Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Archive for the ‘Slogans’ Category

Blue Light Special

Posted by Admin on June 5, 2013

Do you remember the days when you could hear a disembodied voice say over the loudspeaker system: Attention Kmart® shoppers. There’s a blue light special in aisle …?

If you do, then you know that a blue light special is a surprise price-cut offered for a limited time (usually about 15 minutes in length) on specific merchandise. But as with all good things, it fell into the abyss of great ideas and disappeared for a while before coming back to life. How does Idiomation know this?

Greg Hudson posted an article on August 25, 2009 to the Better Business Bureau blog site entitled, “Kmart Is Bringing Back The Blue Light Special.” For those who couldn’t believe the headline, the first paragraph read:

No, it’s not 1965, but the discount retailer Kmart is bringing back its legendary blue light special.

As if that wasn’t enough, it was reported that some Kmart stores still had their “original, decades-old blue lights” while other Kmart stores made do with blue balloons!

Some may think that this was the first time Kmart revived the blue light special concept, but they’d be mistaken. in fact, in December 1999, Kmart opened up their online website, and named it BlueLight.com. If you type that into your browsers these days, you’ll be redirected to Kmart.com.

For trivia lovers, few people know that Johnston-Crowder Manufacturing Co published the “Blue Light Special” board game in 1986. Yes, people, this was a traditional board game for 2 to 4 players.

Blue Light Special Board Game

Now, it’s unfortunate but the expression became the brunt of countless jokes, so when the Youngstown Vindicator of December 9, 1978 published Joan Ryan’s column, “On Sports” and she wrote about Pete Rose and his family, you had to wonder if she was going to take pot shots at the expression.   It read in part:

What happens to a family of four (Petey is 9; Fawne is 14) when their income suddenly escalates to within millions? “Well, I still stop at K-Mart,” says the flamboyant Karolyn, who wears diamonds with her blue jeans.

“I love those discount stores. The only thing it that the cashiers all know me and they say, ‘Honey, we turned off the blue-light special when you pulled in in your Rolls.'”

Earlier that year, on March 2, 1978 the Nashua Telegraph newspaper published a news article entitled, “Carter Directive Calls For Secret Commando Force.” The story dealt with the formation of a secret Army commando unit President Jimmy Carter had ordered. Its primary focus was to combat terrorist acts outside the US. Headed up by Col. Charlie Alvin Beckwith, it wasn’t long before it was nicknamed “Charlie’s Angels” by its first members. The article stated:

The force has been given the code name “Project Blue Light” for its formative stages. Sources said a nucleus of Green Berets from the Army’s Special Forces have already quietly set up headquarters in a post stockade that has until now been used to house prisoners at Ft. Bragg, N.C.

The fact of the matter is that a Fort Wayne, Indiana Kmart store manager used a police car light to draw attention to Christmas wrapping paper that he was clearing out of his store back in 1965. It was such a success that it was adapted to draw attention to any clearance item, and it found its way into the chain before moving on to become an American icon idiom.

So the next time you hear someone joke about the blue light special, smile. It’s not every day that you hear a purely American comment still current in today’s pop culture.

Posted in Advertising, Idioms from the 20th Century, Slogans | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

In Glorious Technicolor

Posted by Admin on November 25, 2010

Herbert Kalmus had hoped to be a concert pianist, a career choice cut short by a sports injury.  He enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he studied physics and chemistry.  In 1912 the firm of Kalmus, Comstock, and Wescott was formed by Herbert Kalmus and Daniel Comstock, graduates from M.I.T. and W. Burton Wescott, a self-educated mechanical genius according to all news accounts. 

In 1916 and 1917, Kalmus, Comstock and Wecott worked long and hard to overcome a number of technical problems involved with a very promising film process they invested.  The end result of the work was a set of technologies Kalmus called Technicolor.  The new word was a hybrid of the Greek word techne which meaning “art” and the the English word color.

The original Technicolor colour process (1917 – 1922) was a 2-colour additive system using a conventional black and white record that ran through a special projector with 2 apertures as well as lenses with colour filters to tint the film. This technology was hailed by everyone within the movie industry and in the general public as one of the greatest technological advances.

