DuetsBlog Collaborations in Creativity & the Law

The P-Word

Posted in Branding, Guest Bloggers, Marketing, Trademarks

It’s a jungle out there in corporate America. A hot, steamy, ardent, passionate jungle.

You’ve seen the evidence. Whole Foods is hiring “people with a passion for healthy living.” Bose seeks “people with a passion for innovation.” The South Florida Water Management District wants “good people with a passion for water.” Grant Thornton is looking for “people with a passion for the business of accounting.”

There’s plenty of heavy breathing outside the help-wanted ads, too. At last count, there were 960 live trademarks in the USPTO database that incorporated “passion” or “passionate,” from Dark Passion coffee to Elizabeth Taylor’s Passion perfume to Tango Passion, which turns out to be a brand of slot machines.

Some of the marks strain credulity, to say the least. Passion hearing aids—eh? “A Passion for Packaging”? (Packaging?) How about “Experience Our Passion for Flow”—the slogan of a company that makes, uh, flow meters.

And the lawyers—the lawyers! A random sampling of passionate legal slogans includes “Law. Life. Passion” (Nashville), “Passion. Knowledge. Strategy. Action” (Chicago), “A Passion for Justice” (West Palm Beach), and “Compassion for People. Passion for Justice” (Little Rock).

All together now: Get a room!

In all seriousness, when it’s overused like this, “passion” is drained of distinctiveness. The word may have had some shock value back in 1985, when Tom Peters published A Passion for Excellence and spawned a generation of passion-pitching management consultants and self-help gurus—and thousands of books with titles like Creating Passion Teams, Leading with Passion, and Turn Your Passion into Profit. Thanks to Peters, being a breadwinner was no longer sufficient: you had to fall head over heels in love with your job. Again and again.

“Passion” used to signify something special. When it first came into English from Old French in the 12th century, it retained its Latin meaning of “suffering” (as in “the Passion of the Christ”). Four hundred years later it took on a new meaning, “sexual desire,” and in the 17th century became synonymous with “deep, overwhelming emotion”—often caused by love or anger. And now? “Passion” sometimes means “enthusiasm,” sometimes “self-sacrifice,” and sometimes “a word we use to convince ourselves the long hours and tedious work are worth it.”

If you’ve been thinking about using the P-word in your own company brand, I suggest you first take this little quiz. Simply match the passionate slogan with the company—or even just the industry—that created it. Warning: although many of these slogans and brands are national or even global, I don’t expect anyone to ace the test. In fact, it’s so tough that more than two correct answers qualify you as a Passion Pro.

Answers after the jump.

Slogan

1.      Experience Our Passion!

2.      Unwavering Passion. Endless Dedication.

3.      Passion and Precision.

4.      Precision. Passion.

5.      Passion & Patience

6.      A Passion for Excellence

7.      Passion for Excellence

8.      A Passion to Perform

9.      A Passion for Performance

10.    A Passion to Go Beyond

11.    A Passion for Quality

12.    Sharing Our Passion

13.    Your Potential. Our Passion.

14.    Your Passion Is Our Obsession

15.    Trust. Integrity. Passion.

Industry

a. Banking

b. Tires

c.  Credit-union services

d. Golf equipment

e. Ice cream distributorships

f.  Computer data storage

g. Employment recruiting

h. Computer software and operating systems

i. Salami, cheese, and condiments

j. Sporting goods

k. Retail jewelers

l. Investment brokerage

m. Radiation therapy

n. Winery

o. Public relations

 

Answers

1-e (Wells’ Dairy). 2-c (The Members Group). 3-o (Ketchum). 4-m (ProCure). 5-j (Columbus Salame). 6-d (Callaway). 7-b (Bridgestone). 8-a (Deutsche Bank). 9-f (SanDisk). 10-g (American Express). 11-n (Peak Estate Vineyards). 12-k (Shane). 13-h (Microsoft). 14-j (Mizuno). 15-l (Blue Vase Securities).

Nancy Friedman, Chief Wordworker at Wordworking

 

  • http://www.glenturpin.com Glen Turpin

    Nancy, I share your distain for the use of passion in corporate marketing. Individuals within an organization may be very passionate about their work, but the likelihood of an entire organization being passionate is inversely proportional to its size.
    With respect to the industries you’ve listed, I can imagine a passion for packaging more readily than most of the others. Many designers are individually enthusiastic about the practice of design, and for many designers, product packages may be the only way their designs take shape.
    I can imagine similar enthusiasm in a craft like winemaking (but what kind of a bland, soulless slogan is that?) more than things like tires or banking, but that may be more reflective of my own biases.

  • http://nancyfriedman.typepad.com Nancy Friedman

    Glen: Thanks for dropping by and adding your insights. One clarification: that “Passion for Packaging” slogan comes not from a design agency but from a manufacturer of paperboard. A box company, in other words.

  • Jack Cuffari

    Great blog! And we need to be aware of over usage of any phrase, word or concept – especially in these days of dense and saturating exposure for every idea, no matter how vapid or short-lived it may be.
    However,(and you knew there was a ‘however’ coming, didn’t you?) it’s the bigger picture that fascinates me – the focus on an emotional value. There is a tremendous sea change in business thinking, and it goes well beyond the limitations of business philosophy to human cognition. It is the search for meaning.
    It is becoming evident that all the logic systems and left brain business school dogma that has dominated business thinking for the past 100 years is simply not a sufficient foundation for business success. That’s because we have become a society if great abundance, a society in which the deepest, most powerful driver is a search for meaning. It’s why emotional branding is the only branding that truly resonates and connects with consumers. And it’s pointing out the need for balance – bringing in the aspects of right brain orientation (meaning, empathy, harmony, recreation, – but primarily meaning) to complement and complete the model.
    After all, what is passion but the single most glaring absence in the dry desert of economic theory?
    As a branding and management consultant I utilize a model that focuses specifically on right brain activation, and I intend to camp there. Just about every business behind just about every brand has all the MBA’s, number crunchers, bean counters and logic systems one could ever need. Now is the time for them understand that consumers NEED to have their emotional drivers met – and want their lives affected and charged with meaning.
    We just need to get more creative and stop hammering the one word that comes up so early in the process of creative discovery.

