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Earl Carter
As a copywriter for N.W. Ayer, Earl created "Be All You Can Be" for the US Army. It was recently voted the second greatest jingle in the history of advertising by Advertising Age Magazine, placing ahead of "It's the real thing," and "See the USA in your Chevrolet," among others.

Earl has won many awards for his work including Two One Show Gold Pencils, and Two One Show Silver Pencils. As well as Seven First-Place awards from other award shows.

He's been a Copywriter at CBS, Copywriter at DDB Group Two, Senior Copywriter at N.W.Ayer, Senior Vice President Associate Creative Director at Scali McCabe Sloves, Copy Supervisor at Lowe & Partners, Co-Group Head at Ogilvy, London, and Group Head at Euro RSCG Ball Partnership, Singapore.

He still works as a consultant, and has an internet business called jusheadlines.com.


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AdSlogans.com -- Wise Words/13

From award-winning copywriter

Earl Carter


The Spearhead of Branding


2001 Earl Carter

The Spearhead of Branding.

It is the spearhead of branding. The one element of an ad that separates a great brand from a wannabe. Accounts may live or die in the marketplace because of it. What's more, if the stars align properly your great grandchildren may see or hear it generations from now. And the opportunity to create it, I believe, makes it the greatest assignment you can have as a creative person.

What is this miraculous thing I'm talking about? You may call it a tag line, or a slogan, or an end line. I prefer theme line.

Too often, however, the theme line never gets a chance to perform its magic: many agencies these days wait until the eleventh hour to work on a theme line. It really then becomes a tag line -- something added at the last minute. A bunch of general words that don't reflect the essence of the creative, or the brand.

Of course, there are lots of reasons why a theme line may not get the attention it deserves. One being creative teams who have to spend all their time competing with each other in brain-draining gang bangs. Or the feeling that a theme line is just too bloody hard to think about. A different animal from writing and art direction.

As many copywriters have discovered, trying to sum up the essence of a brand, or their new creative campaign, in five words or less -- often hurts the brain. Somehow dreams of exciting locations and working with top directors are more fun to think about.


Respect the Process

But the major problem, I believe, why clients are not getting the theme lines they deserve, and why creating theme lines has become such a chore, is the lack of respect for the process of creating theme lines to begin with.

That problem begins with advertising professionals outside of the creative department who often try to reduce the theme line to a science.

It's why so many theme lines sound like marketing statements. And why so many theme lines that tested well in focus groups fail in the marketplace.

Perhaps William Bernbach, the founder of Doyle Dane Bernbach, said it best: advertising is an art not a science.

Basically, as I see it, the creative department is under assault these days. Like the general population, everyone at the agency, particularly planners, think they're just as creative as the creative department. Meaning their way of doing things is the answer.

The idea that a person called an art director or copywriter can be endowed with a special gift for communicating the essence of a brand in a unique way is going by the wayside.

Respect the Copywriter

Creative people are left to feel that they are just around to execute the thinking of superior human beings like account people, planners, and focus group participants. So why not spend all their energies creating award-winning television commercials. What's really the incentive to come up with a great theme line? How many of us know the name of an art director or copywriter who's created a great theme line?

For what it's worth, a great theme line doesn't come out of science, it comes out of a healthy ego. And it's damn hard to come up with in the first place.

It's like the heavy-weight championship: all sorts of variables enter the picture to achieve that goal, but none is more important than the confidence to know that it can be done. A creative who thinks they're just a cog in the wheel will not come up with anything worth a damn. Creatives who are gifted, comfortable with the idea of creating a theme line, and know that others believe in them are always, always, the people you can depend on.

Besides having a gifted individual, or individuals, in your creative department who can create a great theme line, you have to have a creative head that can recognize a great theme line when he or she sees it. And this creative head has to have enough power to ram it past the left-side-of-the-brain thinkers at your agency.

However, the ability to recognize a great theme line when it's just a few words on a crumpled piece of tissue paper is a rare gift indeed, and why this individual should be the highest paid person at your agency. At the same time the person who created it must KNOW that it is great and fight for it.

Generally, the theme line is often the most misunderstood creation in the art of advertising. A great theme line can't be forced. It really comes out of the muse. And in the end only the public decides whether it's a memorable line or not.

Out in the Cold?

So where does that leave the average agency with the average creative department: Out in the cold unfortunately although Timothy R V Foster's left-brained Sloganalysis® tool may help an agency come up with a theme line that won't embarrass them at the presentation.

Or it may help them create an effective theme line much like British Airways' The World's Favourite Airline. Favourite being a wonderful way to express the fact that more BA planes land in more different places around the world daily than any other airline. It was effective because it conveyed the feeling of a product difference. Unlike something like The Most Wonderful Apple Pie.

Sometimes you can be responsible for a long-lasting theme line without intending it: Years ago I wrote a program ad to announce CBS Broadcast's participation in the Kentucky Derby. A quarter-of-a-century later Churchill Downs is still using the headline I wrote,with a slight change, as their theme line: The World's Greatest Two Minutes.

My headline said, The World's Most Exciting Two Minutes in the program ad. I remember staying up most of the night at CBS Broadcast trying to figure out a different way to say Kentucky Derby. At around one in the morning I noticed in an almanac that most of their races finished at around two minutes. And that's how I came up with the observation.

Clients Love Themelines

During presentations, clients are often very interested in theme lines. Which is why if you're not sure of a theme line, but the rest of the creative is outstanding, you should put it on a separate presentation board and leave it off the print and TV.

That way it becomes open to discussion. Include a few other lines as well. This takes the pressure off, which is the best moment for a great theme line to emerge.

As far as doing your best to get a great line I would suggest that copywriters and art directors jot down lines throughout the assignment&emdash;a few everyday, and then forget about the lines until the end of the week. This allows your muse to go to work. Just have fun writing down lines, don't be too conscious about it. And don't show these lines to anyone.

At the end of the week, start improving the lines you've written down.

When a fresh line pops in, add it to the list. Because it's fresh, the feeling will be too. It's when you feel you have total control over the situation that the best lines will pop up. The list is just a means to an end. A way to make you feel 'safe' until you really come up with something you think is great.

And how will you know it's great? Turn to this site a few years from now. If it's not here you know the answer.

The Themeline That Changed The U S Army

It was winter 1980. The auditorium at N.W. Ayer hushed in anticipation as General Max Thurman approached center stage. Thurman had been recently promoted to his new assignment to shake up Recruiting Command, and was one of the most important Generals in the United States Army.

Thurman was immaculate looking in his sharply creased uniform. His mind, however, was sharper still.

He told us about the new Army. What its needs would be. And how crucial it was to recruit a new kind of volunteer.

I knew that to mean a more educated young person, one who generally joined the Air Force. Difficult enough, but the Army would need greater numbers as well. The task at hand was daunting.

What would be the solution that changed the United States Army?

Five words: Be All You Can Be.

Be All You Can Be would be the Army's theme line for 20 years. But little could I have imagined sitting in the audience that day at N.W. Ayer, that those very words that I had created would also be chiseled on the headstone of General Max Thurman, buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

AdSlogans.com -- Wise Words/13


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