The Technicolor colour cement print (1922 – 1927) was a subtractive process that allowed cameras to film at a rate of 32 frames per second with 15 pairs of red and blue-green records.  It did away with the need for filters, which was a major problem with the original Technicolor process and allowed for colours to be reproduced with greater accuracy.  The first feature film made in Technicolor System 2 was “Toll of the Sea” produced by Joseph Schenk.  The film premiered in New York City in November 1922 and its success was Technicolor‘s first profitable venture since the company was founded in 1915.

But the love affair between the general public and Technicolor wasn’t always universal.  Back on December 28, 1924 Mordaunt Hall reviewed the movie “So This Is Marriage” for the New York Times and gave a negative critique of the color technology:

Although the Technicolor section of “So This Is Marriage” is beautiful, it is questionable whether it adds much to the picture.  Often such ideas detract from the actual interest in the story, whether the narrative supposed to be told by one of the characters is in color or not.

The Technicolor two-color dye transfer print (1927 – 1933) was the next step in Technicolor’s evolution.  Instead of a duplicate negative that would be dyed and cemented to the black and white negative, everything was generated from the camera negative.  This process also accommodated the addition of sound to film as the shift went from movies to “talkies.” 

In 1930, Technicolor had contracts for 36 features — 15 of which were with Warner Brothers.  Of those 15 Warner Brothers movies, 11 were full colour movies and not just black and white movies with colour sequences.  Technicolor would soon be responsible for classic films such as The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind.

The Technicolor three-strip print (1932 – 1955) saw the completion of the first “glorious technicolor” camera in 1932 that would make this process possible.  As a side note, the “glorious technicolor” camera cost in excess of $30,000 USD.  In 2010 terms, it takes approximately $13 to equal the purchasing power of $1 back in 1932.

Kalmus approached Walt Disney with the offer to allow Disney to use the new 3 color process for the first time.  Disney jumped at the idea and his first Technicolor movie, Flowers and Trees, was a resounding success with the public due, in large part, to the vibrant colours coupled with the engaging story and symphonic sound track.

It didn’t take long before movies made in technicolor made the most of that fact.   When “Her Jungle Love” starring Dorothy Lamour and Ray Milland was released in theatres, ads ran in all the newspapers.  On the last night it was playing at Petone State Theatre back in 1938, the advertisement in the Wellington (New Zealand) Evening Post newspaper read:

FINALLY TONIGHT, at 8 o’clock.
DOROTHY LAMOUR, RAY MILLAND in
— “HER JUNGLE LOVE” —
All in Glorious Technicolor.  The “Jungle
Princess” in a picture of action, romance,
and thrills.

On this side of the ocean, the Tuscaloosa News was busy promoting the movie “Men With Wings” — which also starred Ray Milland along with Fred MacMurray, Louise Campbell and Andy Devine — and not only did the word “technicolor” show up the advertisement’s headline but in the accompanying description of the movie as well:

Here they come! … Roaring into Tuscaloosa!  MEN with WINGS in glorious TECHNICOLOR!  For the first time on any screen, and in the heart-throbbing reality of Technicolor … the mighty story of America’s flying fools, gentlemen unafraid!  The whole thundering parade of American aviation, told in the heart-stirring, blood-pounding, tense human story of two boys and a girl whose romance is the romance of aviation itself.

From descriptive terms such as “heart-throbbing” and “blood-pounding” describing Technicolor movies, it’s easy to see that the general public began to associate vivid colors splashed on the big screen and, in time, with any larger-than-life collection of vivid colors found in real life and the term itself.

Posted in Advertising, Idioms from the 20th Century, Slogans | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

In Vivid, Living Color

Posted by Admin on November 24, 2010

Although movies had been filmed in colour since the 1920s, there were times when a movie theatre just had to make the most of it when promoting a new movie.  And there were times when advertisers made the most of the phrase “in vivid, living colour” outside of movie making situations.

