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I have a sneaking suspicion that the tag lines deployed by automotive advertisers are aimed at the carmaker s workforce. Your average car buyer is more likely to know the spoken intro to Madonna s La Isla Bonita than which brand offers inspiration as standard . Como puede ser verdad? I reckon it s a hangover from the eighties, when corporate mission statements were only slightly less popular than The Material Girl s seemingly unstoppable parade of hook-laden hits. Although Madonna has since descended deep into Desperate Pop Stars territory, automotive tag lines are still here and they re still a crystal clear description of the automakers intent. But not necessarily their execution

Chrysler s Inspiration Comes Standard is one of the more effective automotive prose poems. Although inspiration isn t a word bandied about by many [non-evangelical] consumers, most car buyers can glom the message: Chrysler isn t GM. Or, if you prefer, Chrysler doesn t make the same old boring shit as those other guys. And hey, it won t cost you any more than their crap.

As with all marketing messages, the tag lines success ultimately depends on the product s ability to substantiate the company s promise. Chrysler s inspirational outlook seems perfectly appropriate hovering above a 300C, PT Cruiser or [lame duck] Crossfire and Pacifica; a lot less so above a Sebring or Town and Country minivan. Still, if Chrysler stays true to its motto in its products design and engineering as it moves forward (so to speak), their success is sure to continue.

With Mr. Bill himself as head cheerleader and poster boy, Ford recently rolled-out its brand new slogan: Driving American Innovation. Taken literally, the tag line asks us to believe the entirely preposterous idea that Ford is leading all of America s industries towards technological advancement. (This may come as a bit of a shock to Sun Microsystems.) Interpreted a bit more casually, it s inviting consumers to buy a Ford so they can enjoy taking a drive in a car with American innovation.

Two problems. First, the transitive verb driving is hardly a call to action. Why not Drive American Innovation? The limp-wristed verb suggests that Ford is the one driving Fords (accurately enough, given that a large percentage of sales stay within its family ). That interpretation invites the thought Well good for you! Second, most potential buyers may not perceive American innovation as attractive as, say, Japanese innovation. Sorry FoMoCo flag wavers, but it s true; deal with it.

Needless to say, GM s situation is worse. Their unifying motto is currently See Some Red, Save Some Green. That s right: The General s Toe Tag Sale tag line is their only overarching corporate statement, which seals their reputation as The K Mart of Cars. Although the world s most doomed automaker now slaps a GM decal on every vehicle within its purview, they still leave it to their eight sub-brands to doggy mark their territory.

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The GM brands tag lines range from the patently absurd (Chevrolet is still leading An American Revolution with the help of a re-badged Korean car) to the unintentionally antagonistic (Hummer s Like Nothing Else has environmentalists muttering Thank God for that ) to the meaningless (Buick s Beyond Precision is beyond comprehension). This wilting salad of inane slogans bodes badly for The General s stated goal of increased brand differentiation.

Although Toyota s sales, market share and profits have left the domestics in the dust (if you take fleet sales out of the equation), Moving Forward is a throwback to Ford s equally bland cast-off Built for the Road Ahead. Quite apart from the fact that vehicles go backwards every once in a while, Toyota s tag line also impales customers on the tip of a transitive verb. Why not Move Ahead ? (Other than the obvious connection to Devo s Whip It. ) Toyota s tag line s total vapidity is a clear clue to the location of its Achilles Heel.

Unexpectedly, Nissan s motto is, still, Shift Expectations. And I still don t get it. Raise Expectations would have been far more effective. Stranger still, the slogan cycles through a farrago of second words: passion, inspiration, convention, performance, joy, originality and individuality. I suspect this post-modern solution pleased a lot of people — in particular all the contributing creatives within Nissan s advertising agency.

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Although Nissan is on a roll stateside, it s past time for the automaker to take their own advice, shift their branding expectations and come up with something a bit more focused. Otherwise, they risk losing the finely-honed edge that s made the company bounce back from banality, boredom and banishment.

In the next installment of this series, we ll look at the German automotive brand slogans: Audi, Mercedes, BMW and VW. Meanwhile, remember: Jalopnik loves cars.

[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.]

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