If you’re an astute observer of the advertising industry, you may have noticed a recent trend. From sneaker manufacturers to churches to Pilates studios, everyone seems to be urging us to “Get Your [something] On.” For example:
- Get Your Boogie On
- Get Your Cheer On
- Get Your Snooki On (note: I do not know what a Snooki is)
You get the idea. Last week, I dispatched my great-great grandson to research this phenomenon. And after consulting with several sources accessible via the World Wide Web, he had our answer.
In 2001 a young lady named Missy Elliot had a popular tune called “Get Ur Freak On.” (Apparently, her record label did have a proofreader in its employ.) Around the same time, a gentleman who calls himself Big Tymer also had a hit with the similarly titled, though correctly spelled, “Get Your Roll On.”
Since then, “Get Your …” has appeared in countless advertisements across all major industries. But did you know this tagline has roots that stretch back over 90 years? And the pioneer was none other than yours truly.
One of my first clients as a young, unproven copywriter was the now defunct Whig Party. After reaching its peak in the mid-1800s, the party had shrunken to a small band of loyalists largely confined to several counties in northeastern Alabama. In 1926 they hired my firm to create a recruitment campaign.
Of the several dozen taglines I crafted, one clearly stood out from the rest: “Get Your Whig On.” Sadly, the campaign was a flop. But I knew I had the kernel of a brilliant idea.
The next year, I came up with “Get Your Clam On” for Aunt Mildred’s Clam Juice Cocktail. (The ad, incidentally, featured a young and ravishing Ethel Merman sipping clam juice while posing seductively in a giant clam shell. Ahh … sex will always sell.) Suddenly, my name was known up and down Madison Avenue.
In the years that followed, I enjoyed amazing success with campaigns like these:
- 1928: “Get Your Gruel On,” Quaker’s Instant Gruel
- 1929: “Get Your Asbestos On,” National Association of Asbestos Producers
- 1932: “Get Your Turnip On,” Turnip Farmers of America (encouraging turnip consumption to ward off scurvy)
- 1934: “Get Your Lock On,” Sears chastity belts
- 1937: “Get Your Smell On,” Nurse Shirley’s Smelling Salts (to address fainting, which was common among high-society women in the 1930s)
- 1939: “Get Your Hair Shirt On,” U.S. Catholic Church
Perhaps my crowning achievement was the 1960 campaign for Grandma’s Lye Soap, a great product for treating head lice (“Hey Kids, Get Your Lye On!”) The series of print ads took home a record-setting three Clio Awards.
But in 1969 my good fortune came to an abrupt end when Illinois Bell hired my firm for a campaign touting its new three-way calling feature. Unbeknownst to the client and me, “Get Your Three-Way On” had certain, shall we say, sexual connotations. Days after our ad appeared on Chicago-area television stations, angry mobs rioted, burning the Illinois Bell headquarters to the ground. I was effectively blacklisted on Madison Avenue for 22 years.
I’ve watched from afar as “Get Your …” has once again crept its way into the American consciousness. And I must say, I can’t help but feel a tinge of nostalgia and pride for an idea that truly has stood the test of time. Thank you, Missy Elliot and Big Tymer — you’ve brought a little joy into the life of this old copywriter.
Thaddeus Van Haltren founded The Hired Pens in 1931 and now serves as our senior copywriter emeritus. His current accounts include Moxie soda and Heinz Mince Meat.