all posts in communication

Why brand interactions are kind of like The Avengers

In the Avengers comics, several superheroes have to team up to beat a single, super-powerful bad guy.

It’s the same with brand interactions: It takes a lot of positives to overcome a negative.

Bad experiences are powerful. They stick with us. We won’t explore the complex reasons for this here, but the fact is, a single negative can wipe out all the positives that came before it. Any positives that might follow had better be pretty heroic – or the customer/brand relationship is doomed.

A quick story illustrates this:

For months I’d been receiving direct mail flyers from a digital services provider. Bit by bit, their beautifully designed and well-written mailers convinced me I should bundle my Internet, phone and TV service into one product they provide.

My wife and I drove to one of the brand’s retail stores to sign up. The store was new, well laid out, and fun to look around in. We started getting excited about how cool it was going to be to have the service.

But all the positivity building up was about to get knocked out cold by a single negative: The guy signing us up for the service wasn’t knowledgeable.

Maybe he was new, but that doesn’t matter. When we asked a question – whether it was about a promotional discount, options or installation – he either didn’t know or looked very uncertain as he flailed at an answer. (I’ve seen deer about to be flattened by semis that looked more relaxed.)

His lack of preparedness gradually unnerved us and made us question if we were doing the right thing. (At one point during the excruciating process we almost said forget it.)

In the end we ordered the service, but with the caveat that we could cancel the order prior to the installation date. We drove home agitated and confused, leaning towards canceling.

Fortunately for this brand, however, all was not lost. It was about to be rescued by the extraordinary technical support person I called when I got home. She was a marvel. She had answers. She had energy. She took ownership of my problems and solved them. In the end I was so impressed I had her get her supervisor on the phone so I could rave. I wouldn’t be surprised if she wears a cape and tights to work; she was that good.

But here’s the bottom line: Had she not used all her powers to overcome the damage done by the store experience, a customer would have been lost.

So let’s remember that every brand interaction counts. Your agency can produce award-winning work for you, but that’s only part of brand-building. The follow-through has to happen at every touchpoint.

 

Three Rules of English that good copy frequently breaks (and why it’s necessary to do so)

You’ve heard the saying, You have to know the rules before you can break them.

It’s absolutely true when it comes to advertising copy.

Writing a good ad (or any marketing message) requires you to understand sentence structure, punctuation, grammar, etc.

You, know…all the stuff crotchety Mrs. Schneider drilled into your head in high school English class. Or tried to.

But readable copy often breaks Mrs. Schneider’s beloved rules.

In fact, for copy to be “conversational” in tone, breaking them is practically a requirement.

Why? Because people break the rules all the time when they speak.

So you’ll need to break some rules too…if you want your message to be perceived as one human speaking to another.

This doesn’t, however, give us license to butcher the king’s English. The rules we can break are limited to a mere three.

Here they are, along with justification for breaking them:

1. Never begin a sentence with a conjunction (such as “and,” “but” or “or.”).

Copywriters break this rule all the time. And with good reason. Conjunctions provide a connection between two thoughts. But in speech people don’t always connect those two thoughts in a single sentence. They often split them up. And since copywriters strive to write in a way that mirrors the way people talk, it’s natural to do the same in copy.

But that’s not the only reason for putting an “and” or “but” at the beginning of a sentence. Doing so also lets us chop long sentences into two shorter ones that are easier to read.

Take this one, for example:

Going to the movies is a favorite pastime of many Americans, but the price of seeing a movie, combined with their poor quality of late, has many people opting to stay home.

It’s not exactly a run-on. Still it can be made a little less daunting for the reader if it’s divided in two.

Going to the movies is a favorite pastime of many Americans. But the price of seeing a movie, combined with their poor quality of late, has many people opting to stay home.

It’s a minor change, yes, but it makes the copy just a little easier for the reader. And every little bit helps.

2. Write in complete sentences, not fragments.

Complete sentences are great for annual reports and college term papers, but adhering to this rule in copywriting can lead to stiff, unnatural-sounding copy and dull, run-on sentences, such as this example:

Established in 1911 by brothers Bob and Frank Widget, Widget Investments is a respected global player with holdings around the world, a stake in numerous established business enterprises, and assets totaling $100 billion, all driven by a philosophy that always keeps us striving to reach higher, acquire more and do better.

