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The Stories Behind 6 Famous Slogans

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Though some of the greatest advertising slogans in history seem relatively simple ("Just Do It" is only three words, after all), most of the time, they're anything but. Here's how six of the most enduring taglines came to be.

1. “Just Do It.” The famous Nike slogan came from a rather unlikely source - spree killer Gary Gilmore, who received the death penalty for murdering two people in Utah in July, 1976. Just before a firing squad did their duty, Gilmore was asked if he had any last words. “Let’s do it,” he simply said. When Dan Wieden of Wieden+Kennedy was tapped to create a tagline for Nike a decade later, something about Gilmore’s words just seemed to fit. “Let’s” was changed to “Just” to add a dash of emphasis.

2. “Good to the Last Drop.”

Maxwell House has a pretty neat story for this one. They claim that while Teddy Roosevelt was visiting Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage in 1907, he insisted on taking a cup of coffee where Old Hickory once enjoyed his meals, saying, “I must have the privilege of saying that I have eaten at General Jackson's table.” As the story goes, after thoroughly enjoying his joe, Teddy smacked his lips and declared that the stuff was “good to the last drop.” Some years later, the coffee giant decided the slogan was a double win - it was a catchy phrase, but it also provided celebrity endorsement.

That being said, there’s a pretty good chance that the whole tale is just a pretty good bit of PR. The Theodore Roosevelt Association, however, claims they know of a credible witness who verified the whole conversation.

More from mental_floss writer Bill DeMain:
A few tidbits about Maxwell House – A Nashville Banner article from 1907 quoted Teddy Roosevelt as saying of that famous cup of coffee: “This is the kind of stuff I like to drink, by George, when I hunt bears.” Nothing about “good to the last drop.” Though maybe that phrase didn’t sound as quotable back then. Regardless, it was a big deal to have the president enjoying your brand of coffee, and in the days after Roosevelt’s visit, three different coffee companies in Nashville ran ads in the Banner claiming it was their java, not Maxwell House’s, that Teddy liked. Finally, though Maxwell House started using the “good to the last drop” slogan in print ads around 1917, they waited until long after Roosevelt was dead before they started using his name and image in their ads.

3. “A Diamond is Forever.” I wish I was one of those people who went to bed with a problem and woke up with the solution in my head. I’m not, but apparently copywriter Frances Gerety was, because she said the famous De Beers slogan came to her in a dream in 1947. It’s certainly enduring - the tagline has been a De Beers mainstay ever since. Advertising Age even named it the best slogan of the 20th century.

4. “We try harder.” This one is a rare moment of truth in advertising, according to Time magazine. When given the difficult task of making Avis seem appealing - Hertz had a firm lock on the top rental car spot in the U.S. - famed copywriter Bill Bernbach asked company president Robert Townsend why he thought anyone would use his company. “We try harder,” Townsend decided, and a slogan was born.

5. “I People weren’t exactly in a New York state of mind in 1977. Tourism was down, the city was getting a reputation for being dirty, and Deputy Commissioner of the NY State Department of Commerce William Doyle decided to do something about it. He requested a catchy ad campaign to boost tourism, and man, did he get one. Respected designer Milton Glaser created the iconic image thinking it would just be part of a quick, three-month campaign. He had no idea it would still be in use years later, even becoming a rallying cry after 9/11. The kicker: he did the work pro bono.

6. “That was Easy.” It would be nice if real life worked like the Staples ads: when you’re overwhelmed with work, chores, or life in general, all you have to do is push a button and some inventive and humorous solution magically appears to whisk your troubles away. Leslie Sims, a senior VP at advertising agency McCann Erickson, thought the same thing. Staples’ Easy button and “That was easy” line was... well, it wasn’t easy. It took a long time to come up with a concept that could quickly and handily show the abstract idea of “easy.”

I sense another post like this in my future - what slogans do you find intriguing?

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Animals
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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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iStock

It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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