In last month’s Observations column (see “Observations: Memorable Hard Copy Advertising Taglines—Part One”), I explored some printer industry taglines, after being inspired by an article in Forbes magazine on the “25 greatest advertising taglines.” The list was the result of voting by a group of corporate CMOs, including Xerox’s Krista Carone, who shared further thoughts about some of her company’s greatest (and longest lasting) advertising achievements. The column just did not seem to offer enough space to go beyond Xerox, so in this second part of my “tagline” observations, I look at some advertising experiences with HP and our industry at large.
HP’s “Set Your Lasers On Stun” and Dalmatians
HP's Garage is perhaps the most enduring symbol of the "original" Silcon Valley company.
HP’s LaserJet celebrated its 25th anniversary last year (see, “Observations: 25 years of the LaserJet”) and has certainly earned a role in the “product Hall of Fame,” for the printer industry and for products and marketing in general. But what about advertising? Some long-time HP employees recall an early ad, put together with Microsoft, touting the crisp, clean laser-printed copy available by combining the mid-1980 wonders of Microsoft Word (pre-Windows) with the new HP LaserJet. The ad carried the tagline, “Set your lasers on stun,” and while that line did not endure, it was a favorite with Star Trek fans. (I admit to not being a Trekkie, so I took a few years to make the association to one of Captain James Kirk’s favorite lines, “Set your phasers on stun.”)
And it was just a few years later, with the advent of new LaserJet models around the beginning of the 1990’s, when HP seemingly struck gold with the “Dalmatians” theme to advertise its new LaserJet printers. The theme was a natural, with the lovable black-and-white-spotted dogs featured in print and television ads associated with the latest and greatest monochrome-only printers of the day.
Ask The Experts
As last month’s interview with Xerox’s Carone pointed out, there are “taglines” per se, and then there are other advertising-industry descriptors for other themes. For example, Xerox’s successful “Document Company” phrase was never a tagline but a “signature statement.” So at the risk of over-simplifying, how did these two HP themes size up? While they are warmly remembered by insiders, neither has stood the test of time in the minds of the public, as HP continues to roll out new themes and taglines on a regular basis—see, for example, this year’s “Let’s Do Amazing” effort (see illustration below).Carone’s wisdom on what makes for “great” or at least memorable taglines included “an ability to transcend generations and markets.” She explained that they tend to strike a societal chord, which in turn, gives them long-term staying power and relevance. As mentioned, the Star Trek-themed “stun” ads were not meant to transcend generations but were quite focused on a techy (and trekkie) early-adopter segment, very important in the early days of a new product. But HP rolled out the Dalmatian theme to appeal to a much broader and more mainstream audience, five years following the first LaserJet printers, and the firm may have missed the opportunity for that theme to live on longer than it did.