Successful Ad Slogans Dissected

Nick Padmore at A List Apart has produced an extraordinarily nerdy and detailed breakdown of the various qualities of 115 of the most successful “copy shots” in advertising history—you know, those short phrases like “Where’s the beef?” (1984) or “Don’t leave home without it” (1974) or “it takes a licking and keeps on ticking” (1956) that you’ll carry with you to your grave, unless you develop some sort of “good” Alzheimer’s that only wipes out the commercial jingles part of your brain. (Somebody assign a stem cell researcher to that!)

Some of his findings:

  • only 50% of the top copy shots mention a brand
  • 17% of copy shots are “lexically deviant”—as Padmore puts it, “it’s a weird spelling almost 2wice in every ten whirds”
  • 84% of the copy shots contain some sort of rhetorical device, although Padmore thinks this is more than likely simply a reflection of how we naturally speak and write

He also comes up with a theory of how to produce a great copy shot, writing that “nobody else (as far as I know), has attempted to come up with a linguistically determined Greatest Copy Shot, so this is at least a start.”

All great copy shots should:

1. Be five words in length.
2. Not mention the brand name.
3. Be declarative.
4. Be grammatically complete.
5. Be otherwise standard.
6. Contain alliteration, metaphor, or rhyme.

So there you have it, marketers and admen/women who read the Consumerist: your recipe for success! Enjoy!

“Greatest Copy Shot Ever Written” [A List Apart]

“Advertising Slogan Hall of Fame” [AdSlogans]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Trel says:

    Wii would like to play.

  2. RvLeshrac says:

    I can only think of one brand which has slogans including the name, and that’s Coke.

    I know there have to be others, but I couldn’t name one if I had a gun to my head.

  3. RvLeshrac says:


    OK, I lied a little. I just thought of “It’s Miller Time,” but that’s it. Really. And I don’t even think they use that anymore.

  4. RvLeshrac says:


    Also, I was born in 1980, but for some reason I can whistle the jingles and remember the ads for far, far, far more of the 1950s and 1960s radio ads than the newer ones.

    Anyone else have that problem?

  5. Trel says:

    @RvLeshrac: “Trust Sleepy’s for the rest of your life.”

  6. Meikah Delid says:

    Writing a good copy is probably the hardest thing to do! You know when it’s simple and short, it’s hard to produce. But thanks for this post because I found a gold mine. :)

  7. EvilConservative says:

    I think there are fewer jingles and original music being used today. Companies have been licensing popular music in the place of their own jingles, so there’s no unique theme to place your memory with the product. The flip side, and what they get for it, of course, is immediate connection with memories associated with the music and later product impressions just from hearing the song played. I just don’t think it lasts nearly as long as a real catchy jingle rammed into your brain.

  8. BlondeGrlz says:

    @EvilConservative: I heartily disagree. Those iPod commercials, starting with Jet, play in my head every time I hear those songs. And the diamond commercials that use the Vanessa Carlton song…I heard the song in a store the other day and immediately thought it was an ad. I’ve purchased entire albums because the song was used in a commercial and rammed into my head. I can’t think of any jingles that are as catchy as pop music.

  9. EvilConservative says:

    @blondegrlz: I think you’re actually supporting me, if not agreeing with me. Your examples are distictly contemporary. So, you are supporting my contention that using the music results in “later product impressions just from hearing the song played” like I said. The question is, in 10-30 years, will you still associate the product with the song or will the connection have faded? You may not be able to help thinking of the products today, but what songs still evoke products from the 60’s and 70’s today (unless the use of the music continues today?) On the other hand, hearing jingles from the 60’s (if you were alive then) still sends your brain directly and only to those products. That’s all I’m saying. There are even a few examples of music going the other way: One that comes to mind is the song “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” which was a hit in radio play, but only as a result of the Coke commercial based on other jingles that used the melody. Maybe we’ll even hear it again this year through the holidays…

  10. ElizabethD says:

    I didn’t see these, but I may have skimmed too fast. I think they’re good for all the reasons cited.

    1) Drivers Wanted. (Volkswagen)

    2) With a name like Schmucker’s, it’s got to be good. (jellies)

    3) Double your pleasure, double your fun. (Doublemint gum)

  11. This is a wonderful site. It may distract me for hours!

  12. richcreamerybutter says:

    @blondegrlz: Vanessa Carlton? Is that the same wretchedly bland song used in about 4 other commercials right now? The one that makes me want to punch people? The kind of Dawson’s Creeky melody? Throughout the years I’ll hear horrible music featured in ads, then discover the “artist” later.

    Another such responsible party is the band “Bake Nales Ladies.” They had a million songs used in advertising that all sucked in completely different ways.

  13. richcreamerybutter says:

    Naked, that is

  14. paco says:

    @EvilConservative: Don’t forget “I’m a Pepper/You’re a Pepper/Wouldn’t you like/to be a Pepper too?”

  15. paco says:

    @ElizabethD: 4) Give a hoot, don’t pollute.

  16. BlondeGrlz says:

    @richcreamerybutter: Ha! Yes that song. I love your description of “Dawson’s Creeky.” I haven’t head it in anything other than the diamond ad though.

    @EvilConservative: I’m not old enough to remember many really catchy jingles. I think most popular music that’s been in advertising will still remind me of the intended product for a long time. The drawback is that once a song falls out of rotation on the radio (or my playlist) I never hear it again. Althoug that is more true for jingles. Until someone comes out with “Now That’s What I Call Annoyingly Catchy Jingles! Volumes 1-576”

  17. Nemesis_Enforcer says:

    @blondegrlz: I on the other hand will refuse to buy a new artist’s music if they use it in a crappy commercial.. God I hate those Ipod commercials with a passion. The only reason I have one is because my Alpine headunit in my car will allow me to control the ipod thru the cd interface. Using a RF transmitter or cable requires you to fool around with the ipod controls. Which I don’t feel comfortable doing while driving. Now just changing a track I can do that from muscle memory, I never have to take my eyes off the road.

  18. UpsetPanda says:

    @Trel: The Wii commercial is just brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

    Also, iPod commercials. Yep.

    A few off the top of my head…I think one of the most enduring slogans is the Nike ads. You just can’t make ‘just do it’ outdated.

  19. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    Of course some self-important brit would say a british slogan was #1 :)
    “If it’s on, it’s in” sounds like a slogan for a sex toy to me.

    We’ll leave the light on for ya.

  20. joemono says:

    Break me off a piece of that… football cream.

  21. RvLeshrac says:


    But I hear it in a robot voice.

    Who’s with me?

  22. EvilConservative says:

    @paco: Dr. Pepper, for sure, but I’m missing the connection to what I said… that was just a jingle, right? It is fine example of what I was saying about unique product jingles — no mistaking where your mind goes if you know the tune. Here’s another really oldie example – what product used the tune (which then became a chart hit) “No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach’s In?)” by the T-Bones?

    Sniping against consumerism aside, isn’t it interesting to consider the power exercised over the number of minds influenced by this kind of thing? I think it’s a remarkable psychological phenomenon.

  23. mthrndr says:

    @richcreamerybutter: “Bake Nales Ladies” whoa dude, you butchered that one!

    A week doesn’t go buy where “Nestle’s makes the very best, N-E-S-T-L-E-S” doesn’t run through my head at least once – from that white chocolate commercial in the 80’s. Enjoy: []

  24. mthrndr says:

    @mthrndr: *by