Between the Lines: Tag Lines, Part 2

You know an automaker s tag line lacks a certain piquancy when a professional car journalist can t remember it. Or his managing editor. I know Mercedes used to be engineered like no other car in the world (which is still true, but not necessarily a good thing), but what the Hell is it now? Rob Moran, MB s infinitely affable PR meister and occasional provider of cars that go AMG in the night, put us out of our misery: Unlike any other. Now what does that tell you?

By distilling their famous tag line — eliminating the brand s once proud claim for mechanical supremacy- - Mercedes has evaded reliability-related sniggers. On the downside, the generic tag line sacrifices mnemonics for wigglosity. Never mind. Merc ads tear around their grand (if vague) unifying concept like heavy metal revelers at Finland s Nummirock festival staggering from stage to stage. You ve got Performance Like No Other, Safety like No Other, Cruise Control Radar Public Embarrassment Like No Other, etc.

Although Mercedes s Chrysler cross-fertilization kinda makes the tag line seem like, well, a lie; and the brand s luxury rivals could make the Like No Other claim with equal justification; and any aspiring Playboy Playmate can tell you that different doesn t necessarily equal better (well, the really smart ones might be able to); the tag line s underlying assertion is clear: my car is better than your car. Mercedes s brand extension has eroded the marque s street-level snob-value, but their slogan still reinforces their aspirational brand positioning. It works.

I suppose I shouldn t have introduced Audi s tag line after Mercedes s. Never Follow is a strange admonition at the best of times; especially when you consider the fact that American automobiles spend 99.9% of their time following other cars. Obviously, Audi is off in search of iconoclasts: people who feel good about themselves for thinking-up a novel drink at Starbucks (and call it out with suitable flippancy). The disconnect between Audi s subtle, elegant designs and its lust for buyers who want to stand apart from the crowd is more than a little odd. How many wealthy, stealthy individualists can there be?

In fact, the idea of tens of thousands of customers flocking to Audi to express their uniqueness is about as unintentionally funny as these slogan things get — but not quite (See: VW). Anyway, as Nikolai Bukharin might have said, it doesn t pay to get hung-up on/by ideology. Never Follow is a impeccably post-modern exhortation for an unbelievably pretentious brand.

BMW s The Ultimate Driving Machine makes a mockery of Audi s over-cerebral approach. That said, it s difficult to argue that a car is a sharply focused driving device when the name of its mouse-driven multimedia interface pops-up when you Google driver distraction. Even so, Bimmer s boast could well be the oldest continual slogan in the biz, and the most effective. Its inherent subjectivity makes it appropriate to buyers with vastly disparate ideas of ultimate driving — from die-hard hoonatics to badge snob soccer Moms. And how can you go wrong with Ultimate ? Who of us doesn t want the ultimate anything (save tax penalties and lethal injection)?

Volkswagen s Drivers Wanted tag line plows the same field, with disastrously different results. What was once a supercool come-on separating mere buyers from passionate drivers now seems like a desperate plea for survival. Given the brand s freefall from grace in terms on provenance (Mexican Jettas?), engineering (Zuverlaesslichkeiten uber nichts) and sales, the slogan seems more than a little fraught. The humorously inclined might even suggest that Volksie add a third word to the slogan; Still or Please spring immediately to mind.

VW s Drivers Wanted tag line is a perfect example of a slogan that could serve as a much-needed internal kick-up-the-ass (so to speak), reminding the company what the Hell went wrong and pointing the way back to greatness. The Passat may do 157 really clever things, but it s supposed to be all about driving pleasure, ya? You know, road feel, braking, handling, that sort of thing. Oh well. Like all tag lines, the best ones reflect the carmaker s aspirations as well as its products'. They re words to live — and die — by.

RF

[Jalopnik s Between the Lines column parses the rhetoric of the automotive industry, and the media that covers it, from the point of view of that kid at the back of the class with ADD, a genius IQ and a thirst for mayhem.]

Related:
Between the Lines: Tag Lines, Part 1 [internal]