On Jan. 10, 1984, a Wendy’s ad featuring three elderly ladies examining a tiny fast-food burger before one of them (played by Clara Peller) asked the now-immortal question ”Where’s the beef?” made its TV debut. The phrase quickly became part of the national lexicon — Walter Mondale even referenced it during the 1984 presidential primaries — and the commercials made Peller, then 81, a cult star. Earlier this year, Wendy’s revisited the concept but with a twist, proclaiming, ”Here’s the beef.” What makes a campaign like this keep going and going and going? We survey some slogans that stand the test of time.
Most of us don’t like being told what to do, but it’s hard to resist convincing (and commanding) pitches like Nike’s ”Just Do It,” Gatorade’s ”Be Like Mike” (as in basketball great Michael Jordan), and Dr Pepper’s more coercive ”Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper too?” Of course, those not easily swayed can always ”Just Say No.”
Forget scantily clad supermodels — many of our favorite commercials get the message across with a little help from endearing gadget geeks like the diligent Verizon tester who travels the country asking, ”Can you hear me now?” or the loopy techie who excitedly tells customers, ”Dude, you’re getting a Dell!”
The older you are, the wiser you are, and in the case of Charmin’s Mr. Whipple, who admonishes grocery-store customers, ”Please don’t squeeze the Charmin!” or the woman who cries out, ”Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” in the unintentionally hilarious LifeCall commercials, the funnier, too. The only thing that could have made these lines more memorable is if they were said with a British accent (see: ”Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?”).
Budweiser’s oft-quoted ”Whassup?” ad, in which a group of buddies address one another with the drawn-out greeting, and Alka-Seltzer’s ”Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is!!!” slogan prove that sometimes it’s not so much about what you’re saying as it is about how fun it is to say.
Sometimes a catchphrase is only as good as the adorable animal behind it — like the charming ”Yo quiero Taco Bell” Chihuahua or the sneaky Trix rabbit, who refuses to give up his quest for the cereal, no matter how many times he’s told, ”Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!”