The other day I was having a difficult time getting going in the morning. It was chilly and dreary, and I had to teach an 8 a.m. class.  When I muttered “Time to make the donuts,” two of my kids looked at me as if I was crazy. They are used to me quoting odd sound bites of American culture — such as “Let’s get Mikey” from the Life cereal commercial — but apparently I hadn’t used this one in while.  So I explained the old Dunkin’ Donuts commercial from 1983 (yikes!) and later pulled it up on YouTube for them.

Nike Advertising Slogans

It got me thinking about advertising slogans and the lasting impact they can have on us. A slogan can be the best piece of advertising a company can have. Not usually more than a few well-chosen words, a good slogan defines your brand. The best ones are short, sweet and, well, catchy.

In order to write a good slogan, you need to have a clear idea of what your product is, why your company is good at providing it, and why your customers need it. Then brainstorm ways to define that brand in just a few words. To help you, let’s take a look at five of the best advertising slogans and how they came to be so powerful and effective.

Five of the best advertising slogans

1. Just do it

Nike’s “Just do it” slogan is a good example of just how effective a simple phrase can be. Along with the Swoosh mark, “Just Do It,” which was coined in 1988, defines the athletic company’s brand and its style in just three words. The story goes that the phrase originated when Dan Weiden of the adverting agency Wieden and Kennedy used it as an off-hand remark during a meeting with Nike, as he was describing Nike’s bold “can do” attitude.

The phrase touched a nerve and helped to catapult Nike to the forefront of the domestic sport-shoe business, with sales increasing from 18% to 43% from 1988 to 1998, and into a leading spot in the athletic clothing and accessory business. The slogan helped the company position itself as providing a product for every American, no matter what age, gender or fitness level.

2. Don’t leave home without it

Ogilvy & Mather created this slogan for American Express in 1975 and put it to use in a ground-breaking series of TV commercials. The spots for the American Express Card typically started with a celebrity asking viewers: “Do you know me?” While the commercial gave hints to the star’s identity, his or her name was revealed only as seen imprinted on an American Express Card, with the celebrity cautioning “Don’t Leave Home Without It.” The popular slogan was revived in 2005 for the American Express Travelers Cheque Card.

It wasn’t until 1985 that Visa followed up with “Visa: It’s Everywhere You Want to be.” More than two decades went by before MasterCard came out with “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard.”

3. Diamonds are forever

Copywriter Frances Gerety, who worked for N.W. Ayer & Sons, Inc., gets the credit for coming up with this slogan for the De Beers diamond company in 1948 – in her sleep. As Gerety recalled in a 1988 interview, she had just finished a series of De Beers ads and was exhausted when she realized that she had forgotten to create a signature tag line.

Before going to bed, she said “Dear God, send me a line,” and scribbled something onto a slip of paper. When she woke up and saw what she had written, she thought it was good enough to present at a meeting later that day.  It worked. “Diamonds are forever” became further imbedded in our culture when it was used as the title of a James Bond movie in 1971.

4. Got Milk? This widely successful campaign was launched in 1983 with a commercial about a history buff being asked a $10,000 trivia question, “Who shot Alexander Hamilton in that famous duel?” Even though he knows the answer, he can’t answer clearly because his mouth is full of peanut butter.  The ongoing Got Milk? campaign has used celebrities from sports, media and entertainment, as well as fictional characters from TV, video games, and film — all wearing tell-tale milk mustaches.

Here’s how the slogan was created. In a focus group run by advertising agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners, a woman said, “The only time I even think about milk is when I run out of it.” Jeff Goodby wrote down “Got milk?”  in response. In a 2009 interview, Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein said the phrase almost didn’t see the light of day, noting that some people thought it was “lazy, not to mention grammatically incorrect.”

5. A mind is a terrible thing to waste. This slogan was coined in 1972 as part of a campaign to encourage Americans to support the United Negro College Fund. Since then, it has helped to raise more than $2.2 billion and to graduate more than 350,000 minority students from college. Created by Forest Long of Young & Rubicam in partnership with the Ad Council, the slogan has been running strong for more than four decades and, in fact, is part of a new, reinvigorated campaign.

A new 30-second spot features a student from Cleveland who says, “I want to be able to impact the community. Not just look back on where I came from, but to reach back to where I came from and pull some people up with me. My name is David, and I am your dividend.”

By the way, the “Let’s get Mikey” slogan, which was created by the Doyle Dane Bernbach agency, ran from 1974 to 1986 and is one of the longest-running television campaigns. An urban legend floating around says child actor John Gilchrist Jr., who played Mikey, died from by a lethal dose of Pop Rocks and soda. Truth is he’s alive and well and has a career in – get this – advertising.

Whether your business is big or small, whether you have hundreds or employees or just yourself, you need to recognize the importance a good slogan can have on defining your brand. And, if you come up with a winning slogan, be sure to register it as a trademark, so it stays yours alone.