There is a time and a place for the use of double negatives. The Rolling Stones made the double negative "I Can’t Get No" lyrics famous in the legendary hit Satisfaction (#2 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s List of the Top Songs of All Time). Pink Floyd made the double negative lyrical phrase "We Don’t Need No" famous in the song Another Brick in The Wall, Part 2. With respect to song titles, what about Diana Ross’ recording of the double negative Ain’t No Mountain High Enough?
Despite these widely popular uses, we are all taught (at an early age, my children have confirmed) not to use no double negatives, never, ever, as they are grammatically incorrect, inappropriate, and most likely to be avoided at all cost in writing and speech. Indeed, to fix the double negative problem, we also are taught that a double negative should be removed and resolve to a single positive. So, we’re told that a double negative carries the same meaning as a single positive.
Does that mean Mick Jagger and Keith Richards really meant to say, "I Can Get Satisfaction"? What about the "We Don’t Need No" lyrics? Did Roger Waters really intend to communicate that "We Need Both Education and Thought Control? Did Diana Ross really mean, "There is a Mountain High Enough"? Maybe, but I don’t think so. Those "positive" versions of the double negative lyrics create entirely different meanings, in my opinion, and if used, they would have put us into a collective slumber.
So, clearly, there is a creative role for double negatives in music, but how about in branding?
My question was inspired driving into work a couple of weeks ago, as I was passed by a Sara Lee delivery truck prominently displaying a double negative tag line ("Nobody Doesn’t Like Sara Lee"), confirming that the guardians of the Sara Lee brand continue to believe there is a time and place for the use of double negatives in branding.
In fact, Sara Lee owns several federal trademark registrations for the "Nobody Doesn’t Like Sara Lee" tag line covering a wide range of food items, including "rolls, pies, cakes, cheesecake, muffins, ice cream," "flavored mustards, sauces and mayonaises," "cheese," "bread, bagels and buns," "bakery goods," "processed meats," and "frozen prepared meat lasagna entrees."
Perhaps not surprisingly, I couldn’t find any other trademark on the entire USPTO database that included both of the terms "nobody" and "doesn’t." Given how unique and inherently awkward the phrase is, one might wonder whether substituting any term or other brand name for Sara Lee might avoid a likelihood of confusion with the original.
In any event, the delivery truck was well on its way down the road, yet I still found myself scratching my head, trying to figure out what "Nobody Doesn’t Like Sara Lee" means. In other words, is it a good thing, or a bad thing? Does it mean, "Everybody Does Like Sara Lee" or "Everyone Likes Sara Lee"? If so, why not just say it? The double negative is certainly more tentative and a weaker affirmation. Perhaps even more importantly, if you’re going to say it, why water down the affirmative with "like" when "love" is available. I don’t know, perhaps that’s too direct, too strong?
Apparently in the French language, two negatives often make a stronger negative, not a positive, so how do French speaking consumers interpret the Sara Lee tag line?
Just so you know, I’m not the first to be confused by the tag line. One family has posted their effort to solve the mystery on Youtube. Others have misunderstood the tag line to be the phonetically similar phrase Nobody Does it Like Sara Lee. And yet others have speculated that this was the original Sara Lee tag line, but the double negative version later resulted from management’s concern that the "does it" phrase contained a risqué double entendre that the company wouldn’t want attributed to Ms. Lee.
Dan reminded me that this tag line is actually part of a Sara Lee jingle that goes way back.
Here and here are a few vintage television commercials sporting the entire jingle: "Everybody doesn’t like something, but nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee." The jingle actually makes more sense to me than the tag line, especially with the corny visuals – less head-scratching. Having said that, it highlights for me how truncating the jingle into the tag line and using it outside the context of the jingle can cause real meaning problems.
In case you’re wondering whether there are many other brand owners who have embraced double negative trademarks, not a lot, at least that I easily could find: Cannot be Undone, You Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Ad Agency, Limes? We Don’t Need No Shtinkin’ Limes!, The Land Guys "They Ain’t Makin No More", This Ain’t No Stroll in the Park, Ain’t No Secret It’s the Sauce!!, Never Say No, Never Say No, Because No Was Not the Answer You Were Looking For, Impossible Isn’t, and Never Hear "You Shouldn’t Have" Again. Do you know of any others?
So, I leave you with this close to final thought to ponder, if nobody else doesn’t avoid double negatives in branding, why isn’t Sara Lee listening? Perhaps the answer lies in Justin Gressel’s PhD Dissertation.
Last, given all this, what are your thoughts about the use of double negatives in branding?