As recently August 2009, the phrase “in vivid, living colour” was used in the daily internet publication,  American Thinker.  Devoted to the “thoughtful exploration of issues of importance to Americans” the entry entitled “ObamaCare and Bush League Democrats” the author, J. Robert Smith wrote:

At a recent town hall, a pretty little girl, whose mother was an early Obama supporter, read a question from a slip of paper.  The President, knowing that the ball would be teed-up, swung hard and level.  Bang!  To the delight of his fans, a homer.  But tee-ball doesn’t matter, not if you can’t manage the game.   The President watches TV and reads the daily rags.  Not even MSNBC or The New York Times can ignore widespread popular unrest.  In vivid living color, the President sees very un-Alinsky seniors and middle class Americans give the what-for to shrinking, mealy-mouthed Democrats — daily. 

Back in the early 1980s, as inflation was running rampant in America, stories abounded, telling the woeful tale of poor housing markets and mortgages in default among other things.  In an article in the Deseret News run in May 28, 1981, the editor ran a story entitled, “Pity Poor Folks Who Live High Above the Tide Of Inflation.”  It read in part:

He bought his second home when they weren’t so popular.  He put down as little as he could and he borrowed the rest at interest rates less than half those of today.  If pressed, he refinanced.  Now he may rent his place at big prices to those with money beyond their immediate means.  These are among the people who own those places the day-trippers envy.  Unlike so many hourly and salaried workers, they  have the ability to float rather than be swamped by the inflation tide.  Various studies have long shown the sharp dichotomy in the two styles of life, but there is nothing like a day trip to the prime resorts near every population center to bring home the point in vivid, living color.

For Christmas 1966, the Gettysburg Times newspaper ran an advertisement for Ziegler Studios that read:

Have Your Family Portrait Taken For Christmas!  There’s still time … and it’s a swell idea either for a gift, or a gift to yourselves and your home.  But HURRY … the deadline for accepting appointments is near … and so is Christmas!  Don’t think about it anymore … call us today and make your appointment for a setting in your home and our studio.  Nothing will give more than your family in vivid, living color mounted in an attractive frame.

It wasn’t just e-magazines, bad economies and professional photographers that made use of the term either.  The Ludington Daily News ran an article in the June 24, 1963 edition entitled “Food Ads Criticized By Agency” in which it was reported:

“Our American system of food distribution is really one of the greatest show on earth,” Whitney said.  “It’s a giant, multi-million-dollar spectacular, staged in vivid living color, and exploding with human interest, scientific marvels, humor, fascinating, behind-the-scenes adventure stories, the snob-appeal of food as a status symbol, the romance of foods of far-away places, the emotional warmth of a mother’s instinctive desire to feed her young.”

Talk about making a leap from five years earlier when, in October 1958, the Chicago Daily Tribune ran an advertisement on page 6 in section C that promoted a movie that was reportedly a cinematic wonder on film of the “French love novel that shocked the world!” 

The movie was “A Certain Smile” and was released on September 22, 1958.  It starred Rossano Brazzi, Joan Fontaine and Johnny Mathis, who also sang the theme song, and was the first feature film for actor, Bradford Dillman (who went on to such movies as “The Plainsman” and “The Iceman Cometh”).  The movie hype was based in large part on the fact that the movie was “in vivid, living color!” 

So while the phrase may have been used in conversation, the first published use of the phrase “in vivid, living colour” appears to go back to this movie and no further.

Posted in Advertising, Idioms from the 20th Century, Slogans | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Whiter Than White

Posted by Admin on October 26, 2010

Cleaning one’s clothes “whiter than white” has oftentimes been promised by laundry detergent manufacturers in all sorts of print and broadcast commercials over the decades.

In 1903, Professor Herman Giessler and Dr Herman Bauer from Stuttgart, Germany created the world’s first soap powder with a bleaching agent -– Persil.  It was launched in the UK in 1909 with the a slogan that made the most of the fact that it was an ‘Amazing Oxygen Washer.’  Persil went on to become the first laundry detergent to feature a man in TV advertising and it kept claiming that it would make your whites “whiter than white.”

