Sunday, June 29, 2008

Book review – Powerlines (2008)

“If the Pilgrims had killed a cat… then what would we be eating on Thanksgiving?” That line isn’t in Powerlines, a book by Steve Cone on slogans, quips and one-liners. But this one is: “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” – and hundreds of other phrases and slogans you're probably heard.

“Rain, rain go away” is in here, as are: “Remember, only you can prevent forest fires.” “Keep cool with Coolidge.” “Veni, vidi, vici.” “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.” You get the picture. It’s a Bartlett’s Quotations re-shaped by a nervous, opinionated advertising guy who loves language.

This is a harmless, sometimes amusing compendium of memorable lines – from ads, movies, and political campaigns. It’s useful to see these “powerlines” all in one place. It’s good to be reminded that a mortal human being wrote these potent words to describe Fed-Ex’s brand promise: “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.”

Cone lists the top commercial powerlines – led by De Beers’ “A diamond is forever.” He believes that AT&T’s “Your world. Delivered.” is among the worst. He lists the best state taglines (New Hampshire’s “Liver free or die” is the favorite) and the worst – Iowa’s “Life/Changing” deemed the worst state slogan of all time. “It must be Maine” is a close second-to-worst.

He cites classic television ads and jingles. “Melts in your mouth, not in your hands.” Promotional lines from movies and familiar moments from movies. It’s like a written digression into, “Remember the scene when…?”

The book is filled with breezy historical tales… It leaves the impression that the slogan “The war to end all wars” made America’s entry into WWI acceptable to the masses. Much more complicated.

The book’s advice is sensible – when creating a tagline or slogan, don’t overreach, be honest, capture the essence of a compelling story, and be mindful of the rhythm and sounds of the words.

What’s the point? That words have motivating power. That powerful lines crystallize emotion and opinion. That we, as a culture, share memories expressed in startling statements. That by love of a subject, diligent work, and a catchy title, almost anything can be packaged as a book.


1 comment:

DrBear said...

An all time classic in this regard was the slogan painted on one side of a pedestrian bridge over the main highway in Dubuque back in the early 80s:


Talk about low expectations...