Three or four words – maybe a few more. Clear. Easy to remember.
We all recognize the great ones – Nike’s Just Do It, Wendy’s Where’s The Beef?, Avis’s We Try Harder. They all have an emotional tone and nicely sum up their brands’ attributes. But for every good tagline, there are thousands of bad ones. Such as:
Lucent: Creating Value Through True Convergence. Sounds like it was written by a committee under strict orders to use business jargon.
Lafayette, Oregon: Third Oldest City In Oregon. The town council must have seen the tagline of Lewes, Delaware – The First Town In The First State – and concluded that tourists can’t resist references to municipal historical trivia.
Delta Airlines: We Get You There. So stop complaining already, will ya? Okay, yes, we’re 45 minutes late, we spilled a Diet Coke on you, and the inflight movie was Jack and Jill. We got you there, didn’t we?
We probably shouldn’t pick on Lafayette – they likely asked a citizen’s committee to draft the tagline. But Lucent and Delta presumably hired expensive ad agencies to concoct those magical verbal potions, so they deserve a bit of ridicule. (Lucent, of course, isn’t around anymore to defend itself. Coincidence?)
Discouragingly, past tagline success is no guarantee of future performance. FedEx, back when it was Federal Express, told people to use its service When It Absolutely, Positively Has To Be There Overnight. Classic! Do you know what it is today? No? Why it’s Solutions That Matter, of course! How could you forget that?
“Matter” has joined the ranks of a lot of overused tagline words: “passion,” “quality,” “excellence,” “community,” “commitment.” Even the structure of taglines has become formulaic: Use three words, separate at least one from the others with a period. If you’re clever, write it so you can read the tagline a couple of different ways. Wrangler: Real. Comfortable. Jeans. A Minneapolis college’s degree in business ethics: Good. For Business.
And if you can’t do clever, do a sort of condensed instruction manual. A local company that sells supplies for making beer at home has a new tagline: Brew. Share. Enjoy. The longer version, apparently, is “Use this stuff to BREW beer, then because you can’t drink 20 gallons by yourself, SHARE it with others, but try to do a good job so you all ENJOY it.”
Also, discouraging: Taglines not only take a lot of time and effort to create, they require tons of advertising before they become familiar. Let’s face it, as good as they are, those famous taglines for Nike, Wendy’s and Avis wouldn’t have meant anything to consumers without strong – and frequent – commercials. They’re the final words of a series of stories, or the punchline of a well set-up joke.
We’re seeing a big transformation in advertising as the era of mass merchandising starts to recede and interactive, long-tail promotion becomes more common. Look over lists of great taglines and you’ll have to blow dust off most of them: Timex’s Takes A Licking And Keeps On Ticking; Brim coffee’s Fill It To The Rim With Brim, Tareyton Cigarettes’ I’d Rather Fight Than Switch, Clairol hair coloring’s Does She Or Doesn’t She?
A lot of today’s hip companies – Urban Outfitters, Levi’s, Apple – don’t really use taglines anymore. Design carries the weight. The evidence seems to suggest that’s a smart move.
So if somebody in your company suggests you add a tagline because they’re simple to write, cite the slogan that was the rallying cry of the 1980s “War on Drugs”: