Barbara Lippert’s Critique

One of the hoary rules of journalism is that if you can cite three examples of a new phenomenon, you’ve got a bona fide trend to hype. So when my colleague Kathy Sampey mentioned that three major brands are adopting the word “life” in their tag lines—Coca-Cola with “Life tastes good,” Starburst with “Isn’t life juicy?” and Dodge with the upcoming “Grab life by the horns”—I was intrigued. Why “life,” why now?

I suggested to Kathy that it has something to do with Bush’s decision on stem-cell research. “You really look at the big picture!” she responded diplomatically.

OK, so it’s a reach to the petri dish. Creatives are trying to solve specific problems for their clients’ brands. Besides, life’s kinda key—it tends to pop up in any conversation, and it’s sort of intrinsic to existence. The four-letter “l” word might therefore be un avoidable, fighting its way into any campaign trying to connect on an emotional level (just about every one) and hit people where they, uh, live.

But since advertising mirrors culture, these things go in cycles. Maybe it’s post-millennial glee that Arma geddon didn’t strike and we’re still here, because we’re definitely in an up swing of the “life” cycle. In fact, after introducing “Life tastes good,” Coke had to settle with Parmalat, which had been using the same phrase since last September for a brand of butter advertised in Canada.

Closer to home, the Navy’s new tag is “Accelerate your life.” Chi Chi’s Mexican restaurants use “Life always needs a little salsa.” And offers the charming caveman staccato rhythms of “Job good. Life good.”

For my money, no tagline could ever top “The real thing.” But Coke shows some prescience in moving on from “real” to “life.” First, since the onslaught of The Real World and Survivor and all their clones, the idea of reality has been so trampled on and trivialized that it is played out, even as a phrase. Anyway, advertising, way ahead of TV programming, had its reality phase more than 10 years ago.

At that point, beef was “Real food for real people,” John Hancock offered “Real life/real answers,” and Winston cigarettes got into the act with “Real people want real taste.” Reality sure proved to be overrated. (A few years before that, with the Reagan election, we went through a similar cycle with “America.”)

To life, then.

Coke uses the word to connect little life stories that resonate. But unlike Coke, which tacks the brand name onto a somewhat generic “Life” line, Dodge is using a more aggressive tagline with an obvious link to the product—the Dodge logo being a ram’s head and all, and the pickup truck being a Ram. Wait a minute: ram … sheep … Dolly … cloning? Are we back to stem cells here? Probably not. But the line does pick up on something else in the zeitgeist: W. on his ranch, in jeans, boots and cowboy hat, clearing brush, taking the election by the horns. Get ready for some testosterone charging. The work launches in mid-September.

The M&M/Mars “Isn’t life juicy?” spots for Starburst broke last week on teen-targeted shows, and they’re also using “life” to convey exuberance, but not of the frontier kind. This is “juicy” as opposed to teenage-angsty.

The spots use another trendy hook: cool alternative music. The best spot, with kids stuck in a car in a traffic jam (one of them finds an old Starburst behind the seat and plops it in his mouth before the driver can claim it), uses the loud, pounding sounds of Tones on Tails’ “Go.” I like the great plunking sounds as the picture switches to animated graphics, quick shots of an orange, cherry, lemon, etc.

“Life,” in the end, is just another way to tell a targeted story—life’s a niche, I guess, and then you die.