Avis: We Try Harder
Maxwell House: Good To The Last Drop
Allstate: You’re In Good Hands With Allstate
Timex: It Takes a Licking And Keeps On Ticking
FedEx: When It Absolutely, Positively Has To Be There Overnight
But for all those classics, there are thousands of companies with taglines spouting meaningless commitments to excellence, passion, quality and people. No need to name them – I’m sure you can supply dozens of your own examples.
Still, it would be great to come up with the next version of The Ultimate Driving Machine or Just Do It, wouldn’t it? Sure, but you probably shouldn’t bother. Here’s why:
1) Taglines are expensive
None of those famous taglines lodged themselves into the public consciousness without a lot of support. Millions of dollars went into creating the ads, often accompanied by jingles, then buying airtime across the country. Wendy’s famousWhere’s The Beef? succeeded largely due to a clever ad spot with cranky old women complaining about the competition. Without them, no one would get it.
2) Taglines are hard
It looks easy to write a tagline. After all, they’re just a few words, right?
Wrong. They need to quickly convey some benefit of a company in a way that differentiates it from others. They need to be memorable. They need to make the buyer want the product.
As an analogy, think about what it takes to write a great pop song. There are millions of songs, each composed of some variation of 12 notes, but relatively few become hits. If they were easy to do, all of those one-hit wonders would have come up with a second one.
3) Taglines can backfire
Do a search on “worst taglines” and you’ll find plenty of ad execs pointing out the weaknesses of various candidates. They point out how inelegant they are, how they sound like the product of a committee, how little they advance a company’s branding promise, etc. In today’s environment, a bad tagline makes you sound like just another big, clumsy corporation that at best is not particularly likable and at worst is untrustworthy.
4) Taglines may not last
Executives sometimes hope that a great tagline is their ticket to corporate immortality. But many of the good ones only work for awhile, then have to be replaced or dropped.
Avis’s tagline made sense when the world of rental cars was Hertz, Avis and a few players vying for the leftovers. FedEx’s tagline was helpful when people weren’t familiar with the concept of overnight deliveries. Neither company uses those taglines anymore. Timex has replaced its memorable tagline with the bland True Since 1854.
5) Taglines are a dated strategy at best
A tagline that’s truly impressive is like a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth when your team is down by three runs and there are two strikes on the batter. It can happen, but it’s extremely rare.
More importantly, it’s not something you can count on to help you win. It never was. Now it’s even less likely to do so.
Here’s why: In the era of advertising when the most famous taglines showed up, there were relatively few touch points between a company and its customers. Print ads, TV ads, in-store displays, radio spots – that was it. Now, in the age of content marketing, social media, and transparency, taglines are just one part of hundreds of communications pieces between the company and its customers.
On top of that, companies are offering more and more products that are hard to unite under one tagline. Years ago, Panasonic touted its innovative audio and television equipment with the clever tagline, Just Slightly Ahead of OurTime. Today, Panasonic makes some advanced equipment, but it also makes steam irons, electric shavers, vacuum cleaners and microwaves – not exactly products on the cutting edge of technology.
Unless your company has a lot of money to spend and is doing everything else right with its marketing, a new tagline is probably not worth pursing. If someone in your company tells you otherwise, my advice is to quote the tagline made famous in the Nancy Reagan-era war on drugs:
Just say no.
Michael Blumfield is an independent communications consultant in St. Paul, Minn. He’s happy to help you with a wide range of marketing materials, but he doesn’t do taglines. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.