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Powerlines: Words That Sell Brands, Grip Fans, and Sometimes Change History Hardcover – Apr 24 2008


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 251 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomberg Press (April 24 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1576603040
  • ISBN-13: 978-1576603048
  • Product Dimensions: 16.7 x 23.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 544 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #658,446 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents


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Format: Hardcover
Like anyone that has a marketing or advertising component to their job, finding the right way to break through the clutter and make your message memorable is one of the toughest goals to achieve. I picked up Powerlines by Steve Cone with the hope that it might offer some formula or tips on how to create great powerlines for use in my marketing/advertising copy.

To be clear, Cone defines Powerlines as 'a compelling story about an event, person, place, product, or a part of human nature that has lasting impact. Sometimes these lines are just a few words, sometimes several sentences, and once in a great while, must one word.' This definition in itself is not very powerline-ish but it is a definition ' just one that I couldn't remember off the top of my head and had to go look up just now. He also says powerlines must 'ring true' and they should not overreach.

The author does give some great tips on creating your own powerline, albeit closer to the end of the book. They are:

' Convey a genuine truth or depict an experience'real or imaginary.
' Build them to last and should rarely, if ever, be changed.
' Convey a benefit, show how they will improve our lives, recommend an action or offer some other satisfaction.
' Are made more memorable if they can be set to music or made to rhyme.
' Should be made to move on the screen on television or online.
' Should be a prominent touch point with the consumer, i.e., large and pervasive throughout the campaign.

There's no doubt Cone knows his stuff and I would love to have him over for dinner to discuss advertising and marketing. In the case of Powerlines, I'm not certain Cone set out to actually create a step-by-step plan to come up with great powerlines.
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Format: Hardcover
This is one fascinating book.

`Powerlines' says author Steve Cone are `words well chosen with the power to awe, inspire, motivate, alienate, subjugate, even alter something as significant as the course of history'. `They can even change the buying habits of consumers', he adds, indicating that this a book about marketing and the selling power, not of words in general, but specifically of `words well chosen'-- so apt and apposite that they deliver an impact more powerful than mere slogans and taglines.

`Well, let's have some examples?' I hear you say. The author clearly has his favourites, richly and illustratively sprinkled throughout the text: `A Diamond is Forever'... `Come to Marlboro Country' and so forth.

I have my own favourites, as does everyone. Martin Luther King's `I have a dream' is one. JFK's `Think not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country' is another. `Blood, Sweat, Toil and Tears...' and `their finest hour' are obviously from the prolific pen of Churchill who must be up there with Shakespeare as the finest powerliner in history.

As for the famous DeBeers ads, I think they slightly missed the boat. They could have used `Diamonds are Forever' which, possibly because it expresses the same thought in the plural, is curiously more compelling. It certainly delivered impressive audiences and impressive amounts of box office cash to the collective James Bond enterprise.

Which goes to show the power of a powerline over a mere tagline? `Yes, America Can' attributed to George Bush (just which one isn't specified) falls under the author's general category of `putting America to sleep.' `What a snore,' he says. Slogan it may be, but it is not a powerline like Obama's `Yes we can.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 13 reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Want to be a more effective marketer? Read this book... May 1 2008
By Sing Chan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Powerlines is both a quick study on how to create more effective slogans and taglines - the heart of any successful marketing campaign - and a thoughtful primer on how the right words can deliver the brand promise to today's consumers. The book is filled with real life examples of how well-chosen words can turn an ordinary product into an extradordinary brand. Powerlines is a marketing professional's canon on how words sell brands, but fans of politics and social history will also find this an entertaining read.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
I'm really not convinced Sept. 12 2008
By Andrew S. Rogers - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The second half of "Powerlines" is a decent marketing primer on taglines -- how to recognize good ones and how to create them yourself. It's useful information for advertisers and marketers to know. But Steve Cone is trying to make the tagline into something much more: a "powerline" that achieves the great things described in his subtitle. I don't think his analysis and his examples support his claims.

Cone writes "Most companies that have been marketing leaders over long periods of time employed taglines that built their brand promise into a powerful motivator for consumers to react to and purchase their product" (p. 198).

But have they? In the many examples the author gives of powerful branding taglines, he never proves the tagline was an essential element in making the sale. As the number-crunchers say, he doesn't isolate the variable. Is the "ultimate driving machine" tagline really "a major contributor to BMW's success" (p. 188)? Or is it a crystallization of a host of things -- engineering, luxury, reputation -- that have made BMW a powerful brand? After all, Toyota is the world's leader in car sales and number two in the United States, but do they have a decades-old "powerline" driving their sales? It may be a chicken-or-egg question, but that's just my point.

Perhaps the clearest example of the author's failure to link "powerline" with sales is his mention, several times, of Ed McMahon's "Heeeere's Johnny!" call at the start of Johnny Carson's "The Tonight Show." Yes, it was memorable and distinctive, but was it "influential"? Only if Cone is suggesting people tuned into the program, not for the guests or the music or the comedy or Johnny himself, but to hear Ed's invocation.

I guess what my hesitation comes down to is whether "being memorable" is enough. Certainly it's nice. But as a marketer, I'm not being paid to create memories. I'm being paid to drive sales.

I said above that the second half of this book is a good marketing primer. The first half is mostly the author's discussion of memorable "powerlines" from politics and the media. Unfortunately, his explanation or analysis of these were surprisingly often flawed. (Some of these examples may be nitpicky -- but enough nits gathered in one place suggest a serious health issue.)

