The other day, within a half-mile radius in downtown San Francisco, I spotted four billboards advertising four brands of vodka. The proliferation of vodka brands is an interesting story in itself, but not what I want to talk about here. No, what caught my attention was that three of the four billboards employed snowclones in their slogans.
A snowclone is a formulaic cliché such as "X is the new Y" ("Pink is the new black," "Vodka is the new whiskey"). The term derives from linguist Geoffrey K. Pullum's famous "If Eskimos have N words for snow, then surely X have Y words for Z." Erin O'Connor, also a linguist, has been compiling an ambitious Snowclones Database.
I'd been musing about clones anyway, ever since reading Laura Ries's post on copycat brand strategy. However, I suspect that the creators of advertising sloganclones--as I propose to call them--aren't employing a conscious strategy. More likely they think they're being savvy and original. A little research demonstrates otherwise.
Here are the three sloganclones I spotted. (The fourth billboard, for Russian Standard vodka, simply reads "Pure Russian." Boring and undistinctive, but not a snowclone.)
Svedka--a nicely constructed name for a Swedish vodka, combining three letters from "Svenska" (Swedish for "Swedish") and three from "vodka"--is the brand with the buxom "fembot fatale" and the website copy that declares, "It's time to party like its [sic] 2033." The snowclone on Svedka's billboard invites drivers to "Make cocktails not war." (Image via AdRants.)
"Make X Not Y" was popularized as "Make love, not war" by the 1960s counterculture and used by John Lennon in a 1973 song. The phrase is what students of language call a "winged word" that "flies" from its original context into the general culture. It became a snowclone when sloganizers began switching out the nouns to create taglines and headlines such as Make Falafel, Not War (International Herald Tribune), Make Wine, Not War (New York Times, Café Press, and others), Make Levees Not War, and Make Love Not Spam. (Update: Johnny Cupcakes in Boston sells this Make Cupcakes Not War T-shirt.)
The second sloganclone is attached to the oldest brand in this bunch, Stolichnaya, whose handsomely designed ad proclaims Stoli to be "The Mother of All Vodka from the Motherland of Vodka." I'd seen this ad previously, but not since reading my colleague Tate Linden's commentary on "Mother of All X" over at Thingnamer. Tate notes that "Mother of All X" has been used thousands of times to promote products and services since Americans first heard Saddam Hussein threaten the "mother of all battles" during the first Gulf War. (I'm rather fond of "The Mother of All Search Engines" from Mamma.com.) In English, "Mother of ..." carries additional impact: It suggests a no-longer-shocking interjection ("Mother of God!") and the still-somewhat-shocking "motherfucker." Note the kicker at the bottom of the ad: "Choose Authenticity." Rather amusing when you consider how oft-cloned the slogan is.
For me, the most interesting combination of brand name and advertising slogan is 360 Vodka's "Saving the Planet, One Glass at a Time." This 360 Vodka is not to be confused, by the way, with Three Sixty Vodka: The latter comes from Germany and the former, a division of McCormick Distilling, is made in Weston, Missouri. (Want to be really confused? The brand name is 360 Vodka; the URL is vodka360.com. According to public records, vodka360.com changed hands in 2006 for just $1,000. You too can join the party: There are lots more "360" domains for sale here. Herpes360.com, anyone?)
The "360" part may be imitative, but other features of this brand stand out in a crowded field. 360 Vodka calls itself "the world's first green vodka": The liquor itself is clear, but its greenish bottles are made from 85% recycled glass and the distillery "has improved its eco-footprint measurably over the past 5 years." The website is sprinkled with "eco-factoids" such as "The average person generates 4.5 lbs. of trash every day." Remove the closure from a 360 Vodka bottle, mail it back in a prepaid envelope, and the distillery will donate $1 to "recognized environmental causes" through its "Close the Loop" program.
But back to the slogan. Just how popular is the formula "Saving the X, One Y at a Time"? Very. Take a look (note: some of these examples are title-clones):
Saving the World, One Drink at a Time: Martini Groove, a spirits blog
Saving the Planet, One Socket at a Time: Engadget
Saving the Planet One Atom At a Time: Carbon Reclamation Project
Saving the Planet, One Toilet At a Time: The Plumbing Guys
Saving the World, One Treatment At a Time: subtitle of book by Chemo Girl
Saving the Earth One Onesie At a Time: MyConservationBaby
Saving the Planet, One Seed At a Time: various gardening blogs and forums, including this one
Saving the Planet One Job At a Time: CommonGround
Saving the World One Stitch At a Time: Knitting Medic
Saving the Rainforest, One Morsel At a Time: Worldwatch
... and on and on. I also jotted down variations such as "one car at a time," "one flush at a time," "one square of toilet paper at a time," and--because someone had to do it, I guess--"one thong at a time."
If not original, the 360 Vodka snowclone is at least appropriate to the unusual brand story. You could argue that the Stoli snowclone is, too--it has that socialist-realist ring to it, a fitting counterpart to the visual design. Svedka is attempting something different, fashioning a brand that's all about campy futurism--and all attitude and positioning. The antiquated "Make X Not Y" snowclone does communicate campiness, but it's hard to find any futurism there.
Has anyone else spotted snowclones in advertising? Leave a comment and tell us about them.
Svedka missed an opportunity for geek chic. They could have said "party like its 2038". (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Year_2038_problem)
Posted by: Janet Swisher | September 19, 2007 at 01:16 PM
What also makes this funny is the fact that I get e-mails about how "cool" my tag line is.
It pays to be the sheep I guess?
Hey, at least I didn't go with "Got Booze?"
Posted by: Rick | September 19, 2007 at 02:54 PM
Janet: I bow to your superior geek power!
Rick: Maybe 360 Vodka will make an offer to buy your tagline! Hint: Hold out for at least $1,000.
Posted by: Nancy Friedman | September 19, 2007 at 03:02 PM
Amazingly, I don't think "make X not Y" or "saving the world one X at a time" are in the queue yet. It's up to 219 now!
Posted by: Erin | September 19, 2007 at 03:20 PM
Not commercial advertising, but in the knitting world, there is a slogan "Make Gloves Not War."
Posted by: Kim | September 19, 2007 at 04:50 PM
Speaking of "geek chic," how about CBS's new show "Big Bang Theory" that premiers on Tues. The line "Smart is the new sexy." I like it!
Posted by: Charles | September 23, 2007 at 09:16 AM
Swedish for "Swedish" is actually "Svenska".
Posted by: Justin | October 18, 2007 at 05:19 PM
Justin: Thanks! Fixed now.
Posted by: Nancy Friedman | October 18, 2007 at 06:12 PM