Advertising slogans, like mayflies, are made to last just a day before falling to earth, unremarked and unremembered. Some, however, have greater staying power, and a very few manage to burrow, weevil-like, deep into our consciousness, surfacing from time to time for no better purpose than to irritate.
But all slogans are doomed to die, simply because they are of their time, and time has an unsettling way of moving on. Lately, the process of change has been a matter not of gently shifting moods and tenses, but rather of seismic upheaval. This owes much to the relish with which we have learned to take offence. Indeed, for many people a life deprived of the opportunity to be emotionally traumatised would not be a life worth living.
So it is into this minefield that the slogan-monger must warily tread. No one today, for instance, who came up with a television ad showing a small boy peering around a front door and calling after his mother “Don’t forget the fruit gums, Mum” could expect to survive with all limbs intact.
The sentiment expressed here offends in a number of ways: it implies a stay-at-home mother who steps out of doors to do the shopping; she is almost certainly in a stable marriage; the whole thing reeks of a comfortable, middle-class, conventional family life. None of these stereotypical assumptions remains tenable in a liberal, multicultural, egalitarian Third Way paradise in which there are many alternative lifestyles, each equally valid.
If social reformers are quick to take offence, so too are those whose concern for the environment is worn on their sleeve. “I’m going well, I’m going Shell” would be wholly unacceptable now that the only proper sentiments when filling up at the pumps are a deep inner disquiet and sense of shame.
No point in being frivolous, either. “Put a tiger in your tank” treats with outrageous levity the plight of an endangered species. Anyone who today drove around with a stripey tiger tail – albeit a fluffy, imitation one – dangling from his petrol cap (yes, that’s what we did in the Sixties) would risk a knee-capping at the hands of animal rights activists whose concern for creatures lower down the evolutionary scale is exceeded only by their contempt and hatred for those at the top. “Drinka Pinta Milka Day”, and “Go to Work on an Egg”, seen as entertaining and harmless fun when minted back in the last century, look pretty sick now that we know dairy products are to be approached with a caution formerly confined to unexploded bombs.
It ought, therefore, to come as no surprise that after almost 50 years Nestlé Rowntree is ditching one of the best-known slogans in the business: “Have a break – Have a Kit Kat”.
It ought to come as no surprise, but somehow it does. Even though we know about the minefield and are aware of the politically correct anti-personnel devices with which it is strewn, it is difficult to see quite how the Kit Kat slogan offends.
But offend it does. According to reports, “marketing managers have decided that the words ‘Make the most of your break’ are more in keeping with 21st century work and social trends”.
This is linguistic nit-picking of an exceptionally rarefied form. In what ways is “Have a break – Have a Kit Kat” incongruous with current work and social trends? It cannot be that worktime breaks are a throwback to the darker ages of satanic mill capitalism when intervals from relentless toil occurred only as concessions grudgingly allowed by tyrannical bosses. The new slogan acknowledges that breaks do indeed still occur.
Perhaps it is that contemporary breaks are somehow different from those of yesteryear. Today’s worker no longer leaves the lathe, mops the sweat from his brow on a blue overall sleeve, and opens a bait box prepared by his wife. He, and of course she, turns away from the computer screen, sips a refreshing drop of Evian and anticipates with excitement a lunchtime visit to the gym. Even so, we still don’t know why, even in a white-collar world, “Have a break – Have a Kit Kat” is anachronistic.
My best guess is that it implies a hint of authoritarianism unacceptable in today’s egalitarian workplace. “Have a break – Have a Kit Kat” might to the sensitive ear imply a wholly inappropriate imperative, suggesting that the speaker is in some way in a position to issue orders. And no manufacturer of chocolate-coated wafer biscuits could risk the offence that a command de haut en bas would doubtless occasion among sensitive snackers.
But, as I say, that is only a guess. Who knows what goes on in the minds of marketing managers? Not poetry, that’s for sure. It takes a tin ear to replace a memorable slogan with an alternative that has all the snappy appeal of a steel girder.
When “Have a break – Have a Kit Kat” becomes “Make the most of your break”, it will be as if a glass of champagne has been whipped away and replaced by a cup of cold tea. Then again, no one said that political correctness was meant to be fun.