever we wanted to leave behind in our daily lives. Just thinking about Vegas made the bad stuff go away. At that point the strategy became clear. Speak to that need. Make an indelible connection between Las Vegas and the freedom we all crave.”

According to USA TODAY, other options included “‘The stories are true;’ ‘The secrets are yours;’ ‘You’ll know what to do,’ ‘Get away with it;’ ‘Who’s to say?’ ‘Your secret is safe;’ and ‘Who needs to know?'”

Calvin Klein
“Nothing comes between me and my Calvins”
Creator: Calvin Klein & Richard Avedon

In 1989, Brooke Shield had the distinction of not only being the youngest fashion model to appear in the pages of Vogue, but also as the sultry and taboo spokesperson for Calvin Klein. While the origins of the spot lay in the direction from Richard Avedon who demanded a certain “forbidden” performance from Shields, the campaign also got a boost from the ensuing controversy. On November 19, 1980, CBS refused to air the commercial. Despite being investigated by the Justice Department for the mistreatment of adolescent models, Calvin Klein’s sales actually soared to the $2 million USD a month range.

Wheaties
“Breakfast of champions”
Creator: Knox Reeves Advertising Agency

While it would go on to be a title of a Kurt Vonnegut book, the term “breakfast of champions” is still most ironically associated with the breakfast cereal, Wheaties.

According to General Mills, “The Wheaties association with sports began in 1933, nine years after the cereal was introduced. General Mills marketing maverick Sam Gale was walking through a neighborhood on a beautiful autumn day and noticed that most families were indoors.When he discovered that they were listening to the World Series on the radio, he recognized a new opportunity to advertise Wheaties.”

One of the most popular slogans in advertising history was penned later that same year. General Mills’ contract for sponsorship of the broadcasts of Minneapolis Millers games on WCCO radio included a large advertising sign – board at the ballpark. According to General Mills, “Knox Reeves, an advertising executive on the Wheaties account at a Minneapolis-based agency, was asked what should be printed on the sign. He took out a pad and pencil, sketched a Wheaties box, thought for a moment, and then printed ‘Wheaties – The Breakfast of Champions.’”

American Express
“Don’t leave home without it.”
Creator: Ogilvy & Mather 

According to Fast Company, “In 1975, Ogilvy & Mather created this slogan for American Express. The commercials were among the first to include celebrity cameos, including Jim Henson, Stephen King, and Jerry Seinfeld. In 1985, BBDO responded with ‘Visa, It’s Everywhere You Want to Be.’ And not to be outdone in the plastic slogan war, in 1997, MasterCard brought the heat with “‘here are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard.'”

Gatorade
“Be like Mike”
Creator: Bayer Bess Vanderwarker

When Michael Jordan signed an $18 million USD endorsement deal with Quaker Oats Co. – the parent company of Gatorade – it came as little surprise that they wanted to rely heavily on the Chicago Bulls superstar’s marketability despite some hesitation from those on the account.

According to the book FIRST IN THIRST: How Gatorade Turned the Science of Sweat into a Cultural Phenomenon by Darrel Rovell, “Knowing that this was a big moment, Gatorade’s advertising firm at the time, Bayer Bess Vanderwarker, brought back its creative chief, Bernie Pitzel, who had moved to another Chicago advertising firm. He was lured back by the fact that he was going to introduce Jordan and Gatorade to the world. But when he arrived, he found out that the first commercials had already been approved. One played off the true story of a kid in Yugoslavia who wrote a letter addressed to ‘Michael Jordan. USA,’ and it actually arrived in the hands of Gatorade’s spokesperson. Another showed highlights of Jordan dominating opponents and doing his signature dunks. The latter spot had already been approved by all the top executives at Quaker. ‘I was totally stunned,’ Pitzel said. ‘It was just a highlight reel — a video of him dunking — and Nike had done that over and over again.’ I was thinking, ‘I came over here to do this and this is what we did?'”

As the book further assets, “Pitzel was given three days to come up with something different, although there were no guarantees that it would beat out the spot that was planned — the one that he had so despised. That night, he went home frustrated that he couldn’t think of anything. He sat down to watch a movie with his younger son. Disney had recently re-released its 1967 classic animated film The Jungle Book. When he heard “I Wan’na Be Like You,” the Monkey Song in the film, it immediately clicked. ‘I knew that a million people wanted to be like Mike,’ Pitzel said.”

For more in-depth history, check out the inspiration behind 20 of the most well-known luxury brand logos and how 20 of streetwear’s most well-known brands got their name.

Words by Alec Banks
Features Editor

Alec Banks is a Los Angeles-based long-form writer with over a decade of experience covering fashion, music, sports, and culture.

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