The news over the weekend that 89 year-old sports broadcasting legend Keith Jackson passed away stirred up many a play-by-play memory for sports fans everywhere. And I bet that when many of you heard the story, the first words out of your mouth were:
Yup, it became Jackson’s moniker, his mantra, his signature, his catchphrase. And in a tribute article on CNN.com, Jackson explained how he innocently picked up the phrase from his grandfather – and it became a hit with fans around the world.
Another old-time sportscaster, Ted Husing advised Jackson about the wisdom of creating a great audio one-liner:
“Never be afraid to turn a phrase.”
That’s great advice to radio stations, as well as on-air talent. I’ve seen it work again and again, in markets of all sizes and in different formats. Some of the most successful personalities and station brands have been boosted by these familiar, sometimes “inside” catch phrases.
When Rock radio began to heat up in L.A. in the ’70s, there was KMET and KLOS – locked in a head to head battle – each sporting a smart catchphrase. KMET’s “Whoo-Ya” is still uttered by rockers of a certain age. And while the Might Met was in its heyday, Frazier Smith was across the street, ruling mornings on KLOS, making “Too Hip (Gotta Go)” his signature line. Southern California’s a pretty trendy place – both phrases caught on big-time back in the day.
What is it about Rock radio that seems to be conducive to catchphrases that stick? I’m leaving out a ton of great examples (and that’s where you come in), but it didn’t take me long to come up with an impressive list of personalities and stations that have benefited from an easy-to-recall verbal moniker. A great catchphrase becomes a sort of hidden language that can be shared by the tribe. When it ascends to be a part of the pop culture of the moment, that’s when you know you’re onto something.
I lived through (and enjoyed) Arthur Penhallow‘s BABY! phase (which lasted decades), spawning bumper stickers and other merch. Wherever Art went, his signature became the way fans greeted him. It became a visceral rally cry that you still hear shouted at local concerts and sporting events to this day. Art’s been off the air in Detroit radio for several years now, but his familiar black and white stickers are still seen on many Motor City cars and trucks. From Howard Stern to WMMR’s Preston & Steve, some of the biggest and best have enjoyed popular audio calling cards.
And then there’s the next generation of radio stars. And while they’re more social, into podcasts, and producing videos, a great catchphrase is a topic they should be talking about at this summer’s “Morning Show Boot Camp.”
Take WRIF’s newest morning sensation, Dave & Chuck the Freak. They don’t just have a single catchphrase. They share an entire language with their fans. It’s habit-forming, very inside, and it forms a special bond between Detroit (and Boston) fans and their favorite DJs. Below are several of their catchphrases, along with their cartoon designs our mobile apps company, jācapps, converted into iPhone stickers for text messaging with fans. Thanks to digital and social media, today’s great catchphrases often cover much more ground, making them even more powerful.
While I have used visuals in this post to illustrate the popularity of these catchphrases, the fact is they’re audio. They are more often said, not shown. And that’s how their popularity gains altitude…and attitude.
But catchphrases aren’t just a radio thing. Right now, there’s an amazing TV advertising example becoming so popular and viral that it just might help rescue a struggling brand – and possibly even an entire category.
These days, it’s all about craft beer. Only Boomers are still sipping on Miller Lites, Michelobs, and Coors. And that’s the dilemma Bud Lite has been wrestling with until their agency, Wieden & Kennedy, came up with “Dilly Dilly.” And thanks in part to a big ad budget (especially during nationally televised football games) as well as the rocket fuel known as social media, the catchphrase has become a meme.
Silly? Stupid? Juvenile?
Yup, just like “Baba-booey” or “BABY!”
And when a catchphrase becomes a bona fide slice of the vernacular, there’s no stopping it. But as Wieden & Kennedy, Arthur Penhallow, Preston & Steve, and Dave & Chuck will tell you, these phenomena cannot be planned or strategized. When they take on a life of their own, it’s a beautiful thing. But it has to somehow organically happen.
When a catchphrase starts showing up elsewhere, that’s when you know you’re in business. That happened to Wieden & Kennedy’s creative director, John Parker, who thought he heard Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger use it as part of his signals during a recent TV game before a critical fourth down play. As The Times tells the story, Parker rewound the broadcast, and sure enough, there it was:
Of course, after last week’s heartbreaking Steelers loss to Jacksonville, maybe Big Ben should have called the “GADZOOKS!” play in the huddle.
Never run away from a great catchphrase.
It’s another great example of the power of audio.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,000 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.