Working in advertising, people often ask what my favorite ad or slogan is. Without hesitation, I say: Superman.
You probably know the Superman mantra by heart. “Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!”
Superman was marketed that way for decades, and that we know these words today is testament to their brilliance … but my favorite slogan is from the 1978 movie Superman starring Christopher Reeve.
“You’ll believe a man can fly.”
Citing a 40-year-old slogan may sound creaky, but the reasons behind its power are timeless because they are fundamentally human: To get people interested in us, we often must first prove that we’re interested in them.
These six words took Superman’s powers and made them all about you, the viewer, and the thrill of experiencing a film that could displace cynicism with wonder and awe. The slogan is just as much about the hope, optimism and innocence of Superman’s archetype as it is about special effects.
It was brash to upend brand language that had succeeded for Superman since 1938. As a 1978 kid who just wanted to see something amazing at the movies, I knew the slogan was genius. I didn’t yet know why.
Today, I get it, and it’s an essential truth for marketers: Your brand’s superhero powers are useless without your customer. So, make them about your customer whenever you can.
Superhero power brags everywhere. Think of brands that claim they’re “America’s #1,” or some other faster-than-a-speeding-whatever. Flattering superlatives are easy for clients to approve and do claim a position, but they can be clinically cold and without heart.
Other times, advertisers’ superhero powers seem to elude even them, leaving them to promote their business category above their own brand. Look to almost any mixed-use real estate development and you’ll see “Live! Work! Play!” on banners and billboards, breathless with exclamation. (I could live in an apartment, or work in an office building? Who knew?!)
How much more intriguing it would be to simply say, “You’ll love it here.”
Your brand SHOULD play to its superhero powers. But it’s lazy to skip viewing those powers through your customers’ eyes and kryptonite to assume your Unique Selling Proposition’s relevance will click on its own. People like dots to connect. They like relevance. And they like thinking about themselves.
When he’s not at the movies, Scott Kirk directs brand strategy for PAVLOV Advertising, and he believes your brand can fly. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.