Who’d want to wade through all that? Shorter sentences and liberal use of fragments make the message more palatable:

Widget Investments was established in 1911 by brothers Bob and Frank Widget. Today it’s a respected global player. One with holdings around the world. A stake in numerous established business enterprises. And assets totaling $100 billion. All driven by a philosophy that keeps us striving. To reach higher. Acquire more. Do better.

Ah, that’s better. The spaces between sentences give the copy – and the reader – a chance to breathe. So unless your readers positively adore lengthy Dickensian prose, opt for shorter sentences and fragments as necessary.

3. Don’t use slang.

Use discretion when breaking this one. It’s true that copy directed toward a particular audience has to speak their language. And sometimes that means adopting their lingo. But be warned: Don’t attempt this unless you’re sure you can pull it off. Nothing kills credibility faster than getting caught trying to fake authenticity.

So let’s say you want to announce to an audience of tech-savvy 20-somethings that your company has just developed a new application for the iPhone. You’ll have to judge whether it’s wiser to 1) describe the features and benefits of this outstanding iPhone application or to 2) give ’em the 411 on this killer iPhone app.

Likewise, you can decide whether it’s better to tell a hip youth audience that you’re going to 1) offer them some free merchandise or that you’ll 2) hook them up with some freebie swag.

You feel me?

As in all cases of rule-breaking, good judgment should be used. The goal isn’t to see how many rules you can break, it’s to make the communication as effortless as possible. So take some creative license, just don’t abuse it.

5 Steps to Having a Great Idea

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The “creative process” is indeed a process.

Some folks think ad agency people “sit around and think up ideas all day.”

This makes the creative process sound random and effortless, neither of which is true.

Agencies would quickly go out of business if they just “sat around” waiting for inspiration to strike.
They need a way to regularly and consistently create interesting ideas for the ads (and other stuff) they produce.

So…here it is, broken down into five simple steps:

1. Preparation

Getting ready to have an idea requires immersing yourself in the product or service you want to promote, learning everything you can about it, asking lots of questions. (Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”)

This may involve talking to engineers about a design, visiting a factory to see how a product is made or interviewing users of a service. It’s a lot of work, but without this necessary step you won’t have sufficient information from which to draw forth a great idea.

2. Incubation

After you’ve loaded your brain with information, it’s time let your mind work its magic. This step is equal parts work and fun, active and passive, conscious and unconscious.

The “work” part is brainstorming different solutions. The “fun” part is doing something completely unrelated, which frees up your subconscious mind to do its thing.

Creative folks have different methods for this: going somewhere quiet and thinking, heading out for a walk, napping, taking a drive, jogging, etc. You’ll need to find what works best for you. But the alternating pattern of working and taking a break seems to do the trick.

3. Illumination

This is where you go, “A-ha!” (or “Eureka!” or whatever it is you say when brilliance strikes). The idea comes to you and you’re ecstatic. You jump up and give yourself a mental high-five, congratulating yourself on your cleverness.

4. Evaluation

This step isn’t nearly as fun as Step 3. (In fact, it can be pretty painful.) It’s time to stand back and throw stones at the brand new, shiny idea you’ve just created.

This is no time to be proud or protective. Take a step back and examine the idea objectively. Look for flaws. Is it strong enough to stand up to scrutiny?

If if isn’t, swallow your pride, kick that idea to the curb and get to work on a better one.

Don’t worry; lightning struck once. If you’ve done your homework it will strike again.

5. Elaboration

If, on the other hand, your idea can withstand the slings and arrows you shot at it in Step 4, it’s ready to be turned into an actual ad.

That means writing the copy, designing the layout, creating the artwork. (In other words, a lot of hard work and effort.) But when it all comes together it’s a thing of beauty.

There’s no more rewarding professional experience than being part of a creative team transforming a single “big idea” into a campaign that impacts thousands or even millions of people.

Acknowledgment: Chapter Four of The Copy Workshop Workbook by Bruce Bendinger provided source material for this post.

Palette, Palate and Pallet

Hi. Dave here.Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 1.22.07 PM

As the agency’s proofreader, I’ve caught and corrected all kinds of mistakes.

Lately, I’ve seen one particular boo-boo zinging even super smart people (both here and elsewhere). So let’s kick it to the curb once and
for all.

Palette = an artist’s tool or an array of colors

Palate = the back of the roof of your mouth

Pallet = a wooden thing you put heavy stuff on

Okay, so how can we keep them straight?