  • http://www.duetsblog.com/steve-baird.html Steve Baird

    Nancy, ok, ok, it’s time for us to come clean.
    I searched DuetsBlog for the p-word, and found that three of us have infected bios, Tiffany, Laura, and yours truly: http://www.duetsblog.com/promo/about/
    I have a “passion for brands,” Laura has “passion for the creative arts,” and Tiffany has a more generalized form of “passion.”
    Even though it’s true, we’ll try to do better!

  • James Mahoney

    Personally, I have a passion for our tagline: “We’re horn-dogs for your marketing budget!” I’ve found that its refreshing honesty resonates nicely with clients. Of course, we haven’t landed any new accounts since we introduced it, but it does raise passionate responses from our prospects, and what more can you ask than that of a tagline?
    Nice post, Nancy.

  • http://nancyfriedman.typepad.com Nancy Friedman

    Jack: You make an excellent point about the search for meaning. I’d argue that we need to work harder at defining the nature of that meaning rather than settling for “We’re Passionate About X” because that’s what seems to be going around.
    Steve: What a hot-blooded bunch you lawyers are!
    James: Horn-dogs: nice variation! But here’s the thing: All slogans that follow the “We’re X About Y” formula are talking principally about *us.* A strong, memorable, distinctive slogan turns the tables and addresses *you*–the *customer.* Would customers have made Nike a super-brand if its slogan had been “A Passion for Sports” instead of “Just Do It”? Suppose Coca-Cola had settled for “Passionate About Soft Drinks” instead of “The Pause That Refreshes”?
    There are exceptions, of course (Avis’s “We Try Harder” and GE’s “We Bring Good Things to Life” come to mind), but most great slogans succeed because they take the customer’s point of view, not the company’s.

  • James Mahoney

    Of course, you’re right about creative that takes the customer’s point of view, Nancy. It’s a basic tenet of the positioning/messaging/creative work that we do.
    For example, the messaging the we develop for clients always is an “I” statement, the “I” being the target audience. When we get our clients thinking in terms of “What do you want the target person to say to him/herself after experiencing this communication?”, it almost always gets them thinking in terms of the outside-in view. That’s worked pretty well for us.
    I’ll go out on a limb here and say that the vast majority of taglines and company pronouncements, like the examples you used, are primarily to make the people inside the company feel good and energized about what they do. Though they may think that the statements are aimed at external audiences, they’re really not. If they were, then, as you point out, they wouldn’t be talking from the company’s viewpoint, but rather from the customer’s.
    But that doesn’t make us any less horn-doggy for their budget. ;-)

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/patriciasclater Patricia Sclater

    Nancy, thank you for sharing this thought-provoking post. The author makes a good point regarding the overuse of the word “passion” and the resultant loss of its shock value. The final poster makes a spot-on rebuttal, correctly reminding readers that even an overused word can pack a hefty emotional punch in the right context.
    I’m inclined to think people settled on “passion” en masse not only because they were influenced by one book fortunate enough to catch the popular imagination, but also because they didn’t want to navigate the very rough seas of “love” and weren’t content with the lukewarm “like.” I’m not sure there is a single answer. “Calling,” perhaps, but I suspect this one would probably be limited to nonprofits and religious groups. Or, more hedonistically, “bliss.”
    Are there any less dicey alternatives?

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/nancyfriedman Nancy Friedman

    Patricia, thanks for the thoughtful comment. Here’s my take on it.
    I don’t think the challenge is finding a different synonym for “passion.”
    The problem is that sloganizing about “our passion” means you’re talking about *us.* How much does the customer care, for example, that you’re passionate about drywall? Not much. Not, in fact, at all. That’s *your* story. The customer’s question is always: What’s in it for *me*?
    When I do a tagline consultation, I talk with the client about how customers experience the brand. I also talk directly with customers. What’s *their* story? What’s the brand benefit for *them*?
    Think about truly memorable slogans–”Just Do It,” “The Pause That Refreshes”–and notice how they put the emphasis on the customer experience.
    Talking about “us” and “our ____” passes the time at an executive retreat. But unless you’re focusing on *you,* the customer, you’re just stringing words together.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/allaboutandrew Andrew Crighton

    zeal

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/nancyfriedman Nancy Friedman

    Andrew: I agree, “zeal” is an excellent word. But it’s tainted by its associations with religious and nationalistic zealotry.
    I find corporate passion merely annoying, but I’d back slowly away from any corporate honcho professing zeal. And then I’d break into a run.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/allaboutandrew Andrew Crighton

    Come, come Nancy. You did not specify that this discussion be coloured by associations that are particular to Americans. Zeal is a perfectly good word that has no intrinsic associations with religion or nationalism, except when filtered through the cultural bias of the listener. It is derived from the Greek word ‘zelos’ which stems from the Greek god Zelus, who – coincidentally – was the brother of Nike, which connects it rather neatly to the above-mentioned slogan ‘Just Do It”. So, don’t don your running shoes. Take a wider worldview and give zeal a chance!