[Study] What Makes Advertising Slogans Memorable?

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Before you read any further, it’s pop quiz time. See how many brands you can identify from the list of slogans below:

  1. “Just do it.”
  2. “I’m lovin’ it.”
  3. “Have it your way.”
  4. “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.”
  5. “Got milk?”
  6. “Eat fresh.”
  7. “M’m! M’m! Good!”
  8. “You’re in good hands.”
  9. “Think outside the bun.”
  10. “The ultimate driving machine.”

What I’ve just named are the ten most-remembered slogans from recent study done on the factors contributing to slogan recall. Like many people, most of the above ad slogans translate almost immediately into a mental image of the brand’s logo or of a personal experience I’ve had with the brand. Cognitively, I disregard the words I’m reading (or hearing) and think of the brand they represent. I hear “Just do it” and, immediately, before thinking about sports or competition or initiative or all the concepts embodied by that mantra, I think about Nike and its ubiquitous “swoosh.”

Companies pour thousands and sometimes millions of dollars into advertising campaigns aimed at getting people to remember their brands. The slogan is an integral part of ad recall. But what makes a slogan memorable? How can a company ensure that the money being invested in a slogan is going to see any return? Are all slogans created equal? Does the slogan itself matter or is it more about the delivery? These are the questions this study seeks to answer…

Article Summary: Are You in Good Hands?

Kohli, C., Thomas, S., & Suri, R. (2013). Are You In Good Hands?: Slogan Recall: What Really Matters. Journal Of Advertising Research,53(1), 31-42.

Chiranjeev Kohli and Sunil Thomas of California State University and Rajneesh Suri of Drexel University conduct a study to determine which factors contribute to the success or failure of slogans in advertising campaigns. What they find is that the only thing that really sets memorable slogans apart from those easily forgotten are repetition and duration of use.

Theoretical Framework

The authors consider two different dimensions from the existing literature in evaluating the criteria for their experiment:

  • Media Weight – the amount of exposure the slogan has had in the media.
  • Elements of Slogan Design – the complexity of the slogan, the length of the slogan, whether or not the slogan rhymes, and whether or not the slogan is accompanied by a jingle.
The authors review previous studies that used these criteria as determinants of slogan success. However, much of the prior research has been done in the laboratory. Therefore, the authors feel compelled to conduct a field experiment using advertising slogans in the real world to judge the effectiveness of such factors in contributing to slogan recall.

The Experiment

220 people in the Los Angeles area of California were approached in person and asked to enumerate all of the slogans they could remember off the top of their minds. A master list of 649 slogans was tabulated and then narrowed down to a list of 150. The authors then measured these slogans according to the following six variables:

  • Ad spend: amount of advertising dollars spent, used as a metric for gauging the prevalence of the slogan in the media.
  • Slogan age: number of years since the slogan was created.
  • Length of the slogan: number of words in the slogan.
  • Use of jingle: whether or not the slogan is accompanied by a jingle.
  • Use of rhyming: whether or not the slogan contains a rhyme.
  • Complexity of the slogan: whether or not the slogans have a high level of complexity (as judged by independent marketing faculty).

The results of the study indicated that the creative aspects of the slogans had little effect on their memorability. The only thing that matters is the amount of media exposure the slogan has. The variables “ad spend” and “slogan age” were both correlated with higher memorability, whereas the other variables had no effect on memorability. Therefore, in order for advertisers to successfully get people to remember their slogans, they can do two things:

  1. Spend a lot of money in a short amount of time for more concentrated media exposure, or
  2. Spend a lot of money over a long period of time for prolonged media exposure.
In the end, the results of the study tell marketers just what they don’t want to hear: you’ve got to open your wallets.

Real-World Implications

I found this study interesting, because it is slightly counter-intuitive. An advertising slogan isn’t divorced from any other short piece of content we experience in our lives. The tagline for a TV show (“Where everybody knows your name”). That catchy song lyric (“Can’t read my, can’t read my, no he can’t read my poker face”). The latest meme circulating on Facebook (“I don’t always…but when I do…”).

When often think that songs get stuck in our heads because of the music or the meme is memorable because it’s humorous. And I’m sure there is research that validates those beliefs. But what this study shows is that repeated exposure is key. We remember stuff because it is continually reinforced. Does Lady Gaga get stuck in your head because her music is catchy…or because the radio plays her songs so much? Think about slogans, taglines, lyrics, or memes that you know. Do you remember them due to some innate quality…or rather because you’ve been repeatedly exposed to them? I would venture to say it’s probably the latter.

The key takeaway here, I think, is that if you want somebody to remember a message, repeat it over and over again until you are blue in the face. Repetition is everything. Repeat your messaging frequently and over a long period of time. That’s really the only way to get it to stick.

Questions for Future Research

  1. Do these results hold true internationally?
  2. Do these results hold for localized, small businesses?
  3. Are other pieces of content, like TV show taglines and song lyrics, recalled in the same manner?
  4. How does earned media (vs paid media) affect slogan recall?

Featured image courtesy of CurryRojo licensed via Creative Commons.

The Curiosity Manifesto: Investigate

2 comments
dbvickery
dbvickery

Outstanding research and analysis, Doug. I enjoyed reading it...and knew several of the slogans even though I rarely watch TV, listen to commercial radio, or pick up print media. Do see several during commercials for sporting events, though.

douglaserice
douglaserice moderator

 @dbvickery Thanks, Brian! I don't do any of those things either but still recognized the slogans. It's interesting that if you repeat a message enough, it finds its way even to those who aren't directly exposed to it.

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