“Palette” is kinda French-looking, so there’s an “artsy” sense to it.

“Palate” is only one letter different from “plate,” which ties into food and eating.

“Pallet” is pretty close to “mallet,” which you could find lying near a pallet in a warehouse.

Pretty easy, huh? Hope this helps.

(For a thorough list of avoidable word crimes like this one, check out this very entertaining video by “Weird Al” Yankovic.)

50 time-tested brand names, A to Z

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You’ll have to read all the way to the bottom to learn why we think this one is good.

Below are some of those well-known “household” names and a brief description of why they’ve stood the test of time, plus a couple of new ones that are exceptionally well done. (You may also want to check out our previous post on what goes into creating a successful brand name.) 

  1. Ajax: Even if you don’t know the mythology – Ajax was a Greek hero known for his size and strength – the name’s construction and sound still convey a sense of power and authority (hence the tagline that Ajax is “stronger than dirt”).
  2. Armor All: These two words flow like one when spoken, succinctly conveying the benefit this product offers: the ability to protect many items from dirt and deterioration.
  3. Axe: The epitome of brevity. A manly name with a youthful edge (pardon the pun).
  4. Brillo Pad: “Brillo” is a coined name that sounds like a combination of “bristle,” “brush” and “quill” (with an added “o” for energy and lift). Upon hearing the name, who could doubt its ability to scour away even the toughest guck?
  5. Cascade: A perfect name for dishwasher detergent, conjuring images of a crystal clear waterfall leaving everything it touches sparkling clean.
  6. Cheer: A product named Cheer brings a smile to the chore of laundry. It’s a “bright” word you automatically associate with brighter clothes.
  7. Clorox: Combining a root term (in this case a stylized spelling of “chlorine”) with an “x” suffix is a common tool for creating a word with a “scientifically formulated” flavor to it. (Windex and Tilex do it too.) It doesn’t hurt that “ox” sounds hardworking too.
  8. d-CON: It doesn’t matter if no one knows what this name actually stands for. It sounds scientific and just a little dangerous/intimidating. The no-nonsense nomenclature signals that this is serious stuff.
  9. Dove: The name hits just the right note for women. What could be softer, whiter, more beautiful or more soothing than a soap called Dove? (Of course, a male version would need to be called something like “Hawk.”)
  10. Downy: Like a baby bird’s feathers, this name is soft and fluffy too, which is how the maker hopes you’ll envision the product leaving your laundry.
  11. Drano: Like “Brillo,” this name gets forward momentum from the “o” (which could be symbolic of an unclogged pipe too). The name also serves as shorthand for “drain opener.”
  12. Duracell: Eveready and Energizer are solid names, but Duracell is unrivaled in creating an image of a power cell that lasts. Combined with the phrase “the coppertop battery” and the tagline “no other battery looks like it or lasts like it,” the moniker makes for a powerful sales message.
  13. Easy-Off: Easy to say too. The name credibly promises to make the hateful chore of oven-cleaning almost effortless.
  14. Fantastik: Changing the “c” on the word “fantastic” to a “k” transforms an over-the-top boast into a more playful coined term with a sense of “magick” and quickness.
  15. Formula 409: This scientific-sounding name implies that substantial research went into creating the cleaner. (Perhaps it took 408 failures before they finally perfected the solution.) Aided by the “For- and Four” repetitive device, it rolls smoothly off the tongue – much better than, say, a Formula 827 would – despite its six-syllable length.
  16. Fresh Step: A nicely conceived name that’s easy to say and remember, and instantly creates an image of the product benefit.
  17. Glade: This simple name subtly triggers the imagination. Fresh greenery, pleasing aromas, a natural setting…these are the images the company wants the name to create in the consumer’s subconscious mind.
  18. Goo Gone: Not the most artful name ever devised, but its straightforward communication of the product benefit can’t be questioned.
  19. Gorilla Glue: The repetitive G’s are fun to say and the imagery of a gorilla implies that this is strong stuff.
  20. Gumout: Like “Goo Gone,” this name tells you exactly what the product is going to do for you, plus it’s easy to say.
  21. Huggies: Parents want to feel their babies are cuddled in coziness at all times. This name conveys this pleasant notion – plus the more literal benefit of a gapless fit that keeps teeny little messes contained.
  22. Irish Spring: The adjacent “sh” and “sp” sounds are a little tough to say, but what other name could convey the notion of springlike freshness in such a merry manner?
  23. Ivory Snow: What could be cleaner, whiter, or more pure? This romantic, metaphorical name even sounds soft when spoken.
  24. Just For Men: This straightforward name successfully mitigates the self-consciousness older men may have about buying hair dye.
