Further With Ford?

Behold the current advertising slogan for the Ford Motor Company:

Go Further

Not surprisingly, a bit of a stink has arisen over Ford’s wording. It’s almost as if the company were begging for those who know the difference between farther (applied to physical distance) and further (applied to extent, degree, or the abstract) to gin up a controversy and keep the car maker’s name in the news – or, more likely, in blogs frequented by Wordies.

There’s no reason to doubt that Ford’s ad agency knows the score and decided to take further for a spin on the metaphorical highway. Yet cars are so identified with distance, the choice can’t help but strike a wrong note. One wonders why the agency simply didn’t go with far, imbued as it is with both senses: the metaphorical (as in “You’ll go far, my child”) and that of physical distance. And besides, Go Far is much crisper. WTF?*

A Like Commotion. A bigger brouhaha exploded in the mid-twentieth century, when the new slogan and jingle for Winston cigarettes – “Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should” – set off alarms for by-the-book English teachers and other prescriptivists. The offense?, Using the conjunction like (as in “like father, like son”) in place of as. Proper usage aside, the slogan had what Malcolm Gladwell, in his bestselling book The Tipping Point (2000), called the Stickiness Factor – the ability to stick around for a good long while. Indeed, the slogan stuck around from 1954 to 1972, having arrived seven years before Webster’s Third scandalized wordfolk by going where no dictionary had gone before (for a taste of that hubbub, click here). Gladwell went on to write, “At the time, the [slogan’s] ungrammatical and somehow provocactive use of “like” instead of “as” created a minor sensation. It was the kind of phrase people talked about…”

Such was the rigid temper of the times. The reputation of the word like suffered another blow in the 1970s, when it joined the conversational “filler” club – a pack of ne’er-do-well, meaningless utterances including uh, um, er, and y’know. Consider it a triumph for Valley Girls and a tragedy for the kind of stuffed shirts who occupy a higher plane, if only in their own minds.

*What the, er, fuel?

2 Responses to Further With Ford?

  • Erik Kowal says:

    I venture to guess that Ford’s decision to go with ‘further’ rather than ‘father’ is chiefly based on the difference in the way the two words sound,

    For one thing, ‘farther’ sounds identical** to ‘father’; this might cause people to subconsciously suggest that — while probably reliable — Ford-branded cars are intended for old people.

    Judging from the large number of 60- and 70-year-olds who like to drive expensive sports cars, even old people have an aversion to buying cars that seem as though they are intended to be driven by old people. Inside most of us there is still a sixteen-year-old who isn’t ageing very gracefully.

    The second factor may be the greater degree of difference exhibited by the first vowel sound in ‘farther’ compared with that of the vowel in ‘Ford’. Certainly to my ear, ‘Further with Ford’ sounds a lot more euphonious than ‘Farther with Ford’: winners race good, like a sub-Corvette should. In addition, it has the twin advantages over ‘Far with Ford’ of a catchier rhythm and the implication that a Ford not only goes far, it goes farther (further?) than the competing brands.

    A final factor may, as you suggest, be the possibility that Ford anticipated a certain amount of linguistic controversy over their marketing decision. To the extent that this would make their tag more memorable in the public mind (especially in these days of viral social media activity) it could only help to raise the profile of the brand, but in a context that was unlikely to damage it.

    ** Or almost, depending on your regional speech characteristics.

  • Erik Kowal says:

    In my haste to submit the above comment, I slightly misworded the slogan. It is, of course, ‘Go further with Ford’, not simply ‘Further with Ford’.

    Well, so much for a copywriting career.

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