I am a huge fan of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. Here is a guy that comes into your struggling restaurant and totally destroys everything you thought you knew – and then like a Marine, builds you back up. Along the way, he doesn’t just save your business: he saves your house, your marriage and your relationship with your kids. For the first 55 minutes of the show, you call him the devil incarnate, or more commonly in the profanity-laced program, “that Scottish a**hole.” In the last five, you say “thank God for Gordon Ramsay.”
A big part of liking Gordon is appreciating his non-stop cursing. As in, when describing some bad-tasting or -looking food, the words he usually emits in a downcast tone: “Sh*t at its best.”
That’s how I know what Gordon would say about my local Metro grocery store in light of its corporate tagline: Food at its best. No matter what time of day or week, my Metro looks like a hurricane just went through. Boxes litter the aisles. The shelves are dishevelled and half empty. Even by grocery store standards, most cashiers are especially sullen. In every aspect of the operation, there is a deep-seated lack of pride on show.
And so Metro’s tagline is ripe for making fun. We could distort it to Gordon’s version above, or even change it to Food at its worst. So the question becomes, should Metro have taken the risk of adopting such an easily-twisted tagline?
The problem facing them and every other brand is that virtually all taglines can be distorted by a sufficiently upset or just plain mean customer. I haven’t seen the Telus tagline twisted, but there is inherent risk in The future is friendly. Tim Hortons’ Always fresh is just as vulnerable, as is McDonalds’ I’m lovin’ it.
Especially risky is BMO’s Making money make sense: they actually want you to get the “cents” double entendre, which might make you think they’ll reduce your savings and investments to mere pennies. Of course, BMO is safe as long as they deliver on the promise of simplifying your banking experience. And as long as they don’t develop a reputation for big losses.
Which is the takeaway from all of these examples: becoming known as truly different necessitates bold messaging. But as Metro must learn, you can only be as ambitious with words as you can back up with deeds.