Beware the use of banal and meaningless slogans

by
08 February 2019

Think carefully before creating one, says Ted Harrison — and make sure to avoid these common pitfalls

I AMUSE myself on long car journeys, if I am the passenger, by reading the slogans on the sides of commercial vehicles and marvelling at the banality of the messages conveyed and their use of jargon.

The prevailing words — such as “logistics”, “solutions”, “delivering excellence” — are assembled into meaningless phrases that someone, either a board of directors or a high-paid agency, thought would be a suitable advertisement for the business. I spotted a truck the other day delivering bottles and barrels to hotels and restaurants. “Defining drinks logistics”, it declared to the world.

Later, out of interest, I looked up the company website. This was far from a throwaway line: the firm was mightily proud of its slogan, specially chosen to highlight a new brand image after 20 years in business.

Occasionally, I have spotted a slogan with some wit, such as Tesco’s “You shop, we drop,” but they are rarities and stand out against the overwhelming plethora of dull and meaningless phrases.

 

THE haulage business, however, has no monopoly in unimaginative industry-speak. In close competition we find the Church of England.

I am thinking of “Transforming church, transforming lives”; “Healthy churches, transforming communities”; “Changed lives, changing lives”; “Faithful. Confident. Joyful”; “Discovering God’s Kingdom, growing the Church”; and “Grow. Enrich. Resource” — to quote a few examples from around the dioceses.

Some slogans are just too wordy and are more dissertation-length than slogan. One diocese talks of being “committed to growing and encouraging the whole people of God to be the people God has created us to be”.

It is not just dioceses that come up with these phrases. Many parish churches have their own slogans, which they reproduce on official letters and noticeboards.

One church slogan I came across recently on its public noticeboard was short, but so obscure in meaning that even I, a churchgoer and experienced reporter on religious affairs, could not understand what it was trying to say. So, what on earth would the ordinary passer-by make of “Restoring his reputation”?

Whether coined by church or haulage businesses, catch-phrases must be pithy, to the point, and readily understood by the wider community — otherwise, they are not worth the money spent on reproducing them. They are headlines to capture the interest of outsiders, not mini-mission statements designed solely for and by those in the know.

So, any phrase or jargon word that needs any form of translation must be ruled out from the start. We must remember that what to us as Anglicans are familiar expressions, — such as “God’s Kingdom” or words such as “faith” — are unfamiliar to those who do not live within the Anglican bubble. Other terms, such as “enrich” or “growth”, have secular meanings that differ subtly from their church equivalent.

An effective slogan must also trip off the tongue, not be made up of clunky and unpoetic language that jars on the ear.

Most importantly, the slogan must not put people off. It must not be read as a sign of superiority or exclusivity. To be sure of this, possible slogans should be tried out on friends and acquaintances who do not go to church.

 

SHOULD a church or diocese feel drawn into the slogan game and someone suggest a brain storming session, my first word of advice would be to ask “Why?” Where will the slogan appear? Will it serve any useful purpose? If the answer is “Probably not,” then forget about it.

In the commercial world, a good slogan conveys an image of a brand. Tesco’s “Every little helps” is directed unerringly at shoppers on a budget. Or, at the other end of the marketing spectrum, there is the highly expensive watch company that says that you never own your watch, “you merely look after it for the next generation.”

If the church slogan fails in its core raison d’être to encourage people “to give faith a chance”, then I would advise them to save on the printer’s bills. And, as amateur copywriters, most church office-holders are unlikely to come up with any gems. Just because the church next door has a slogan on its noticeboard, there’s no reason for us to have one as well. There is no need to keep up with the St Johns’ses.

Certainly, witty church noticeboards can attract attention. They indicate, at least, that religion is not all po-faced and serious.

And witty slogans do not have to be new. Like jokes from a Christmas cracker, some of the old groaners are the best. “We are the soul agents in this area.” “What is missing from CH—CH? UR !”

Though, perhaps, this message to passing drivers from an American church is inadvisable: “Honk if you love Jesus — text while driving if you want to meet him!”

Ted Harrison is an artist, writer, and a former BBC religious-affairs correspondent.

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