But Persil didn’t coin the phrase.  That honour seems to go to a poem written by William Shakespeare in 1593 entitled “Venus and Adonis.”  One of the stanzas reads:

Who sees his true-love in her naked bed, 
Teaching the sheets a whiter hue than white
But, when his glutton eye so full hath fed, 
His other agents aim at like delight? 
Who is so faint, that dare not be so bold 
To touch the fire, the weather being cold? 

And so, it was William Shakespeare, once again, who coined a phrase that has made its way into today’s English.

Posted in Advertising, Idioms from the 16th Century, Slogans | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

You Never Had It So Good

Posted by Admin on July 13, 2010

In the movie, the Princess Bride, the following exchange is witnessed:

MIRACLE MAX:
Get back Witch!

VALERIE:
I’m not a witch, I’m your wife and after what you just said, I’m not sure I want to be that anymore.

MIRACLE MAX:
You never had it so good.

So where exactly did this phrase originate?  Surely it must have a long and colourful history.  Well, not exactly.

The phrase “you’ve never had it so good” is associated with the Conservative politician, Harold MacMillan (1894–1986), and refers to a speech he made as Prime Minister on 20 July 1957.  His exact words were: “Let us be frank about it: most of our people have never had it so good.”

At the time he said those words, he was correct however soon afterwards, inflation, rising unemployment and disruptive labour disputes were responsible for undoing the slow economic growth Britain had seen up until that point.

However, MacMillan didn’t just happen across that phrase accidentally as itw as used as the Democratic slogan for the 1952 U.S. Elections.  We’d like to think that some hardworking public relations guy working on campaigns came up with that phrase but it’s a little older than that even.

You see, the U.S. newspaper The Sunday Morning Star reported in September 1945 that this was the stock answer used in the U.S. Army when enlisted men complained about U.S. Army life.

Posted in Advertising, Idioms from the 20th Century, Slogans | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

I’d Rather Drink From The Cup Of Mediocrity

Posted by Admin on June 2, 2010

The complete phrase is actually: “I’d rather die of thirst than drink from the cup of mediocrity.”  While this phrase has a certain old world wisdom feel to it, it is actually a very recent expression thanks to Stella Artois.

For those among you who are unfamiliar with Stella Artois, it’s important to note that Stella is a thing not a person.  The first recorded history of Stella Artois is in 1366, when records of taxes exist on Leuven’s Den Horen Brewery, a brewery that is still in existence today.

In 1708, Sebastian Artois became the master brewer at Den Horen, and gave his name to the brewery in 1717.   Stella Artois was launched as a seasonal beer for the Christmas holiday market in 1926, however, it proved to be such a success that the brand became available year round.

The advertising slogan was so successful that it won in its category at the The Global Advertising Awards and has since found its way into the English language.

Posted in Advertising, Slogans | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

Posted by Admin on April 20, 2010

The phrase is attributed to Frederick R. Barnard but that’s not quite correct.  The phrase is actually an amalgamation of two advertising campaigns and not, as is oftentimes claimed, solely from a 1927 advertisement in the advertising trade journal, Printers’ Ink

In the December 8, 1921 issue, the slogan was: “One Look is Worth A Thousand Words.”    It referred to the benefits of advertising with pictures on street cars.

In the March 10, 1927 issue, the slogan was:  “One Picture is Worth Ten Thousand Words.”   This referred to a baking soda ad campaign conducted by Barnard’s firm.    To give the ad more kick, Barnard’s firm claimed it was a Chinese proverb so that people would take it more seriously.  And, as was the case in the early 20th century, Chinese proverbs were immediately credited to Confucious because he is the best known of all Chinese philosophers.

However, even with amalgamating both ads from Printers’ Ink together, Barnard is not the first person to come up with this idea.  That honour goes to newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane of the Syracuse Advertising Men’s Club.  In March 1911 — a decade before Barnard’s 1921 advertisement — Brisbane gave an instructional talk wherein he stated:  “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.”

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century, Slogans | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »