by Ervin Somogyi
The time has come to take a serious look at an element of marketing which is often overlooked: namely, the luthier’s slogan. It is the luthier’s initial statement about his work to the yet unseen customer which creates the all-important first impression. Slogans are effective insofar as they are concise, immediate, and serve to encapsulate a complex message into an easy to assimilate sound-byte sized phrase or sentence. It is the way of the new millennium, and everybody knows this.
The raison d’etre of the slogan is to get the client’s attention and invoke a receptive mental state in him. An effective slogan is formed by strict adherence to principles of marketing long known to professionals in important fields such as advertising and politics. These are: pithiness, contrast, understatement, humor, hyperbole, mellifluous glibness, humility, claim to excellence, authority of tone, and flat-out lying. There’s also Putting Down The Competition . . . but we’re luthiers and we don’t do that.
We have received a Glossary of Advertising Terms and Their Exact Meanings from Ramirez and Associates Advertising Corporation of Los Angeles, California. It is a primer for education about some basic building blocks to successful sloganeering. Amazingly, all their examples apply to lutherie. Here is a sampling:
- Improved: some of the most obvious faults eliminated
- New Improved: we also changed the box
- All-purpose: does a mediocre job in several ways
- Jumbo: too big to fit in the airplane’s overhead compartment
- Compact: understanding or agreement (such as our no refund policy)
- Disposable: can be used only once
- Durable: can be used twice
- Delicate: breaks easily
- Fine: imposition of a monetary penalty
- Subtle: inaudible
- Compensated: paid for
- Fresh: outgassing toxic solvents
- Great action: actionable in a prize-winning or celebrated way
- OM model: sound of chant recommended for reducing anxiety caused by inevitable failure of product
- Traditional: lacking in originality
- Late Model: deceased; expired; D.O.A.; as in the late Queen Mother
- Design: scheme, scam, angle, ploy, nefarious intent, or machination
- Avant-Garde: we don’t know if it works yet but you should buy one anyway
- Best sounding: hitting or heading toward rock bottom in an exemplary manner
- Groovy: heavily scratched up
- Matte Finish: you won’t be able to see the scratches
- Hot deal: the item belonged to someone else until very recently
- Exotic: scantily clad
- Time-Honored: we have so far won all lawsuits brought against this product
- Ineffable: use of the F word voids the warranty
- Huge Savings: in the event you don’t buy this product
- Unbelievable: you really shouldn’t put stock in any claim made about this product
- Highest standards: our quality control department is on the top floor
- Warranted: warrants have been issued by various consumer fraud courts
- Imported: domestic suppliers refused to have anything to do with this product
- Noted: plays real notes
- Excellence: probably a misspelling; the ad campaign was outsourced to Pakistan and we think they were trying to write “accelerants.” But since the ad copy was already paid for we decided to keep it anyway.
We need only to open any guitar or music publication these days to see what sloganeering strategies are being used by luthiers to pull customers through their workshop doors to their sales counters — and, more to the point, in what ways these can be improved.
Take, for instance, luthier Tom Ribbecke’s slogan “The Tradition Continues”. When broken down into its constituent components and examined critically it gets points for being concise, pithy, and, by way of invoking the power of positive associations, for laying claim to the cachet of being part of Something Bigger Than Itself — if only something as quotidian as tradition . . . which, as everyone knows, is simply an upscale way of saying the same old thing everybody and their cousin in the biz have been doing in much the same old way all along. On the downside, the focal power of this slogan is blunted by Tom’s stated participation in the rather amorphous continuation of this tradition: this is as vague and hard to pin down as the location of a Specific Point on a Line — surely you remember that from high school geometry.
The question is: how to improve this? It’s far better, we think, to tighten this up by taking a Decisive and Authoritative Tone so no one will think Tom is Fooling Around. A macho echo of the unforgettable and deeply noble statement of personal responsibility once made by one of our Great Presidents would suggest recasting Tom’s slogan into: “The Tradition Stops Here”. This has got Vintage written all over it! It has the advantage of locating Tom’s work more firmly in time and unmistakably fixing its contribution to that tradition, while simultaneously suggesting to the consumer that this is all there is, get ’em while they’re red hot and available, ’cause This Is It And There Ain’t No More. Wow! This really goes for the maximum jugular.
