Transcreation Toolbox (I): The Literary Devices Behind Great Slogans

We keep hearing slogans should be memorable.

But have you ever stopped to wonder (and – gasp – analyze!) what makes good slogans stick in your brain and act as remote controls of human behavior? What is it about them that alerts and entices emotions, generates appeal and triggers action?

Here’s one explanation, and it has to do with what literary theorists call the consciously conspicuous use of language itself. Language brought to the fore.

Great slogans have a very specific mix of simple, vivid, pictorial language that is easily understood and yet – in a sense – not prosaic. What makes that possible? You can’t quite put your finger on it.

That’s right. Language that is subtly figurative. Nothing outlandish, nothing cryptic. Yet nothing too familiar either. And then there is a kind of melody, a pattern or a rhythm.

Figurative language comes in several flavors:

  • you have your tropes (figures of thought) – such as metaphors, similes, personifications, synecdoche, hyperbole or litotes (revisit good old Aristotle)
  • your figures of speech (rhetorical figures, or schemes, achieving effect through specific patterning of the word order) – antithesis, hyperbaton, anadiplosis, anaphora, antistrophe, chiasmus, anacoluthon, etc.
  • and then you also have your figures of sound – like alliteration, assonance, consonance, and rhyme.

So how about a revealing example?

Image result for plop plop fizz fizz oh what a relief it is

Take, for instance, the well-known Alka Seltzer slogan: “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz. Oh what a relief it is!”

This slogan uses both onomatopoeia and repetition of words as literary devices to paint a very vivid picture of the actual dropping of the tablets in water. It plays a lot with sounds, to create a direct association with the product. It also employs consonance (repeating the consonant sound “z”  – fizz, fizz, it is – which simultaneously creates a rhyme, to ingrain this sound effect more firmly in the minds of readers/listeners. The rhythm is also very melodic, and most words are one-syllable words, simple, memorable – thus buttressing the sensation of relief associated with this product.

The use of prosody is also really interesting and any transcreation should take that into consideration. We are dealing with a trochaic meter in the first sentence, with the stress on the initial “plop” and “fizz“, followed by a dactyl in the second sentence, where we have a stressed “oh“, “relief” – exactly the effects the marketer was going for! In addition, the use of falling meters not only matches the action of dropping the tablets into the glass of water, it also matches the expected easing of symptoms which is an essential part of the brand promise! The change of rhythm is also suggestive of the product’s promised relief: the feet are short and snippy at the beginning, while the suffering is still intense and the consumer is quick to drop the tablets into the water (quick relief), but they get longer as the medication takes effect and the person relaxes.

This is exactly why this slogan – like many others – is not only highly effective, it is also hard to replicate in a foreign language, to a foreign audience who may have very different cultural experiences and schemata. (And we have not even begun to get into the semantics and pragmatics of slogan translation or discuss potential legal restrictions in the target country, etc.  Transcreation is becoming an increasingly complex field.)

 to be continued… 

For great results, transcreate your slogan right here.