  25. Liquid Plumr: This name lends the product the personality it needs to stand out from the crowd. (One also wonders if Liquid Plumr is friends with Janitor In A Drum.)
  26. Method: The latest addition to this list of names. The “method” name is a stroke of inspired understatement that conveys “practical,” “modern” and “economical” with a simple sophistication and “green” implications. It is unlike other names on this list in that it is more abstract (doesn’t say what it is or does; doesn’t convey a benefit). Yet the thought of working with a “method” implies completing a task quickly and efficiently. And it doesn’t hurt that the packaging clearly reinforces this notion.
  27. Miracle Gro: This name instantly has gardeners envisioning “Jack & the Beanstalk” type results.
  28. Mop & Glo: The floor isn’t just clean or shiny; it actually glows. That’s quite a promise.
  29. Neutrogena: A nicely coined word with numerous word associations: “Neutro” is akin to “nutri,” conveying health and wholesomeness. The second half of the word, “-gena,” is feminine sounding, alludes to “genesis” (life) and imbues the name with clinical credibility (through similarity to words like collagen, estrogen, antigen, etc.). Is it any wonder the word “rejuvenating” springs immediately to mind when you hear the name?
  30. Off!: A perfect name for insect repellent. The exclamation point is a stroke of genius that makes the name active and energetic rather than merely descriptive.
  31. Oil of Olay: Oils are natural and moisturizing. Olay is exotic sounding. The two words sounds soothing together. According to Wikipedia, the name is a spin on the ingredient “lanolin.” And a clever one at that.
  32. Old English: “Old” implies enduring quality, timeless appeal and an air of gentility. “English” implies class and refinement. Together they evoke images of wood-paneled rooms in country estates. (Old Spice is another name that benefits from the “Old” moniker.)
  33. Palmolive: Combining the words “palm” and “olive” creates a single word that embodies soft, supple and organic. Even the way the two words blend together creates a sense of fluidity.
  34. Pampers: Your baby’s backside deserves all the pampering it can get.
  35. Quaker State: Like “Keystone State,” this name is a nickname for Pennsylvania, where the brand was long headquartered. The “long-a” sounds and the order of the consonants allow “Quaker State” to flow smoothly when spoken. (Try saying “Puritan State” instead and you’ll hear the difference.)
  36. Quikrete: Need concrete fast? This is the product for you.
  37. Resolve: This name assures the user that the product has the strength and tenacity to remove tough stains. Who could question that kind of resolve?
  38. Scotchgard: This name capitalizes on the equity of the Scotch brand. The stylized spelling of “guard” is a pleasing phonetic follow-up (much better than, say, “Scotchshield” would sound).
  39. Scrubbing Bubbles: A fun, rhyming name that says exactly what the product is and does. Cartoon “bubble” characters on the can and in the TV spots help reinforce the name too.
  40. Sea Breeze: This name sounds so refreshing you almost expect a gentle puff of cool wind to hit your face when you open the bottle. 
  41. Secret: There’s something about the word “secret” that appeals to women. (Right, Victoria?) Despite the advent of the internet and “Girls Gone Wild” videos, the vast majority of women gravitate to a name that alludes to modesty and feminine mystique.
  42. Slime: Hats off to the person or team who had the guts to approve this unconventional brand/product name. Their gamble has paid off. Who doesn’t love Slime?
  43. Shout: This product avoids the “me-too” naming pitfall by not trying to mimic its competitor Spray-N-Wash. Of course, shouting has absolutely nothing to do with stain removal, yet the tagline “Want a tough stain out? Shout it out!” has been effective. (The word “out” being a part of “shout” helps.)
  44. Slick 50: Like Formula 409, this name uses a word/number combination that slides smoothly off the tongue and indirectly conveys the product benefit. (Slick 49 wouldn’t be the same, would it?)
  45. Swiffer: This is a fun name that sounds lighthearted and promises to take the drudgery out of floorcare. Compared to sweeping, “swiffering” sounds effortless, perhaps because its “wiff” component conveys a light and airy feel. Ending the name with an “er” (as in worker, cleaner, scrubber) makes it sound like it’s doing the work, not you.
  46. Tilex/Windex: There’s no mistaking what these two products are used for. Like Clorox, they benefit from the “scientific X” suffix that connotes a lab-perfected formulation and clinical efficiency.
  47. Ultra Brite: On the brightness scale, ultra bright probably represents the highest end. This is a solid promise of dental dazzle conveyed in a fun-sounding name.
  48. Vigoro: This plant food brand name combines vigor with grow, and rhymes with “Figaro” so although it’s a coined term it isn’t unfamiliar sounding.
  49. Wisk: This name implies that, like a “whisk broom,” the product will remove dirt quickly, completely and without much effort from you.
  50. Zest: Despite the “Z” (typically associated with sleep) this product names implies a refreshing sensory awakening.

Naming, Part II: To create a name that’s on target, get ready and aim before you fire.

Firing Squad

Before you can develop an effective name for a brand or product, you need to do some homework. Rush headlong into the brainstorming process without asking some questions and setting some parameters, and you’re almost certain to be wasting your time. (We discussed the challenges of creating brand and product names in Part I of this series.)

Here is some information we request from our clients before we begin work on a name:

  1. Complete product description: what it does, how it works, what makes it different/superior, etc.
  2. Description of the person buying or using the product. What is important to them?
  3. Product attributes the name should convey (e.g., ease of use, speed, durability, the results it produces, etc.)
  4. Are there any client-imposed prohibitions (e.g., name can’t have the letter “X” or the word “green” in it, can’t have any military connotations, etc.)?
  5. Does the competition have a similar product? What is it called?
  6. What kind of tone should the name convey (e.g., aggressive, relaxing, friendly, reliable, etc.)?
  7. Does the parent brand have an established and recognizable image that the name should relate to?
  8. Does the name need to relate to other names in the product line (e.g., are all the products named after an animal)?
  9. Does it matter if the name is literal (Quarter-Pounder, Shop-Vac) or metaphorical (Whopper, Dirt Devil)?
  10. Are you open to having a coined name created, providing it conveys the appropriate attitude and imagery?

Asking these questions – and getting as many clear, definitive answers as possible – is crucial to creating a memorable, likable name that makes a positive connection to the customers.

Want to see 50 examples of great names?

 

“The Curse Of Knowledge”

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People who know a lot about certain subjects are particularly susceptible to the Curse of Knowledge.

You could be suffering from “the curse of knowledge” and not even know it.

(There’s irony for you, huh?)

The term “the curse of knowledge” was coined by Chip and Dan Heath in their book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. It occurs when you know something so well you mistakenly assume others know it.

It gets worse with time too. The longer you’ve known something, the harder it becomes to imagine others not knowing it.

But here’s the worst thing about the curse of knowledge: It stops communication dead in its tracks. It causes you to confuse, bore and even alienate your audience.

That’s why marketing professionals must always be on guard against it.

Here’s an example of how it can happen (it’s a domestic scenario, but it applies to professional communication as well):

I enjoy figuring out songs “by ear” on our piano at home. One day my wife, who also plays a bit, asked me to show her how to do it. (She mostly just plays songs from sheet music.)

“Oh, it’s easy,” I said. “Just listen to the bass line; it’s usually playing the root. Then you just have to figure out if the chord is major or minor.”

I droned on for a few seconds after that, happily explaining my method, until I noticed that her brow had furrowed.

“I don’t get it,” she said. “What’s a root?”

The curse of knowledge had struck.

I’d mistakenly assumed we knew the same stuff about music. But, unfortunately, no one had ever taught her any music theory. So when I launched into that “root,” “major” and “minor” bit I lost her. Plus I felt like a schmuck.

Of course, when the communication is just between two people the curse of knowledge is easy to overcome. One person just says, “Hold on, I don’t understand. Could you explain that?”

But when we’re speaking to a mass audience, as we do when we’re marketing a brand or product, we don’t have the benefit of immediate feedback that lets us correct things. We have to be clear the first time. There’s no one to say, “You’re talking over my head” if our message bores, confuses or overwhelms our audience.

