8 augustus 2004, 18:00

Give it the finger

KitKat has changed its slogan after 47 years. What does ex advertising copywriter Fay Weldon think of the new one? Dull, dull, dull

Wednesday August 4, 2004

The Guardian

What, lads and ladettes of the ad world, you’ve dropped “Have a Break, Have a KitKat” and changed it to “Make the most of your Break”? Are you joking? If I’d been copy head at that meeting I’d have said, “Break it off, guys, it won’t work. Think again. You change a slogan at your peril; at the very least it’s got it be snappier than the one before, and you haven’t even changed the recipe so that something else is new beside the slogan. At the very least bung in some extra vitamin C (a cheap preservative) and tell them it sounds good. But what have you got now? Same old biscuit bar, boring new slogan, uneasy customers.”

Sure, I’d have said, I know your sales are 9% down. I know that when Mars lost “A Mars a Day Helps You Work, Rest and Play” sales increased by 20% but then they lowered the calorie content and made it lighter and sleeker at the same time, and found a great new slogan: “Pleasure You Can Measure”. Semantically attractive and you can say it with lingering relish. “Lads and ladettes,” I would beseech them, “face it! ‘Make the Most of your Break’ is just plain dull. And where is that old fashioned but essential thing – the Unique Selling Proposition? Search your hearts.” I’d beg them, “Find out what KitKat has that other chocolate bars don’t. A Lion Bar is nicer, everyone knows, and feels younger and tastes junglier: but it’s not so safe, is it, sticky rather than snappy? KitKat has a good history: it’s part of our past: part of our language and culture and senior citizens everywhere remember the days when a KitKat had shiny silver paper round its inside layer which made them feel wealthy and contemporary. Build on that. Don’t throw it away!”

It takes quite a lot to break a brand preference once it’s established – Marks & Spencer are working hard on it: now you lot at Nestl? Rowntree seem to be doing the same.

Sure, I understand your arguments: I know the modern workplace is unstructured and the whistle doesn’t go for tea break – it’s bottled water on the run these days – and the client is bored stiff with the old slogan and wants a trip to town and an excuse for a meeting: I know all that. I know that advertising is more about booking space than selling product, but we have at least to put on a face that sales are our main concern.

The British public dislikes change: and the problem for advertisers is that change makes people think. Change the slogan and the 47 people a second who eat a KitKat in this country will suddenly start wondering: why am I eating this and not a Snickers? Snickers have a nubblier feel and fit the hand better. And here am I, eating a KitKat only because I shared one with my then fianc?e in the summer of love, and she’s run off with a lesbian, and I’m not actually sure I like KitKat any more. And I miss the silver paper. And in those days it cost a penny and today it costs 35p. Is it worth it?

Think along these lines, lads and ladettes. That two verbs are better than one in a slogan. If you must change, try “Take a breather, take a KitKat”. That moves the product right out of the workplace and anyone could do with a breather, God knows, in the middle of Big Brother. TV-watching snacks is where the gap in the market currently is. Crisps alone are not enough. “Take your poxy suggestion back to your open-plan cubicles,” I’d have said, “and come up with something sharp.” And on your way, ask yourself why the Dairy Milk bar is now market leader and has replaced you in the affections of the British People? The word “Dairy” is what I’d suggest, with its undertones of goodness and nature and back to the land, to neutralise consumer anxiety while they stuff themselves with sugar and carbs. Go away if you will and do some research and prove me wrong – but I bet I’m not.

Oh, and also do some research on whether chocolate through and through seems better value to today’s young than a chocolate-coated biscuit. As if they were somehow being fobbed off? Given what they could afford, not what they wanted? Perhaps the “as well hung for a sheep as a lamb” feeling we all have today applies to calories as well as debt? What is the connection between “spend more” and “eat more”? Go on, find out.

Also, I’d point out, the imperative form of the verb is old-fashioned. “Haven’t you realised,” I’d call out after them down the corridor, “that the present participle is the in, reassuring thing? How about ‘Taking a Breather, Sharing a KitKat’ (I offer that to Nestl? Rowntree for free, for old times’ sake)? With a picture of a couple down a cave or up a mountain, or coming up from a shag (if you must), or a smiling doctor and a nurse in casualty? So you keep that sense of worthiness – while consuming calories the consumer is seen to be occupying the moral high ground. I reckon that’s a better use of six words than “Make the Most of your Break”.

You’re in the business of spin, these days, lads and ladettes in the creative core of the ad world, not just thinking up ways of selling space for the client. You need to sharpen up your ideas. Doesn’t the Home Office – from which unsafe, unjust and intolerant legislation flows non-stop – describe itself as “building a safe, just and tolerant society”? Does not my local county council, while the prisons fill up with humiliated old folk unable to pay the council tax, describe itself as “caring, enjoying, living?” Just take a feel-good word and add “ing” and you’re away, these days: the Orwellian semantics of the new world order flow seamlessly through our brains.

I loved being a copy head. But I’m not any longer. I got fired decades back, for declining to take the whole thing seriously, even in those days, back in the 60s, when everyone was frivolous and there was full employment. I doubt the post even exists any more. You’d need to be a “creative head”, more interested in pictures than words, arty rather than wordy. Copy hardly counts. Very few who work in advertising are language-sensitive. They’re not meant to be. As consumers we look and listen, we don’t read. So we end up with “Make the Most of your Break”: dull, dull, dull, but no doubt with a great visual.

Marco Derksen
Partner bij Upstream

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