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The Legacy of ‘Just Do It’? Imperative Rebrands on the Rise

It’s been 25 years since Nike launched the renowned ‘Just Do It’ brand line, and their place as a global brand leader was reconfirmed this week as they came 24th in Interbrand’s Best Global Brands survey, showing a brand value increase of 13%.  Earlier in the year, Fast Company crowned it the most innovative company of 2013.  However, despite their 25 year dominance, other leading brands have only recently begun to emulate the imperative expressed in ‘Just Do It’.

‘Just Do It’ uses the imperative tense – ordering, commanding or instructing us to do something.   It captures the spirit of Nike’s athletes, yet also speaks directly to Nike’s mission statement and the idea that there is an athlete in all of us.  It challenges us, orders us, to ‘just do it’.

Of the 182 most valuable brands in the world, only 6% use the imperative tense in their encapsulation of what their brand stands for.  But this is on the rise.

Close to half of the world’s most valuable brands who rebranded in 2012 and 2013 use the imperative to encapsulate what they stand for.  Consider,

Gap – Be Bright
Pepsi – Live for Now
Ford – Go Further
Pizza Hut – Make it Great
Intel – Look Inside
HP – Make It Matter

The rise of ‘imperative rebrands’ is likely down to three things.

1. An increasing focus on the importance of employees as drivers of the brand and the customer experience.

Many of the brandlines above speak as powerfully to employees as they do to the end consumer.  It’s clear that HP’s ‘Make It Matter’ is as much a rallying cry internally to drive much-needed innovation, as it is a mandate to their customers.  As Ford indicated in their launch of Go Further,

The company is exhorting its 166,000 worldwide employees to “Go Further,” too, because executives believe that making Ford’s “internal brand” consistent with its new external messaging can create profound synergies that benefit the company in significant ways. “What we aim to do is inspire behavior,” Matt VanDyke, Ford’s director of global communications, told me. “Go Further” is “more than an advertising tagline. We want to institutionalize it as part of our culture.”

2. The understanding that successful marketing today needs to encourage deep consumer engagement with the brand.

The imperative tense asks you actively do something – to get involved.

3. The need for brevity.

In the increasingly cluttered and splintered media world we live in, brands struggle to get their brand ideas across.  Ford’s long form of their brand idea is “we go further so you can”: more polite but less directly engaging and memorable. The imperative tense uses the verb’s short infinitive form (make, look, go) – and that may make the brand idea more memorable.

The downside of this approach is that we may not like brands to command or instruct us to do something.   When Smirnoff told us to ‘Be There,’ some may have responded with an equally direct two word response…  This may have been partly why, after 3 years of using the phrase, they walked away from ‘Be There’ when they broke a new global campaign last year, to adopt a new line, ‘Yours for the Making’.

Brands need some credibility as an arbiter of cool, or to have garnered a great deal of respect, to talk to us in the imperative – so perhaps it is only the brand leaders who can get away with it, since we already feel like we know them and value their opinion.   Friends can talk to us this way; but not strangers.  New brands should beware of this approach – it may backfire.

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