Picture a minister addressing his congregation. If he forgets that his flock hasn’t attended seminary, he might start peppering his sermons with obscure biblical references that would sail past most of his listeners. Too much of that and they’ll tune out, fidget or fall asleep. But if he remembers to keep it simple – even his Boss spoke in parables – he keeps them engaged.

If we’re going to engage people with our message, and avoid being stung by the curse of knowledge, we need to do the same.

—————

Related Links

http://www.businesspundit.com/the-curse-of-knowledge-why-communication-at-work-is-sometimes-difficult/

http://www.idratherbewriting.com/2007/01/24/the-curse-of-knowledge-the-more-you-know-the-worse-communicator-you-become/

 

Cartoons have gotten a lot smarter.

Adventure Time

Adventure Time characters

The other day I asked my 14-year-old daughter what “Adventure Time” was. (She has a couple of T-shirts that say “Adventure Time” and have wacky little characters on them.)

“It’s a show,” she replied (in that way teenage girls have of wanting to keep something secret yet implying you’re incredibly out of touch for not having heard of it).

“Is it for little kids?” I asked. (The primitive randomness of the characters on her T-shirt seemed tailored to an audience of 3-year-olds. I figured she was wearing it just to be ironic, the way all the kids have lately glommed onto “My Little Pony.”)

“No, it’s funny,” she objected. “We all watch it.” (“We” being herself and the Greek chorus of giggly, shrieky girls with whom she has surrounded herself.)

“So and so’s parents watch it too,” she added, as if to further emphasize my squareness.

The gauntlet had been thrown down. (For those of you under 30, that’s a medieval challenge analogy.) It was time I found out what “Adventure Time” was all about.

So I watched an episode. It was only ten minutes long. But that’s good, because if it had been longer I might have passed out from laughing.

It was really funny. And clever. And, like the characters, randomly wacky.

There were unicorns. There’s a talking dog that’s all stretchy and stuff. And there’s a little vampire girl who feeds on the color red instead of blood and plays a mean bass guitar.

The show, as it turns out, is also big hit and has been on for, like, four years. (Okay, Dad’s a little slow.)

But now I get it. I’m 100% on board with “Adventure Time.” In fact, I’m also on board with “Phineas and Ferb” and a bunch of other cartoons that I’ve discovered are a lot more sophisticated – and much funnier – than the ham-fisted, slapstick stuff cartoon stuff I grew up with. (Seriously, how many times can you laugh at a bowling ball dropped on a foot or an anvil falling on a coyote’s head?)

I’m not sure what to attribute the improvements to. It’s likely that making the humor interesting enough for adults as well as kids to enjoy improves viewership. Maybe the competition of numerous cartoon channels requires a show to be a cut above to be successful. Maybe kids have developed a taste for more sophisticated humor (Zack & Cody notwithstanding). Whatever the case, it’s a positive development.

Out of appreciation, I might even get my own “Adventure Time” T-shirt. (Plus, it’ll be fun to watch my daughter roll her eyes and sigh with embarrassment if I ever wear it in public.)

How Amy designed a charming book cover

Amy Wessel, a graphic designer on our staff, recently had the opportunity to put her skills to work designing the cover for a self-published book by a local author, Mary Kay Mayer.

The book – entitled From Diapers to Dresses: How a mother’s past helped to shape her daughters’ futures – chronicles how the author used her grandmother’s folk wisdom to guide her parenting decisions and to convey important life lessons to her three daughters.

Amy describes her experience with the project:

Mary knew from the start that she wanted the main focus of the cover to be a dress that her grandmother had made for her. So I developed several ideas that centered around the dress and Mary chose the one she liked best.

Along the way, we discussed incorporating additional prop items and personal photographs into the layout, but in the end we decided to keep it simple and just use the dress.

Mary liked the idea of using an illustration rather than a photograph of the dress. As the book is intended for moms, not children, I was concerned about any illustration that appeared too “childlike.” So I used a combination of photography, hand illustration and Photoshop brush techniques to produce an image that has a childlike quality but is still firmly rooted in reality.

The background colors were chosen to complement the colors of the dress. The font combination was chosen to convey a whimsical yet sophisticated feeling.

The book is available at amazon.com here.

Why having a great tagline is so important (and having a lame one is self-defeating)

Great

As a word guy I’ve always been intrigued by taglines…how a handful of words could encapsulate the essence of an entire brand.

