The sum total of Stanford's distilled brilliance, the essence of sports. Shakespeare said, "Brevity is the soul of wit," so somewhere he's laughing. Everyone else? They want the athletic department to get a refund check.
You know what I'm offended by? A smart school being so stupid. Can I retroactively withdraw my Stanford Law School application? The one that got rejected 25 seconds after it arrived on campus? I've visited Stanford, the place is heaven on earth -- perfect weather, gorgeous campus, easy access to San Francisco, Tiger Woods, girls who will sleep with you because they think it's cool that you can name 76 of the 100 United States senators. So the Stanford brand is pretty strong. Now, the school isn't a football behemoth by any stretch of the imagination, but the football players do tend to graduate and do something with their lives that doesn't include turning their toothbrushes into shivs.
So I'm offended by the idiocy. (In addition to being offended by the fact that anyone could be offended by anything other than the idiocy.)
"We work" is the kind of slogan a school that doesn't actually graduate its players should have. Because the sentence doesn't end, right now it just sort of floats on air, away into the distance. We work ... it begs to be finished. You can easily imagine someone from a rival school showing up late one night and appending a variety of additions to the billboard. Maybe "at McDonald's" or "at the halfway house." But "we work" standing alone and unadorned? It's just nonsensical.
Look, I'm no marketing guru. I can't use words like paradigm shift and user-generated content and poonhound magnet and make otherwise astute businessmen cough up cash like they're paying ransom for kidnapped family members in Colombia. But I can tell you when something is dumb ... really dumb.
I still remember watching CNBC one afternoon when they got a hot tip about Coke's new marketing slogan. "Taste it all." Seriously, that was it. The host announcing it couldn't even keep a straight face. If someone uttered this phrase in a late-night Cinemax movie you wouldn't be able to keep a straight face either. But pair it with a beverage and the geniuses in Coke marketing believed it was unassailable brilliance.
So forgive me if sometimes I wonder what exactly advertising people do all day, especially when they produce slogans like "We work." I truly want to know how this happened. I'm picturing eight people in turtlenecks of different colors sitting around an Ikea table brainstorming. Idea after idea is rejected and then one person comes up with "We work," and everyone stands up and starts giving discreet fist bumps. Then everyone takes a month off work.
Think about this, what if you came up with another slogan, any other slogan, "Football American: Catch It!," it was rejected, and then your boss unveiled, "We work." Wouldn't you just quit on the spot?
Right about now, someone is thinking, yeah, but it's advertising, you're writing about it, Clay. They win. Not true. All publicity may be good publicity. That's true when it's free publicity. When you pay someone to make you look dumb, you lose. Period.
Put simply, I don't believe that most advertising sloganeers are actually very good at what they do. Most of them are like real estate agents, they don't do much but they end up costing you lots of money. I've never owned a large company, but I picture it as being the equivalent of sitting down to sign the sales contract for your house. You're happy, thinking about how much of your new house you're going to have as an equity down payment, and then a woman who applies make-up with a paint-roller takes ten grand from you. For showing the house four times and typing up a listing.
"We work," she might say in response to your query about how the hell she ended up with so much of your money.
Just to show how disappointed I was with the new slogan, I spent ten minutes jotting down more interesting slogans for Stanford football. Here goes:
1. Subject + verb
I actually like this a lot better. It cuts to the essence of "We work" and casts it in a post-modern light. Of course it also gives me chills because it takes me back to 7th grade English class when our teacher, Ms. Treherne, used to make us come up to the front of the classroom and do sentence diagramming races on the blackboard.
I don't know where she is now, but I think if she heard I'd come up with "We work" she would slap me in the head with an eraser and make me take another one of her sentence diagramming tests where you got either a 100 or a 0. Seriously, perfection or failure, the ultimate English crucible.
I can think of an advertising agency that could use her right now.
2. USC's Worst Nightmare
This works pretty well as a shot across the bow at the most dominant Pac-10 team of the decade. Plus, it's accurate. Jim Harbaugh took his Stanford team into USC in 2007 and ended the Trojans 35-game home winning streak with an unbelievable upset. You know Pete Carroll still wakes up drenched in sweat thinking about this game.
Image: Harbaugh standing on a field holding several footballs near his waist.
Yeah, it's a bit crude but it also conveys that the coach is fearless, that the team will play with swagger. And every college football fan on earth would know about this slogan.
4. The Cardinal Rule: Win
A much more traditional slogan, but one that is, conservatively, four billion percent better than the chosen slogan.
5. Stanford Football: Better Than Your High School (except if you went to De La Salle)
Okay, this one isn't likely to make the cut.
6. Clay Travis Wasn't Smart Enough To Go To Law School Here
Upside: It's true.
Downside: My name recognition in the Silicon Valley rests at .0001%
Also, it doesn't really involve football.
7. Two-Time Defending Rose Bowl Champs*
Just make the asterisk so small that no one can actually see it.
*1971 and 1972
8. Palo Alto Attitude
Let's be clear, crossing out words in ads is the new pink. Alto has a very effeminate connotation. It's hard to imagine a football team being very good if they played in a town named Palo Alto. But Palo Attitude? How could they not be good?
9. Remember Buddy Teevens? We don't either. His era is over.
Evidently, Stanford's coach from 2002-2004 was this guy. Honestly, you've never heard of him either. He replaced Tyrone Willingham and went 10-23. But he was 3-0 against San Diego State.
10. Wine Country With Cleats
Granted, wine country is about 80 miles away, but can you imagine if you could hit that market? Rich, discretionary income, frequently drunk but unwilling to admit it. Plus, you can't spell wine without w-i-n.
I kindly donate all of these suggestions to the soon to be fired advertising execs behind "We work." Please, Stanford, make me feel better about the rejection of my application.