Another great guitar advertising slogan is Henry Guitars’ “The Sound of Quality Craftsmanship”. At first sight this is an A-OK sentiment. But a second look reveals its limitations: this is really frighteningly vague and confusing as to referent. After all, what sounds of quality craftsmanship, exactly, will this guitar be replicating? A saw cutting through expensive rosewood? The groaning sounds of clamping up the bent laminated elements of a designer chair? A polishing wheel screechily bringing the final luster to a cut glass decanter? A ball-peen hammer skillfully crafting the tone-sections of a steel drum? Or, perhaps, the sounds of making a beautiful clay vase? You see, this just won’t do. We feel this luthier would do better to make a marketing statement that is (a) sufficiently general to bypass the specific criticisms which the existing slogan’s logic invites, but which (b) also is simultaneously Bull’s-Eye Right-On, No-Nonsense, and Claims Decisive Excellence, and which most importantly (c) does not lose the All-Important Nexus With SOUND which is at the slogan’s heart. This caveat leads immediately to an improved formulation of the original statement: “Henry Guitars: Better Than They Sound!” There! Can you see how much more satisfactory this is? Only the most obtuse reader would fail to be impressed.
On the ground-floor front, slogan-wise, it is widely known that luthier Harry Fleishman is seeking to expand his new line of classic dovetail-topped guitars and is at this very moment scratching his head over which one-sentence sentiment most effectively will project Buy Me into the minds of his customer base — a tricky problem for all of us, actually. We would suggest referring to the previous list of slogan-making principles to come up with something classic (no pun intended). For instance, if Mr. Fleishman would combine the elements of (1) pithiness, (2) humor, (3) claim of excellence and (4) contrast — which are by themselves always an appealing mix — and add to these the kicker of (5) great personal humility, he might just come up with a winner of a slogan such as: “Fleishman: Great Guitars . . . from a Substandard Guy”. We call it to his attention.
Northwest luthier Dave Maize is our point man on political correctness in lutherie and his slogan announces the use of sustainable yield domestic woods. While this is laudable, we feel that such a thrust would benefit from a bit more oomph than his bald statement which only by implication distances itself from the killing of endangered woods. We suggest a reformulation of Mr. Maize’s abortive arboreal conscientiousness into something more decisive, like: “I don’t kill exotic trees like other luthiers do. My instruments are made from woods harvested from trees felled solely by disease, age, natural disaster or beavers. My trademark Petrified Wood Travel Guitars are stronger than Samsonite luggage and have the ultimate in aged sound — and no woods are endangered or killed in the making of them”. Putting this much information on a business card wouldn’t leave room for Mr. Maize’s name, address, or other information about how to reach him, but we feel strongly that this message would be so compelling that customers would be moved to track him down and find him even if he were in the Federal Luthier’s Protection Program.
We have read with heady bewilderment the plethora of lutherie slogans in the latest issues of all the trade magazines and tried to imagine the average reader’s experience of wading through all the claims made so as to choose their next dream guitar. It cannot be done. There are too many luthiers Clamoring Excellence by one standard or another: length of time in the business, refinement of design, track record of professional endorsements, superb sound, brilliant craftsmanship, fidelity to tradition, state-of-the-art ergonomics and electronics, exemplary playability, finest materials, and most waterproof. It’s way too confusing. We were astonished that only one man — Ervin Somogyi — has had the penetration to think of The One Slogan which would really cut through all the claims and make his instruments stand out from this concentrated, stellar assembly of luthiers: “Somogyi: best guitars in this whole magazine”. Knowing Ervin’s work we agree he needs all the help he can get, and hope he can scrape together enough money to take out an ad.
The previous mention of waterproof brings us to Rainsong Guitars, which are facing tremendous marketing challenges. The fact that they are made entirely of synthetic and water-repellent materials forms the thrust of much of their advertising, in which water-resistance has been prominently and repeatedly mentioned. The manufacturers have clearly decided that their guitars’ relation to WATER is key. As such, we must recognize that this hasn’t been developed to its full potential. According to selling rules #5 (hyperbole), #8 (think big), #9 (moral rectitude), and #13 (think even bigger) of the Marketing Guidelines, the advertisers should immediately drop mention of water on the level of mere rain. Rain is way too humble and ordinary, and this calls for Something Huge and Epic. Much better to invoke Really Big Important Bodies of Water, and Equally Big Geopolitical Realities Associated With Big Important Bodies of Water — such as the Panama Canal. We modestly suggest: “A Man, A Plan, A Guitar . . . Rainsong!!! — and, oh, by the way, we don’t kill trees like those other luthiers do”. And see those sales lines jump off the charts.
Space and time limitations force us to stop here on this important topic, but you get the idea. We thank the mentioned luthiers for permission to mention them, and this message has been brought to you courtesy of the American Federation of the Conceptually Impaired (A.F.C.I.) — where friends don’t let friends make guitars.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: this humorous and totally un-serious article was written several years ago, with the permission of everyone mentioned.