How Snickers Fired a Quarterback, Hired a Zebra and Tweaked One of Advertising’s Most Famous Tag Lines

The evolution of a brand’s message

Headshot of Robert Klara

Much like songwriters, brand marketers play variations on a theme. Coca-Cola’s famous tag line “It’s the real thing” from 1970 became “Can’t beat the real thing” 20 years later. KFC’s unforgettable “It’s finger-lickin’ good” slogan of the 1960s and '70s morphed into the more compact “So good” in 2011. And L’Oréal’s successful “Because I’m worth it” slogan has modulated twice, first into “Because you are worth it” and then “Because we’re worth it.”

Most of these evolutions have to do with the usual things: changing consumer tastes and shorter attention spans. But in the case of Snickers, the condensing of “Packed with peanuts, Snickers really satisfies” to just “Snickers satisfies” has its own particular story, as the ads here suggest.

Steve Stallman, president of Stallman Marketing, points out that these 1986 and 2014 ads (along with their respective tag lines) are indeed variations on a familiar theme. “The core message that Snickers satisfies is at the end of the new ad, so it’s a logical extension of the identical message,” he said.

But while the message might be identical, its execution is anything but.

Ever since 1930, when Mars first struck on the idea of combining the usual candy bar ingredients like chocolate and nougat with whole peanuts, Snickers has acted more like a meal than a snack. And the bar’s stomach-filling properties made it a runaway hit after Ted Bates Worldwide coined the “Snickers really satisfies” tag in 1979.

But traveling that rough-and-rugged marketing path landed Snickers in a rut that’s on full display in this 1986 ad. Sure, it’s great that Snickers has mom’s blessing, but the target consumer is clearly jock boy here, complete with his muddy track pants and his football. Another Snickers ad from this period featured John Siman of the U.S. Olympic water polo team. “After a workout, you really build up a big hunger,” said big John with his big muscles.

It took a few years (and lost market share) before Snickers realized that a delicate operation was in order, one that would retain the brand’s central attribute even as it tweaked both content and tag line. The result from BBDO isn’t just a funnier image, it’s a more accessible (read: gender-neutral) one. After all, as Stallman asks, who can’t relate to hunger? “This is a big segment,” he said. “Now, Snickers is talking to the factory worker, the office worker, the college student.”

Snickers is also doing it with a new slogan. “You’re not you when you’re hungry” holds true for anybody. But check out the 2014 ad’s lower right corner. Snickers has retained all the brand familiarity it won with years of the old slogan by retaining its most powerful word: satisfies.

Which goes to show: You can fire a jock and replace him with a zebra, but a good tag line can live forever.

@UpperEastRob Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.