In the marketing biz, clever can drift into cliche in a moment.
That moment came, for me, in the checkout at Target last week, when I looked at the tray of Snickers candy bars and noticed that the distinctive "Snickers" logo had been replaced by a variety of mildly negative adjectives—"Impatient," ""Cranky," "Confused"— that tied in with their clever advertising campaign insisting "You're not you when you're hungry."
It may be be different, but it's also late, maybe even done to death, that fourth partygoer showing up at the Halloween dance dressed as the Internet. An idea isn't creative if it's been done to death. Ideas that are done to death become cliches. And cliches like "done to death" make the audience flinch, not smile.
Okay, we get it: labels were sacrosanct, so playing with them is, well, playful, or was.
But how long as it been? It was back in 1999 that Heinz, desperate to draw in young customers to its flagship product, started offering green and purple ketchup, for children, and tried to lure teens with "Talking Labels," instead of "Tomato Ketchup" they said things like "Psst. Over here" and "Are Your French Fries L0nely?" It must have worked, because in 2001, they expanded the line, with "Not new and improved" and "Desperately Seeking Tater Tots."
Clever. Also 14 years ago. I'm sure the strategy goes back even further. For years, 7-Up's slogan was, "You like it; It likes you." I loved that, the idea that the damn soda likes you, is sitting on the store shelf, pining away for you. It was a bold faux claim, charming for being so patently untrue.
Last year Coca Cola started putting generic friendly terms its cans. "Star," "Bestie" "BFF," "Legend" and slapping specific names on its small bottles.
Maybe the Coke name game started the "Enough already" process. I don't want my soda to say, "Share a Diet Coke with your Dad." I've already given them money. Isn't that enough?
At some point, marketers jumped the shark, and for me its those Snickers bars, There's something creepy, almost bi-polar. about them. I want to be able to bite into a Snickers (actually, I don't want to bite into a Snickers, ever, haven't for years and wouldn't start now) without having to wonder whether I've begun to hallucinate or does the label really read, "Confused?"
I don't want to overreact. Maybe I'm just in a bad mood. But at some point, where Tide is shrieking, "You smell!" and Wrigley's gum labels suddenly coo "Blow me," we're going to want this to stop.
Look at this label on a Yasso frozen yogurt bar (excellent, by the way, 100 calories each, if I didn't limit myself to one a meal I'd eat three). As it happened, my mother and I spoke an hour earlier. But what if we hadn't? What if we were quarreling? What is she had just died, and I went to console myself with a frozen treat?
See, that's the thing. Products are supposed to be mass market items. I don't want Stephanie's personalized soda; I want my generic Coke. Quirk is the opposite of mass market. If I come home from the funeral, I just want a can of Coke. I don't want a can of Coke that says, "Darling" on it.
The reason these twists on labels worked in the past is because labels are expected to be bold but not personal. Lipstick might be bright magenta, but it doesn't say, "Hey liver lips! Show a little self-respect." Once that is no longer generally true, once they start frequently being sly, and all boxes grab you by the lapels and scream in your face, all bets are off, and the slyness loses all value, like all those million bottles of hot sauce all with highly idiosyncratic, risque names,"SWAMP ASS TIT-KICKER HOT SAUCE," and such. They're so individual, they're dull, and cheap-looking, and you reach with gratitude for good old Tabasco, with its classic, unchanging label.
At Target, I picked up some Tabasco sauce, and noticed the box seemed to think it was auditioning for Tod Browning's "Freaks" ("One of us! One of us!") Not a huge difference between "Are you one of us" and 7-Up,'s "It likes you." But quirky repetition grinds a consumer down. Find something new.