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

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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?

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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.

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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

 

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