A tagline – the slogan you attach to your brand – should be memorable, not empty, salesy, or clichéd. Too often, companies make their tagline an afterthought, a knee jerk impulse, or they overthink it (it’s accurate but not interesting).
A Tagline is a Short, Pointed Story
Great taglines reward the audience’s attention with the same regard we have for our own.
In other words, if you want a fun or inspiring scenario when you give your attention to something, then that’s what should go into a tagline designed to captivate, motivate, and tickle your audience. Some examples:
Tell a story: “Don’t leave home without it” (American Express), “Reach out and touch someone” (AT&T). These taglines start with a story people can visualize and understand – a universally powerful situation, like needing the security of access to money when you travel – or the warmth of reaching out to a loved one from far away. Then, they reduce the story to a single sentence that captures the heart of it. “Say it with flowers” (FTD). Can you imagine a universal story that led to that?
But get to the point: “Works like a dream” (Ambien), “Stronger than dirt” (Ajax). These taglines zero in on a problem the audience is trying to solve. What is it clients really want, in one word? Then they create a scene around that word that starts with what the client has already tried that has failed. Other sleep medicine didn’t work. Other cleaners weren’t ‘strong’ enough. The tagline tells us how exactly *how* the product or service delivers what it promises to do.
An effective tagline is brief and puts us “at the scene of the crime” like “the shot heard ’round the world”.
A Bad Tagline Has No Story Arc
A strong tagline acknowledges and reflects audience motivations or says how things could be better for them (incorporates audience dreams, wishes, and goals). That’s the arc of aspiration that respects the audience’s attention. The fundamental inauthenticity of bad taglines is a lack of respect for the audience.
Look at this little taxonomy of tagline shame:
Pavlovian Taglines: “The Right Choice”, “The Time is Now” – these slogans attempt, unconvincingly, to elicit an automatic response in prospective clients. The inauthenticity is that it lacks a fundamental respect for clients’ basic intelligence. And even if your clients truly aren’t so smart, maybe that’s because your pitch isn’t.
Self-Award Taglines: “The First Name in (insert industry)”, “The #1 Provider of (insert service or product)” – these slogans try to claim a status they haven’t earned, like a roadside diner that claims “best apple pie in America” or a faux pub with “world famous Irish stew” – how many times have you seen that? After all, if you really did have the best of the best, you wouldn’t have to say it – you’d be getting blue ribbons pinned on it by the dozens. And merely *saying* that you’re the best doesn’t respect prospective clients’ savvy. They don’t believe things just because we say them.
High Concept Taglines: “Our force is your energy” (Olivetti), “Ask why” (Enron), “We want you to live” (Mobil). Did you get any of that? Neither did anyone else. If it reads like the Tao Te Ching, it’s got no zing. If it makes you say hmmm, it makes them say zzzzz. Etc. The inauthenticity? We’re enamoured with our own profundity, and think others will follow us, sheeplike, into an artificial zen of our own making. In other words, we don’t think our clients are as profound as we are.
Corporate Rhetoric Taglines: “Excellence through total quality” (Ames Rubber), “Quality and innovation” (Goodyear), “A commitment to quality and value” (Jockey). Are you asleep yet? That’s because we regular humans begin to glaze over when we hear corporate metrics, financial targets, and marketing parameters positioned as slogans. The inauthenticity is the assumption that clients value what we want them to value and what we tell them to value. In short we think of clients the way middle managers think of employees, as “human resources”.
The Story is About THEM, Not US
Taglines that engage the audience are ABOUT the audience.
The most effective taglines are not about your name, your brand, you as a professional, your service, your product, or your company. They’re wholly about the audience. You’ve already said enough about you, because your tagline usually comes right after your logo or brand name anyway. With a few exceptions (“Rolaids spells relief”), the tagline should be consumed with the people you’re trying to reach. Marketers use cliches too, like “engaging” an audience – but what we actually mean by “engaging” is that content should…
Challenge us: “Betcha can’t eat just one” (Lays). “We’re looking for a few good men” (US Army). “Only you can prevent forest fires” (US Forest Service). “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature” (Chiffon).
Give us a puzzle: “Think outside the box” (Apple). “Where’s the beef?” (Wendys). “Does she or doesn’t she?” (Clairol).
Transport us to satisfaction: “Good to the last drop” (Maxwell House). “It’s not a job, it’s an adventure” (US Navy). “The ultimate driving machine” (BMW). “Everything flows to your door” (MadPipe).
Think outside the box. Remembered in the first episode of Mad Men, when the 1960 Readers Digest report came out about the harmful effects of smoking, the FDA clamped down on tobacco ads. Cigarette companies couldn’t say much without getting slapped down by the regulators. So Lucky Strike focused said simply “It’s Toasted”. That was an indisputable fact about how cigarettes are made, but it said to the consumer “enjoy it–the rest is incidental’. Whatever we may think about the product, the tagline stuck in 1917, brought a 200% increase in market share, and ran for decades (I saw it in the 70s). Indeed, such was the brand loyalty to Lucky Strikes as representative of self-directed individual choice, that people just called them “Luckies” (as far back as the 1930s). You didn’t have that with Pall Malls.
This isn’t a complete taxonomy. It’s just an illustration of what’s possible with great great taglines. You can experiment with taglines, even if you don’t want to use customers as guinea pigs. If you’re a sales exec in a networking group; experiment on it with a different catchphrase each week.
MadPipe does this. If you need to get closer, right from the start, that will come out of a deep dive into your brand narrative with a corporate storyteller to understand your company, its clients, and its values and translate it into multiple story arcs. From their, it’s much easier to brainstorm killer taglines. Keep in mind, as your business evolves its offerings, markets, value proposition, and clientele, you’re likely to change taglines. The story needs to be revisited routinely.
This post originally appeared August 20, 2014 and is making its reappearance with a few new ideas and thoughts.