“England and America are two countries separated by a common language”
-George Bernard Shaw
Shaw’s joke points to a deep truth: accents, slang, and regional expressions aren’t just quirks of language, they’re expressions of tribal identity.
Seems obvious, yet advertisers rarely take advantage of this.
Because not only can you discern tribal membership from accents, slang, and colloquialisms, you can signal it by the intentional use of these same tools.
I was reminded of that while reading a Dave Trott column that mentioned his work creating ads for Toshiba in the UK during the 1980s.
As Dave says:
When we got the Toshiba account, they had just 2% awareness against Sony’s 30%.
They traditionally sold the virtue of their [television] picture technology just like everyone else.
Our planning found out that wasn’t the real problem. The real problem was the name.
To British ears, most Japanese and Korean brands sounded the same; people trusted Sony because, being easy to pronounce it was easy to remember.
Especially against names like: Toshiba, Hitachi, Samsung, Aiwa, Akai, Fujitsu, Sansui.
So the brief wasn’t about picture quality, as conventional wisdom said it was. It was to get the name remembered.
So we used a mnemonic to anglicize it: “HELLO TOSH, GOTTA TOSHIBA.”
Within 6 weeks, the Toshiba brand had 30% awareness, the same as Sony.
Think about that: the consumer wasn’t able to actually compare build quality, picture quality, or even specs.
The customer just knew what felt familiar, and therefore safe — and what didn’t.
Before the ad campaign, Toshiba was just another hard to pronounce and starkly foreign brand of electronics.
But after the campaign aimed at “anglicizing” and familiarizing the name, Toshiba felt as familiar and friendly as Sony.
So how exactly did Trott’s advertising firm “anglicize” it?
First, they took advantage of local popular culture to associate Toshiba with Cockney slang.
Then they drove the point home relentlessly with catchy repetition.
At the time, British comedian Alexei Sayle had a popular tune that was:
- Earworm-y as all heck
- Chock full of British slang
- Titled “Ullo John Gotta New Motor”
Keep in mind that “motor” is British for “motor car.”
You can watch the video for that song here:
So the Toshiba campaign borrowed heavily from this, not only paraphrasing the title, but copying the idea to repeat every line in the early ads.
Yet as Jean-Luc Godard says, “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”
And Trott’s agency, GGT, took this concept and blended it with another 80s pop-culture phenom: Max Headroom.
They then used the resulting hybrid as the core of their new campaign. Check it out:
This campaign not only familiarized the British public with Toshiba’s name, it created a friendly likability for the brand as well.
The ads didn’t try to pretend as if Toshiba was a native brand, but they did get people to perceive Toshiba as a recognizable – and cool! — part of the pop-cultural landscape.
Toshiba became tribally acceptable by speaking not only the language, but the tribal street slang familiar to its customers.
Simply by tapping into the power of tribe and self-identity, GGT spiked brand awareness and sales for Toshiba in an astonishingly short amount of time.
Call it a “cheap psychological trick” if you want, but there was nothing cheap about the impact this campaign had on sales.
And it’s a “trick” open to any advertiser with the courage and creativity to use it.
If you’ve got the former, I’d be happy to help with the latter.