Love it or hate it, “Keep Calm and Carry On” is one of the most recognizable slogans in the world. Based on Google searches, the slogan reached its peak of popularity in March of 2012 and has slowly been dwindling out of popularity ever since. But where did the slogan and imagery come from? Certainly, at some point in the past few years you have heard hearsay about the origins on of the massively popular slogan, but do you know the true story?
It all began just before World War II broke out on British soil in 1954. The British Ministry of Information wanted to encourage a positive outlook on the Home Front during WWII, and thought the best way to inspire the people may be in the form of propaganda posters. In preparation for the coming war, Britain printed 2.45 million copies of the iconic “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters, and planned to issue them when the war began. However, officials could not agree on whether the message would be well received or not, so the posters were never officially authorized for public view.
Not to be completely wasted, the vast majority of the posters were victims of Britain’s wartime recycling campaign. The handful of posters that remained in existence stayed hidden from public view for over 60 years. Until one fateful day in 2000, when the owners of a second-hand book store found and posted a dusty copy of the “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster in their store window. The poster received immediate positive attention, and the bookstore owners were selling reproductions of the poster by 2001.
Once the initial reproduction began, the poster spread like wildfire throughout the world via Social networks and retail stores. The image could be seen on anything from coffee mugs to memes.
Marketers rack their brains trying to predict what the next latest and greatest trend is going to be, so what can we learn from the proliferation of the classic slogan?
The timing of your marketing message is extremely important in how viewers are going to receive the message. In the case of the re-found “Keep Calm and Carry On” slogan, the timing was ideal for what the message is trying to convey. The year 2001 marked a pivotal point in Britain’s economic downturn, and the people of Britain were in dire need of a little “pick-me-up.”
Sixty years ago, when it was decided that the posters would not be presented to the public, the main criticism was that the phrase was seen as “too commonplace to be inspiring.” Officials feared the public would feel patronized by the posters rather than inspired, which very well could have been the case. There is a big difference between wartime and a time of major economic crisis. Telling someone to suck it up and keep moving may seem insensitive during a time of war, but the message rings true and valid for a time when money troubles are getting someone down.
Another element factoring into the success of the graphic and slogan is the classic and timeless design. The typeface was originally designed to be “special and handsome” so that it would more difficult for the Germans to counterfeit (Keep Calm and Reich On?). The simple King George VI crown added a simplistic icon to support the message. Lesson to be learned: a well-designed handsome typeface and simplistic icon will last decades and be ever relevant.
Although the over-exposed slogan is seeing the tail end of its success, it is important to note when messages, icons, and slogans catch the attention of people worldwide. Marketers should take note of the identifiable success factors and the source of those factors. Simply put, the noticeable success factors for “Keep Calm and Carry On” source from timing of the message and a classic design.