The Three Smartest Words in Advertising … Ever

The Three Smartest Words in Advertising … Ever

What are the three smartest words ever penned in advertising? Any guesses as to what they might be? If you guessed Just Do It, Nike’s fabulous brand tag, you’d be off the mark. While certainly powerful, well crafted and fitting the three word limiter, there are three other words that have sold more product, driven more repeat business and caused a consumer behavior phenomenon that no other three words in advertising have ever accomplished.

How about Wendy’s Where’s the Beef? … guess again. Avis car rental had a good one with We Try Harder, but alas you would also be wrong. Regardless of how many words are used, there are four things that make a tag line, USP or brand message measure up.

  • Longevity – do they stand the test of time? There are certainly great examples of this throughout advertising history, whether they be with three words or not. Think of Alka-Seltzer, Roto Rooter or the California Milk Board for those examples.
  • Equity – Have they become synonymous with a company or product? Intel Inside is a good example of this, as is DeBeers A Diamond Is Forever.
  • Memorability – Have they influenced our culture, media and language? I (Heart) NY, I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up and This is your brain, this is your brain on drugs. Any questions? are all perfect examples of how a brand can influence culture.
  • Originality – Have they broken new ground in advertising? ¡Yo quiero Taco Bell! … Now that was original.

The three words to which I am referring meet all the aforementioned criteria. In use for decades and still today, they are synonymous with a product, are certainly memorable and while original and ground breaking at first, have been copied more than “Got Milk?“. These three words are used today on hundreds of different brands of the same type of product and have driven repeat sales like no other three words ever could. Determining the origin or mastermind behind the copy writing has proved to be fruitless so far, but I continue the quest to give honor and accolade to the man, woman or child that had the brilliant idea to put the words Lather, rinse, Repeat.” on every bottle of shampoo that rattles of the conveyor belt and makes it’s way into the showers of American homes from sea to shining sea. Shampoo that lasts only half as long as if the packaging had merely said … lather, rinse … we buy twice as much product because we are programmed to do as we are told.

Like Lemmings to the sea, consumers the world over … oh yes, it’s a global phenomena … having lathered and rinsed … repeat the process. Why? Because we were told to, that’s why. I will agree with those of you say that this may be less so with millennials, but even they may follow directions if they think it will make them look/smell/feel better.

So hat’s off to the brilliant package design copy writer, crafty creative guru or brand manager with a “let’s just tell them to repeat it” gleam in their eye … I salute you Sir or Madam. There are not another three words that have affected our culture of cleanliness, stood the test of time or sold more product. Well done.

Now in case any of you skipped to the bottom of this piece to see what three words I was writing about (you know who you are …), let me see if I can influence you with anywhere near their power with three of my own … Read It Again.

Paul Evans is President and CMO of Evans Media Group and can be reached at

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