Even as a kid I thought they were cool. I liked knowing that G.E. was where they would “bring good things to life.” That Pizza Hut was where you could “let yourself go.” That you could feel “The Heartbeat of America” in a Chevrolet. And I took comfort in knowing that “when it absolutely, positively had to be there overnight,” Federal Express was fueled and ready.

Such is the power of a well-crafted line of copy. (Of course, millions of dollars in advertising helps too.)

Sometimes that line of copy is a single word (Coke just used “Always” at one point). But typically it’s two to six. (Making a strong case for your brand with just one word can be a little dicey.)

So what are the guidelines for writing a tagline?

Great

At our agency we believe a tagline must be:

• Simple
• Concise
• Memorable
• Easy to say
• Appealing to the human being reading/hearing it
• An accurate representation of the brand promise

Beyond that, it’s wide open. Depending on the brand, a tagline can be stoic, straightforward, heartwarming, humorous, whimsical, sexy, provocative, inviting, dramatic, open-ended or specific.

A well-crafted tagline that resonates with an audience can anchor a brand’s marketing efforts for years, even decades.

Not great

Just for fun, see if you can name the brand these phrases go with:

  1. Think Outside the Bun
  2. Get the door. It’s ______.
  3. I’m lovin’ it.
  4. When you’re here, you’re family.
  5. Let’s Build Something Together
  6. More saving. More doing.
  7. It’s everywhere you want to be.
  8. Better ingredients. Better pizza.
  9. Eatin’ Good in the Neighborhood
  10. That was easy.

Okay, now for the lightning round. Here are some classics:

  1. Like a Rock.
  2. The quality goes in before the name goes on.
  3. Don’t leave home without it.
  4. Have it your way.
  5. Finger lickin’ good.

(If you’re stumped on any, the answers are below.)

How’d you do? Did you know the brand associated with the line? Or had you heard the line but couldn’t quite identify the brand it went with? Were any completely unfamiliar?

Although it’s not entirely fair to judge a tagline outside the context of an adjacent logo or brand environment, how well the taglines above resonated with you can give you at least some insight into their effectiveness.

Which ones above achieved any/some/most of the following?

• Made an emotional connection
• Encapsulated the user experience
• Differentiated the brand from others
• Reaffirmed the brand promise
• Conveyed smart thinking
• Staked out territory, category niche
• Described/clarified the product or service
• Acted as a call to action

Naturally, no phrase can do all of those. But good ones can do more than one.

Over the years, we’ve had the opportunity to work on a few tagline projects:

• “The Seal That Solves It” – for NAPA Gaskets by Fel-Pro
• “Made to Fit. Built to Last.” – for MTD Genuine Factory Parts
• “As Good As I.T. Gets” – for MRK Technologies (a local information technology company)

They use phonetic/mnemonic devices such as alliteration, parallel structure or just a slight twist of a familiar phrase to help them “stick” in the reader’s mind.

Two of them continue be used. The third had a run of several years. (All of which is great, because it means they did their job.)

Of course, there are plenty of taglines out there that don’t work. They leave no impression and are easily overlooked, forgotten or mistakenly associated with another brand.

It’s usually because they’re guilty of one or more of these mistakes:

• Blandness – no reason for anyone to remember it
• Boastfulness – off-putting self-aggrandizement
• Clunky – hard to say, no rhythm
• Triteness – saying what everyone else has said
• Silliness – misplaced or unfunny attempts at humor
• Stating the year founded (e.g., “Since 1910”) – says nothing except that you’ve managed to exist

Taglines that fall victim to the above will almost always fail to connect.

But when a tagline works it’s a powerful tool. One that can anchor a brand’s marketing efforts for years to come.

(This link will take you to a site where you’ll find dozens of well-known taglines and advertising slogans arranged in alphabetical order. Although it’s not particularly current, it’s still very enjoyable to peruse. And what it lacks in timeliness it more than makes up for in volume.)

Tagline quiz answers:

  1. Taco Bell
  2. Domino’s Pizza
  3. McDonald’s
  4. The Olive Garden
  5. Lowe’s
  6. The Home Depot
  7. Visa
  8. Papa John’s
  9. Applebee’s
  10. Staples

Classic tagline quiz answers:

  1. Chevy Trucks
  2. Zenith televisions
  3. American Express card
  4. Burger King
  5. Kentucky Fried Chicken