Tag – you’re IT!  The importance of having the right tagline

Nike SloganOh, the wonder of beautifully crafted taglines. Those few strategically selected words that sum up everything your business stands for and what you want your target audience to know about you. They’ve made companies fortunes by telling people what makes them stand out in the sea of sameness. Consider FedEx’s brilliant “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” Nine simple words that tell FedEx buyers precisely what they’re going to get, while simultaneously informing all of its employees what their mission is. What if FedEx’s slogan was “We ship things!”?  Would Nike be as successful if it allowed an executive committee to red-pencil “Just do it” into “When you need great shoes?” How would BMW’s vision change if “The Ultimate Driving Machine” became “Our cars are fun to drive!” My point is that these companies didn’t settle for weak platitudes or vague, generalized statements that could have applied to their competitors.  Nope, they decided that they weren’t going to settle. Instead standing out and differentiating themselves was business-critical. Can the same be said for your company and its marketing?  Do you have a themeline or slogan that makes you stand out?  Is it unique and memorable? Or is it mediocre because somewhere down the line, people settled?

Imagine you owned a small piece of your buyers’ brains. And every time they thought about making a purchase where your product or service could be considered as an option, the brand or company name came to mind. For example if they were thirsty, they thought, “This Buds for you, “ or if they wanted a burger they thought, “Have it your way!” or if they when were tired and looking for a lodging for the night they remembered “We’ll leave the light on for ya!” That’s what the marketing slogans from Budweiser, Burger King and Motel 6 do, they help people remember a product and increase their propensity to buy.  And that’s what a good marketing slogan can do for you. Unlike your company tagline or marketing message, your marketing slogan may change regularly or you may have more than one. For example American Express has: “Membership has its privileges.” And “ Don’t leave home without it.”

The taglines that work the hardest are not puns or rhymes, but ones that present many layers of meaning, where one layer can speak to the product while another speaks to value or even a brand a brand belief.  It can manifest itself in any number of ways…online or offline. In ads and as a social media hashtag. On promotional products and product packaging. Most everywhere.

So what does a good tagline do? At its best, a good tagline conveys a singular value, loud and clear, on what a brand stands for. Remember, powerful words are powerful things. It also connects across all generations, geographies and markets, and becomes relevant for the consumer in his or her own personal way. And the right tagline doesn’t work for competitors because it’s only unique to your brand/company.  Unfortunately, far, far, far too many taglines are generic and meaningless. In this time of technology disruption and increasing competition, clear positioning is valuable. Problems occur when the company and its messaging doesn’t have a focus, or the tagline could apply just as easily to other companies. In the marketplace, taglines are used to quickly communicate company differentiation.  That said, taglines aren’t developed for customers alone. They’re also important for internal audiences as they can align an organization around a common cause and vision.

With that in mind, there are plenty of taglines out there that don’t work because they fail to connect. They’re easily overlooked, dismissed as “every day,” they lack originality or even mistaken for another brand.  This usually happens when one of these mistakes happens:

  • It’s full of “BLAH” so there’s no reason for anyone to remember it
  • They’re arrogant— i.e. “Largest in the World”
  • Hard to say, no rhythm
  • Saying what everyone else has said
  • Stating the year founded (e.g., “Since 1925”) – only says you’ve managed to exist

Alternatively, good taglines have a number of hard-working qualities to them. They’re:

  • Memorable. You hear it, memorize it quickly, and repeat it with ease.
  • Short. There’s no set number but best in 5 words or less.
  • Express a brand’s point of difference. It sets your brand apart from others and wouldn’t work for competitors.
  • Meaningful. A message your audience will care about and understand.
  • Original. It also needs to be believable and unique.

The process of developing a fresh, original and imaginative tagline is no easy task. From competitive research and brainstorming to paring down the list of options to more brainstorming, the process can take more time than you think …not to mention the back-and-forth given the stakeholders who are involved. And even then, the tagline may not be “all that.” That said, here’s how powerful a tagline can be – after 50+ years!  Avis Rent-A-Car built its business with “We Try Harder” (which they finally put out to pasture just a few years ago). How the phrase came to be sounds like something out of Mad Men. The tagline was created in 1962 and actually came about in the response that Bill Bernbach, the co-founder of DDB, received from company management when asking why anyone ever rents a car from them. “We try harder” was the answer.  Within a year, Avis turned a profit for the first time in over a decade and the rest is history.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

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