My latest column for Visual Thesaurus, "The Thinkers," was published today. It expands on observations I've made here, in March and April, about the recent proliferation of think and rethink in corporate slogans. In the VT column, I've thrown KFC's "Unthink" into the mix. Access to the column is, as always, restricted to subscribers; here's an excerpt to whet your appetite:
The last time "think" made this much advertising news was in 1997, when Apple introduced its "Think Different" ads, created by the Los Angeles agency TBWA\Chiat\Day. Instead of product shots, the ads featured striking black-and-white photos of famous people — Albert Einstein, John Lennon, Martha Graham, Muhammad Ali, and others. But it was what some people saw as the ungrammaticality of the slogan that touched a nerve. The reasoning: "Different" is an adjective; ergo, it can't modify the verb "to think."
Not true, as it turns out. Looking back on the campaign from the vantage of 2006, linguist Eric Bakovic wrote in Language Log that "it's not so clear that different is supposed to be an adverb in this case." He went on:[D]istinctions between many adjective/adverb pairs have been slowly but surely eroding in English. Different/differently is among these pairs; the OED lists different as an adjective or an adverb, in the latter case meaning the same thing as differently and with the caveat "Now only in uneducated use." I think the erosion has gone so far that the "educated/uneducated" distinction made in this OED usage point comes close to simply separating pedants from most other folks; thus, the ad campaign benefitted from the slight double meaning: Apple thinks different(ly), and (therefore) Apple is different.
What often got lost in the debate over parts of speech was Apple's bold strategy, based on image and ideation rather than product features and a sales pitch. It succeeded: 1997 marked the beginning of Apple's climb back to profitability. (It was also, not coincidentally, the year of Steve Jobs's return to the company he had co-founded.) The slogan was retired in 2002, but a hypercorrect spoof — "Think Differently" — appeared in a 2008 episode of "The Simpsons."
Image: "The Thinker," by Auguste Rodin.