Advertising is prey to lots of different fashions. A tendency to focus on stunts that will have no impact on the real world is one of them. Putting preaching ahead of practice is another.
One fashion that ebbs and flows is that of the endline. Although, to be honest, it's a fashion that tends to ebb rather more than it flows. Endlines aren't in vogue. And they haven't been for many years.
That perhaps explains why so many of the great endlines date back at least a decade, if not to the last millennium. Examples include "Vorsprung durch technik", "Just do it", "Every little helps", "Have a break", "Dirt is good", "I'm lovin it", "The power of dreams", "You're not you" and so on.
Just because, like polo necks, endlines aren't as fashionable as they once were, doesn't mean they're any less valuable. And the reason for their value is simple. They help you own a thought, a purpose, a belief, a competitive advantage in the mind of your customer, making it inseparable from your brand. The advantage this confers is eulogised by Ries and Trout as the Law of Focus: "The most powerful concept in marketing is owning a word in the mind of the prospect."
What is so telling about the endlines I've cited above is that we all know who they're for without the brands being mentioned. Our minds join the cognitive dots. This kind of mental availability was always gold dust and, in our hyper-fragmented media world, has become more precious than ever.
Of course, like all precious things, endlines don't come easily. The level of distillation and compression they demand requires considerable intellectual effort and, yes, a fair amount of luck. Even when you've got a contender, it will take sustained investment over two to three years before it begins to establish itself. Without wishing to sound cynical, how many of the agency team are going to be on the account when the line begins to bear fruit? Might it be more tempting to do a one-off show-stopper that garners rather more headlines and plaudits in the short term?
So the endline has lots of enemies. Fashion, effort, discipline, time, vanity and investment, to name a few. But my advice would be to defy them all and have a go. Be a real pest if necessary. Distil, distil and distil until you have an unshakeable verbal shorthand to work from, that can unite all activity, glue all expression, provide intellectual cohesion from NPD to service design, communications, employer brand and corporate purpose.
I deliberately used the phrase "verbal shorthand" above to avoid being dogmatic. Not every brand should have an endline, nor should every ad. But every brand should have a verbal distillation that's clear, memorable and succinct. At VCCP, we call it a concentrated brand idea (CBI). Others might call it a purpose, mission or essence. Without this narrative North Star, a brand is far more likely to be inefficient in the way it communicates and fragmented in the way it behaves. The actual wording itself may never be used externally, but it will still run through the culture of an organisation like the wording through a stick of rock. Such as Brighton or Scarborough.
Nine times out of 10, that's where the great mantras, mnemonics, shorthands, catchphrases and endlines are to be found. From within. They may have been put to one side or, rather, forgotten about. I believe this is the story behind "Vorsprung durch technik", which John Hegarty (re-)found on an Audi factory visit. They may come from evolving a product claim into a belief statement, as with "There's a glass and a half in everyone". They may come from the brand's tone of voice and idiom, such as "Simples" or "Should have…". They could be the end product of service design or choice architecture, such as Priority and Essentials. They may even be temporarily suspended, as in the case of "Finger lickin' good", to further cement their fame for posterity.
I could go on, but won't. Suffice to say that I would reserve a large dollop of scepticism for any creative director who tells you that endlines are old hat and not worth bothering about. I'd suggest that they can still be "Wonderful everyday". I'd also politely ask them: "Did somebody say just try?"
Charles Vallance is founding partner and chairman of VCCP @TheBrandedGent