I once heard a client say he loved a slogan because of its double ‘nintendo’. His boss corrected him but I thought the mistake had a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ that struck me as ‘déjà vu’. Those French expressions can be tricky.
This brings me to other ways slogans can take on new meaning. Here’s a poster I’ve seen in the offices of a few ad agencies in Toronto.
According to Rob Walker, in his always-fascinating column in the New York Times Magazine, the ‘Keep calm and carry on’ slogan was used on a propaganda poster that was meant to be distributed in the event of a German invasion during World War II. It remained unnoticed for decades until Stuart and Mary Manley, owners of a shop called Barter Books in north England, found one of the original posters folded up in the bottom of a box of old books and framed it. Customers liked it, and eventually they decided to sell reproductions. The design is in the public domain so it can be altered and sold by anybody.
Yet it’s how this slogan about a possible German invasion can be posted on the walls of recession-challenged advertising agencies and financial firms that I find intriguing - the repurposing of a slogan, particularly government slogans.
Double meaning in Québec.
I’ve often thought that many slogans for the Québec government’s programs in the late 70s had rather obvious double meanings. I once mentioned this to an ad agency colleague who told me I saw a conspiracy where none existed.
When the Québec ministry of transportation was resurfacing a road, it put up signs that said ‘On fait du chemin ensemble.’ (We’re moving forward together.).
When the same ministry reminded Quebeckers to buckle up, it put up posters that said ‘On s’attache au Québec.’ (We’re getting attached to Québec.)
Maybe those were nothing more than coincidences. So I did a bit of research. It seems I’m not the only one who saw double entendres…
Ingenious advertising campaigns rich in connotative meaning complemented the publicity of the Québec government. Advertisements which ostensibly had little to do with the referendum and did not communicate any explicit arguments for or against the referendum may have played an important role in reinforcing the Québec government's position. For example, the Ministry of Transport ran a series of advertisements which exclaimed "On s'attache au Québec" ostensibly designed to persuade Quebeckers to use their seat belts. Translated as "everyone buckles up in Québec," it could also be read on another level as "everyone is attached to Québec." The slogan of the ministry of industry and commerce was as equally oblique: "Envoyons de l'avant nos gens" (Let's put our people ahead), exclaimed the billboards of Operation Solidarité Economique. Read in a different way, this slogan could be an incomplete argument for voting oui in the referendum. Throughout the referendum, the government of Québec sponsored advertisements which were billed as "une page dans l'histoire des québécois." One such advertisement celebrated the fortieth anniversary of women's enfranchisement. The text discussed many of the advances made by women over the last 40 years. In large print on the bottom of the ad was the "punch line": "On veut l'égalité" (see La Presse, April 25, 1980, p. A7). While supposedly referring to the status of women, it does not require a large leap to apply this argument to all of Québec society.
Professor Rose’s point that ‘ingenious advertising campaigns rich in connotative meaning complemented the publicity of the Québec government’ could likely be made about other governments’ advertising.
I was briefly involved in the development of an advertising campaign for Ontario’s new health insurance photo ID card during the Rae government. After a not so subtle brief from the client, we hit it right on the nail. The slogan? ‘You’ve got reasons to smile Ontario’.