My guest post on Duets Blog ("The P-Word") about the overuse of "passion" in corporate slogans, and related discussions on the LinkedIn group VERB (for members only) and here, have sparked some lively commentary. Yes, commenters say, "passion" is passé, but what can we do about it? One commenter mused about "less dicey alternatives" to the problematic P-word: "love"? "calling"? "bliss"? How about "zeal," suggested another reader. A third reader supplied his own company's snappy solution: "We're horn-dogs for your marketing budget!"
But is it a solution? I don't think so, and neither are all the other synonyms. Because the problem with "passion" isn't just the P-word, meaningless as it's become. It's us.
Who's passionate? We are! Who has the passion? We do! Yay, us!
Oh, and you customers out there? Nice of you to show up. Feel free to bask in the warm glow of our deep, abiding passion. Now excuse use while we return to our weekend values-affirmation retreat.
Let me put it another way. When a company says "We're Passionate" or "Our Passion Is," my reaction is invariably: How lucky for you! Now ... what's in it for me?
Try a little exercise. Imagine that Nike's slogan were "A Passion for Sports." Would it make you care? Would you be inspired? Would you feel as challenged or engaged as you are by "Just Do It"?
Suppose Coca-Cola's slogan were "We're Passionate About Soda." Do those words make you want to run out and buy a case? Compare "We're Passionate About Soda" to one of Coke's longest-running slogans, "The Pause That Refreshes." Which one speaks directly to your tastebuds, your thirst?¹
The great advertising slogans, the ones we remember for decades, rarely talk about us.2 Instead, they channel the customer's desires and express a benefit.
Defining those desires and zeroing in on the benefit takes hard work. It's a lot easier to talk about us and how experienced, sensitive, and passionate we are. But that won't get your customers' attention. Especially when, as my little quiz demonstrates, dozens of other companies are using exactly the same language.
I don't want to suggest that every company that employs a P-word slogan is lazy or uncreative. Indeed, there's usually a strong, sincere motivation behind the trite formula. Jack Cuffari nails it in his comment on Duets Blog:
It is becoming evident that all the logic systems and left brain business school dogma that has dominated business thinking for the past 100 years is simply not a sufficient foundation for business success. That's because we have become a society if great abundance, a society in which the deepest, most powerful driver is a search for meaning. It's why emotional branding is the only branding that truly resonates and connects with consumers. And it's pointing out the need for balance - bringing in the aspects of right brain orientation (meaning, empathy, harmony, recreation, - but primarily meaning) to complement and complete the model.
After all, what is passion but the single most glaring absence in the dry desert of economic theory?
The challenge is to find a fresh, distinctive, interesting way to express the emotion—one that invites your customers in rather than shouts at them, passionately, across a chasm.
¹ I just read that Coke will introduce a new slogan, "Twist the Cap to Refreshness," in 2010. I haven't been able to confirm it, and I hope it's not too late to change it. "Refreshness" is one of the lamest coinages ever in the Brandish lexicon.
2 There are exceptions: Avis's classic "We Try Harder" and General Electric's "We Bring Good Things to Life" come to mind. But even though they talk about "us," those slogans actually focus on the customer. We try harder ... for you. We bring good things to life ... so you can enjoy them. And each of those slogans includes a strong verb, something that's missing from the P-word slogans.