The Case for a Performing Tagline
[Katrina Glerum wrote this squib while working for Barclays Global
Investors. She writes by way of introduction:
"....About a year and a half ago, when I arrived at Barclays Global
Investors, my boss, the head of US Marketing, was working on a expensive,
beautiful positioning and advertising campaign. Gorgeous stuff. Totally
unique, intelligent, approachable.
In that work was a tagline, "Performance as planned."
It's an excellent tagline for BGI. It speaks of the
industry. "Performance" alludes to finance. Planning captures the
company's philosophy. Quantitative investing. BGI thinks that theoretical
approaches to investing can consistently out-perform people. Plus, it's
alliterative, balanced, catchy, punchy and all the rest.
The only problem is, you're not allowed to use promissory language in
advertising in this industry. The chief counsel for BGI pronounced,
"Performance as planned" is promissory, and she even staked her job on it.
The Chairman herself backed down. "Perfomance as planned" was killed.
How annoying. The problem was, Counsel was absolutely correct.
There is at least one possible causative interpretation in which the
performance which was achieved was both what was planned for and was
achieved as a result of the planning.
When I heard about the chief counsel killing this tagline, I was
disappointed for all the reasons I've given, but I figured she was
right. Leaning in the doorframe of my colleague's officewho was the
person most responsible for putting this campaign togetherI pondered for
a moment. I kicked the door and wrinkled my nose and furrowed my brow in
irritation. And then I laughed, "Well, how about 'Performance is planned'?"
"That's not promissory. It's not causative. It's descriptive. It simply
declares that performance is planned, not that planned performance is
achieved. And it's certainly true that BGI spends a lot of time planning
for performance." (I didn't speak quite so eloquently at the time.)
Everyone liked it but were too weary to fight for it. So I promised I would
write a semantics paper about the topic. I used to do this all
the time, after all.
So I woke up early the next day, and introducing myself as a person who used
to be a theoretical linguist (theoretically used to be a linguist?), I
wrote something intended to serve as the basis of legal defense in
case "Performance is planned" ever got challenged.
It was all part of my master plan of becoming a thorn in as many powerful
corporate feet as possible."]
Given that the phrase, "Performance is planned", has been proposed as a
tagline for Barclays Global Investors, the purpose of this paper to explore
possible interpretations of this phrase, with specific attention paid to the
aspect of promissory intent.
As this is part of a wider discussion that has ensued for the past several
months, we will refer to the work that has gone before on earlier proposals,
namely "Performance as planned" and "Performance. Precision. Partnership." This,
we hope, will establish our position that "Performance is planned" is different
from previous suggestions in a slight but significant way that is both logically
definable and legally defensible as not promissory.
As a side note before entering the semantics side of this argument, we feel
it is important to mention a few key points about the proposed tagline that
don't pertain to its legal defensibility per se, but are strong arguments in
favor of its adoption nevertheless, and should not be discounted lightly. That
is, "Performance is planned" (which shares all the advantages of "Performance as
planned") is a great example of what a tagline should be. It is the
product of months of focused research, debate and effort, distilled into a
single phrase that is perceived as powerful and memorable, inside and outside
the firm. It captures the essence of our brand, our core philosophy, our
industry and our value proposition. Moreover, frankly, its alliterative and
prosodic qualities make it quite catchy.
What is promissory?
First it is useful to analyze "promissory". What exactly is it that we are
enjoined against advertising? This is important because in fact, we are not
proscribed from all promissory messages. Promissory simply means giving some
sort of promise or guarantee. Well, we are allowed to promise some things. We
can promise to be trustworthy. We can promise to treat our customers like
partners. We can promise to plan carefully and execute precisely. What we
are not allowed to advertise is a promise of any specific
performancegood, bad or indifferent.
Performance is a feature of our industry. It is the underlying measuring
stick for product value. So simply mentioning performance, such as in the phrase
"Performance. Precision. Partnership.", is not deemed promissory, because we
certainly are going to provide performance, as is every one of our competitors,
whether it's a good year or a bad year. Sure, it's assumed that we are
suggesting good performance, because it's a basic assumption that advertisers
always promote themselves or their products, but the phrase "Performance.