For example, Cone starts (pp. 8-11) by telling the stories behind some famous nursery rhymes. But much of what he tells as straightforward fact is actually theory and can't be proven. Others, like "Three Blind Mice" being about Queen Mary I or "Ring Around the Rosy" being about the plague, are urban myths debunked on well-known reference sites like snopes-dot-com. In the section on political slogans, he cites "A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage" as a Hoover campaign slogan in 1928 (p. 57). In fact, as political-writer and word-maven William Safire notes in his essential Safire's New Political Dictionary, the phrase (usually given as "two cars in every garage" or "a car in every back yard") was most closely associated with Democrat Al Smith, who used it as an attack on the incumbent GOP.

Finally, a trifecta in his discussion of Theodore Roosevelt (pp. 49-50), who did not order the navy to paint its ships white (USN battleship hulls were white well before the Spanish-American War, as contemporary photographs show); he did not coin the "powerline" "White Water Navy" (the "popular way to describe naval power" is *blue*-water navy); and he did not coin the phrase "The Square Deal" "during his second term" to describe a program including "the establishment of the National Park System" (again Safire, who shows TR first used the phrase in 1901 -- that is, in his first term -- and that "the Square Deal" always referred to trust-busting and other regulation of Big Business, not to things like the park system).

In a way, all this reinforces the question I asked above: is it enough to be memorable? As Cone writes about some great movie taglines, "These lines have struck a chord with our social conscience and live on and on -- the true test of any powerline" (p. 104).

But is that marketing?
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
WORDS WELL CHOSEN May 24 2009
By Phillip Taylor - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is one fascinating book.

`Powerlines' says author Steve Cone are `words well chosen with the power to awe, inspire, motivate, alienate, subjugate, even alter something as significant as the course of history'. `They can even change the buying habits of consumers', he adds, indicating that this a book about marketing and the selling power, not of words in general, but specifically of `words well chosen'-- so apt and apposite that they deliver an impact more powerful than mere slogans and taglines.

`Well, let's have some examples?' I hear you say. The author clearly has his favourites, richly and illustratively sprinkled throughout the text: `A Diamond is Forever'... `Come to Marlboro Country' and so forth.

I have my own favourites, as does everyone. Martin Luther King's `I have a dream' is one. JFK's `Think not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country' is another. `Blood, Sweat, Toil and Tears...' and `their finest hour' are obviously from the prolific pen of Churchill who must be up there with Shakespeare as the finest powerliner in history.

As for the famous DeBeers ads, I think they slightly missed the boat. They could have used `Diamonds are Forever' which, possibly because it expresses the same thought in the plural, is curiously more compelling. It certainly delivered impressive audiences and impressive amounts of box office cash to the collective James Bond enterprise.

Which goes to show the power of a powerline over a mere tagline? `Yes, America Can' attributed to George Bush (just which one isn't specified) falls under the author's general category of `putting America to sleep.' `What a snore,' he says. Slogan it may be, but it is not a powerline like Obama's `Yes we can.' There is something about the pronoun `we' (juxtaposed with `yes') which is involving, memorable and succinct. If you're in advertising or journalism, you'll know the pronoun `you' is even better. Of course, the book's 2008 publication date is a little late for the amiable author to have mined the seam of powerlines emanating from the Obama camp.

While trawling through history for powerline-delivering politicians, poets, military strategists and latterly, marketing men, Cone cites amusingly bad power lines as well as good ones. Examples: the RBS `make it happen' tagline means, as the author says, `absolutely nothing.' Honda's `The Power of Dreams' also gets short shrift. `Maybe their latest models put you in a dreamlike state?' sneers the author. `Not a good thing if you are taking a curve at forty-five miles per hour.'

Succinctness, relevance and meaning are surely components of a great power line, although coming up with one is no easy task. Rule Number One in my book would be, cut out the verbiage and the pretentiousness.

`Less is more,' says Steve Cone. `Great lines are poetry in motion. Every word counts and the whole line must mean something special--so special it has to be remembered.' I could also add that great powerlines must stand out from the information overload which burdens everyday life and I agree with the author observation that 'sadly, the art of creating powerlines is largely forgotten in today's advertising world'.

Another pungent quote from this entertaining Bloomberg publishing house book is that so far, twentieth century marketers haven't created much in the way of lines that make us think, smile or are easy to remember. Perhaps this century needs a good tagline.

The good news is that there is still plenty of time! There certainly is and this book shows all the Steve Cone words are well chosen.

ISBN: 978-157660-304-8
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The ultimate marketing primer! April 30 2008
By Evelyn Keyes - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
With Powerlines Steve Cone rounds the circle, completing this revolutionary book on why companies, cultures, political candidates and countries live and die by using brilliant and not so brilliant slogans and taglines! Cone identifies campaigns and marketing messages throughout history and ultimately provides you with an all time indispensable book that should be on the desk of every advertising and marketing professional in the universe. Cone is the forefront of marketing wisdom!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Catchy guide to words and phrases that sell Jan. 14 2009
By Rolf Dobelli - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
"Powerlines" aren't just thick black wires carrying electrical current. They also lend their name to the jingles, slogans and taglines that have proven powerful enough to make a long-lasting imprint on the collective consciousness. If you've ever found yourself humming, "M'm, M'm, Good," as you open a can of soup, or telling yourself, "Just Do It!" when you go for a run, then you are familiar with this phenomenon. Author Steve Cone ponders why some phrases stick while others live fleetingly and make no impression. He identifies several factors that give powerlines their punch, such as inserting unexpected words, telling a story that resonates with the listener, and using rhythm, cadence and music. Strangely, the book lacks in-depth instruction on how to compose a powerline. Cone prefers to dwell on his favorites, packing the book with quotes and examples, which makes it a fun read for those who want to take a nostalgic stroll down Communication Lane. getAbstract recommends this enjoyable book to media and political buffs, advertising students, marketers and campaign managers.

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