Slogans: Genius or Insanity? Did you really mean that?

December 5, 2019

John Bendel

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The state of South Dakota recently caused a stir with a new anti-drug campaign with the slogan “Meth: we’re on it.”

This kind of thing is not new for South Dakota. Back in 2014, the same state launched another campaign, this one against sudden jerks of the steering wheel on icy roads. It was called “Don’t jerk and drive.”

Whatever is going on in South Dakota, it put me in mind of some curious slogans and such I’ve seen in trucking over the years.

A favorite of mine was on the trucks of New Jersey’s South Paterson Trucking in the 1970s. Less than a laugh riot but certainly curious, it read “Carrying today the things of tomorrow.”

In the early 1980s, Hemingway Trucking, a large, New England LTL changed the name on its trucks to Hemway. The change came with a clever new logo that read the same right-side-up or up-side-down. Why? Maybe so even if a Hemway truck was flipped in a ditch, potential shippers could still see for sure whose truck it was. Hemway was not a slogan, but this is not a scholarly article. We’re just trying to have some fun.

And we should never forget the inspired UPS slogan from 2002 to 2010, “What can brown do for you?” Too bad the UPS slogan wasn’t around in the 1970s when York Transportation of York, Pa., used the slogan: “We go for you.”

Of course, there was the Newark, N.J., carrier called Guaranteed Overnight Delivery. They abbreviated the name on the sides of their equipment as G.O.D. (see Hemway above).

You’ll find lots of this stuff outside trucking. Sometimes you can’t tell if they’re joking or what. How about the 7-Up slogan “Make 7-Up Yours.” I also wonder what Uzbekistan Airways was thinking when they adopted the slogan “Good luck.”

Of course, some slogans are deliberate plays on words. A sign outside a store called the Sunglass House in Australia reads “Sitting on faces since 2001.” Australia is where digital game company Sega once said of its console “The more you play with it, the harder it gets.” Back in the U.S., you can still find 1972 presidential campaign buttons for Richard Nixon that read “They can’t lick our Dick.”

An alleged slogan for Electrolux, the vacuum cleaner company was “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.” Turns out that one is questionable for reasons not worth going into here. Point is, not all funny slogans are true. That’s the case with internet memes like the one for the furniture assembly kit company, Ikea: “We throw in extra parts just to mess with you.” Or the bogus FedEx tagline “It’s probably broken.”

Too-clever-for-their-own-good slogans for nations trying to attract tourists tend to be real. Maybe best known is from the early 2000s for Israel: “Size doesn’t matter.” Lesser known efforts include this one for the Hutt Valley in New Zealand: “Right up my Hutt Valley.” From 2004 to 2013, Jamaica used “Once you go, you know.” Without telling us what “it” was, Panama told the world “It stays with you.” Hong Kong, beset with poor air quality, was brutally honest with “Hong Kong will take your breath away.”

Of course, there are the slogans that read OK in English but not necessarily in other countries. For example, in China, KFC’s “Finger Lickin’ Good” tagline read as “Eat your fingers off.” And when Coor’s marketed its beer in Spain, its slogan “Turn it loose” turned out to be a reference to diarrhea.

A curious, personal favorite comes from a diner placemat ad for a local realtor: “We’re there. That’s why we’re here.” Like “carrying today the things of tomorrow,” you shouldn’t think about it too long. You might hurt yourself.

Oh yes. South Dakota’s “Meth. We’re on it” generated lots of media attention and at least one bogus internet tag line worth noting here: “Heroin: We’re up in arms.”

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John Bendel

John Bendel is Land Line’s contributing editor-at-large. A former trucker, former editor at National Lampoon, and longtime truck writer, John is an author, photographer, and freelancer for New York Times. There’s more, but in short, his insight and matchless style of writing makes “Gizmos and Gears” a runaway reader favorite.