Precision. Partnership." doesn't say good performance (or bad
performance, or any type of specific performance) so it's basically considered
The phrase "Performance as planned", is considered promissory, however,
because there is at least one possible interpretation, in which we would be
considered to be promising specific performance, namely, the specific
performance that we planned for. Again, good, bad or indifferent, if we promise
to deliver the performance we planned to deliver, that is promissory in the
legally indefensible sense.
We argue that this promissory effect is delivered through the use of the
word, "as". "As" in this phrase has a causative interpretation. This means that
we are saying that past planning is what has, or will, cause obtained
performance. Frustrating though it was to lose the option of using this tagline,
we feel the argument against it was quite right.
How does the replacement of "as" with "is" change anything then?
To examine this question, it is useful to explore the elements of this
sentence carefully. As we said earlier, "performance", in and of itself, is not
promissory, because everyone in this business is going to obtain performance of
some sort. "Planned" is the past participle of the verb plan, and is
used as either a completive adjective or a past to present continuous state.
It is descriptive, and may be true or false, but it is not promissory.
The most interesting word here is the copula, "is". The copula has several
possible meanings, including existence ("I think therefore I am."),
equation ("2+2 is 4"), and adjectival assignative ("The grass is
green."). There are many more, of course, but just a quick look will show that
the third case, adjectival assignative, is the correct interpretation. To put
it generally, this sentence structure is essentially "A is B-like." Existence
would have to be said, "Performance is", and equation would have to be
expressed by two balanced noun phrases, i.e., "Performance is planning."
The key question then is what is the logical or possibly interpreted relation
between the subject, "Performance" and the past participle "planned" as
expressed by the word "is".
Logically, in this sentence structure "is" assigns a quality to the subject,
in this case the aspect of completive planning. When we say, "The grass is
green", there is clearly no interpretation that makes the grass' existence the
result of its greenness. Or in other words, the grass would still be grass even
if it wasn't greenalbeit different grass. But this is not the point. "Is"
assigns a quality of greenness to the grass, but it doesn't change the grass,
affect the grass, or imply that the grass would be any different, in any aspect
but color, if it hadn't been green.
Grass and green are rather simple concepts however, and performance is much
more complex. For a more comparable phrase consider the sentence "Solidarity is
desired." Here we have a rich, conceptual noun, "solidarity", which is described
by a past participle adjective "desired." As you see, this sentence does not say
that solidarity is caused by desire. It does not even say that solidarity has
been achieved. It just says that one of the qualities of solidarity (in the
context of this sentence) is that it has been desired, or is in the state of
having been and being desired, with "by someone" presupposed.
The same rules apply to "Performance is planned." This sentence assigns the
quality of planning or having been planned (by someone) to the concept of
performance. It does not say that performance is caused by planning.
Norand this is keydoes it say that any specific type of
performance has been achieved by planning. What it says, is that performance
is something that people in some sense plan fornot something that
they necessarily achieve as they have planned it.
The possible interpretations of this phrase then are:
- The way to achieve desired performance is to plan for it. (Not promissory,
this is the statement of an investment philosophy, which happens to be our
- People somewherepresumably at BGIare planning so as to achieve
specific performance. (Not promissory as it describes an empirically provable
action or state.)
The essential difference between "Performance as planned" and "Performance is
planned" lies in the fact that we cannot prove that we will get the performance
that we are planning for, and therefore to suggest that we can is to be
promissory about specific performance, which is illegal, or at least
non-compliant. But we can prove, and therefore promise, that we are
planning for performance, because we do this every day. More to the
point, this is the fundamental belief that drives our entire business
philosophy, so we should be proud of promising it.
Can we defend it in bad times?
On a related note, we'd like to address another argument that was made
against "Performance as planned", with respect to "Performance is planned",
namely, how do we defend the tagline in times of underperformance. When the word
"as" is used, as we noted, there is a causative relation between performance and
planning. This means that if we have a bad year we have to say, either, we got
the negative performance we planned for, or our tagline is false. When we use
"is" we are saying that we planned for performance, and we planned for risk, and
we may have hit our targets or we didn't, but while we may have to change our
planning, we did our best.
In other words, it's basically the same argument that we must use as a firm
to defend periods of underperformance anyway, and therefore we should be no more
constrained by our tagline than we are by our sales efforts in general. To put
it more bluntly, if, as a firm, we can't defend our performance, it means that
our process has failed and we shouldn't be worried about a