The veteran British copywriter Pete Matthews, when asked what made for a good advertising slogan, observed that if your best effort contained the word ‘notwithstanding’, there was probably room for improvement.
That circumspection should not be read as an attempt to jealously guard from lesser talents the secrets of the craft. More likely it was a recognition that even those who have come up with some great lines in their time – and Matthews had – find it hard to deconstruct how they do it. Worse: they fear not being able to do the next one when confronted with that opaque brief, that call for originality, that mercilessly blank page.
Any writer who’s tried knows the feeling. Down go the lines, in a haphazard blur of syntactical permutation. The harder you try the more stilted they get. When you read them all back, one after another, they become increasingly absurd – strange, disjointed fragments of meaning without meaning, the communications equivalent of junk DNA.
Who hasn’t felt the temptation to cut up these failed attempts into their individual words, toss them into a suitable receptacle, and randomly pull out three or four just to see what happens? A slogan like Burger King’s ‘Be your way’ is what happens. And it would be really rather better if it didn’t.