Short phrases: big impacts

Iee Ling Yee

Associate Creative Director (US)

As creatives and copywriters, we really should learn from the ‘less is more’ approach. Sometimes even the shortest sentence can create a huge impact. In the US, we had the ‘got milk?’ campaign, which advertised a beverage product almost everyone has in their household. It is a campaign that has been around for over 20 years and during that time, countless celebrities from the world of sports and entertainment have donned the famous moustache in their ads.

The slogan has been used and, some might say, overused. The strapline has been turned into apparel, bumper stickers, and even other brands, by simply using the template of ‘got ____?’. After lots of advertisements and millions of dollars’ worth of commercial spots, I believe we have finally seen ‘got milk?’ laid to rest. And after 22 years will anyone miss it?

Another great example of the short phrase is the ‘I’m A Mac/I’m A PC’ campaign. In this scenario, two males share a dialogue to represent a Mac and a PC. The commercial starts out with an older, not-so-smart guy (John Hodgman in US/David Mitchell in UK) in an awkward scenario, while the young, cool guy (Justin Long in US/Robert Webb in UK) responds with logic. The big reveal is what a PC is lacking and what a Mac can deliver and excel at. The commercials are clever and thoughtful in how they use comparisons but the punchy sentiment of ‘I’m a’ works so well... Some people say the use of celebrities is lazy marketing but it does allow the viewer to put a face to the campaign. A face that you either know or a face that you can relate to.

The great thing about short phrases such as ‘got milk?’ and ‘I’m a Mac/I’m a PC’ is that they are easy to parody or replicate, without fear of plagiarism accusations. NYC’s ‘I’m a Girl’ campaign uses the simplicity of the short phrase to promote women’s self-esteem. Another example that slides easily into the short phrase approach as well is the ‘Because I’m a Girl’ global campaign for children’s rights and equality for girls.

A campaign I think is very clever is ‘I amsterdam’, which Amsterdam uses for tourism. It’s a subtle play on ‘I am’ will have copywriters purring in delight. And someone in Amsterdam is getting a pat on the back for showing real innovation in using a short phrase within a name.

A few days ago, an initiative was launched called ‘I’m Listening’ for suicide prevention and mental health awareness. But my favourite use of the short phrase to create big impact is the ‘I’m Facing MS’ campaign that EMD Serono launched to highlight its commitment to the MS therapy area. It has a bold powerful statement with an action and a description and the campaign deliverables complemented the statement.

Our copywriters live by the notion that copy must be human, simple and straight to the point. The short phrase, big impact ethos is the very definition of this and, in my opinion, long may it continue.

External links:

‘I’m A Mac/I’m A PC’ campaign

‘Because I’m a Girl’

‘I’m a Girl’ campaign

‘I’m Listening’

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