Do you ever run across a tagline that makes you go, “Huh?”
I experienced this the other day when I encountered a sign for a “new” burger joint called Gino’s near our office. Their tagline was simply, “We’re Back!”
I have no idea what that means. What are they trying to communicate? Back from where, exactly? Did the Health Department shut them down? Did they go into hibernation, or not survive the recession? What are they back from? Instead of making me interested in this new restaurant, the tagline just left me scratching my head.
Within the same week, I ran across another tagline that gave me the opposite impression. ServPro, a national company offering cleaning services, has the tagline, “Like It Never Even Happened.” This is a brilliant tagline for a clean-up service. Many clean-up services might fall upon the old cliched idea, “Like Brand New,” which is overused and bound to be overlooked by the consumer. But ServPro comes in and offers the comfort that nothing will change in your house; instead, it will look “like it never even happened.” Now that’s the kind of company I will remember.
These two tagline run-ins got me thinking – what are the best taglines out there, and what makes them so good? What about the bad ones – what makes them so bad? And how can we create a meaningful tagline for our own businesses – or, perhaps the bigger question, should we have one at all?
Now, of course – a list like this can’t have it all – but it’s a start…
- “Just Do It.” (Nike)
- “There Are Some Things Money Can’t Buy. For Everything Else, There’s MasterCard.” (MasterCard)
- “A Diamond Is Forever.” (DeBeers)
- “15 Minutes Could Save You 15% Or More.” (Geico)
- “Got Milk?” (California Milk Processor Board)
You know the good taglines; in fact, I’ll bet you could rattle off another ten right now. The good taglines are the ones that make you stop – the ones that stick in your brain – the ones that make sense.
If you Google the term, “Best Taglines,” you’ll come up with a slew of articles that tell you how to create a great tagline. There are tons of tips out there to help you. I’ve boiled it down to three that I think are most useful:
1) It Has to Be Specific
A pretty common piece of advice that people will give you is to “keep it short,” but then Geico and MasterCard would be out of the “Best Taglines” lists. What I’d say is that the tagline must be specific. It’s not enough to say, “We’re great!” but to say exactly why or how your business is great. In other words, it’s about differentiation. Take M&Ms, for example: “The Milk Chocolate that melts in your mouth and not in your hands.” Another long-winded tagline, yes – but one that differentiates M&Ms from other chocolate candies.
2) It Has to Strike a Chord
This is just another way of saying it should connect emotionally, or it should have a nice ring to it. Bounty’s “The quilted quicker picker upper,” has a sing-songy ring to it that strikes a chord in the brain – I’ll bet you can’t even read that slogan without humming the song in your head.
On the other hand, you can also strike a chord in the heart. Arnie DiGeorge, executive creative director of R&R Partners (famous for their Las Vegas “What happens here, stays here,” campaign) says, “[Mazda's] Zoom Zoom,’ makes you feel like you were a kid. You can kind of go back in your head to a time when you were either young or happy or smart. You dial it down to the one communication thing you want to get across and then you try and come up with a line that sells that idea.”
3) It Has to Make Sense
If you think this is just…well, common sense, then wait until you read some of the “bad” taglines below. If I don’t understand your tagline, or what it is you do, or what you are trying to say with the tagline (like the Gino’s example), then the tagline is pointless. In other words, make sure your tagline communicates what it is you do, what you’re in the business of, or exactly why you are awesome and I should use your company.
It doesn’t sound so hard, does it? Oh, but just wait. Sometimes really big companies can make big blunders when it comes to capturing their essence in a tagline. Without further ado, I bring you…
- “Do Stuff.” (Radio Shack)
- “Drive One.” (Ford)
- “Choose Freedom.” (Toshiba)
- “We Want You to Live.” (Mobil)
So what exactly makes a bad tagline…well…bad?
1) It’s Too Vague
“Do Stuff.” Um, that’s just great. What stuff? If you don’t differentiate your business or at least tell me what your business does, then don’t bother.
2) It’s Too Creepy
“We Want You to Live.” Do I even need to spend any more time on this one? Ok, need further proof that there’s an actually need for this “don’t-be-creepy” point? “Eat Jimmy Dean.” Enough said. Moving on.
3) It’s Too “Out-there”
If your tagline doesn’t communicate to me anything – even a little bit – about your business, then it’s probably doing you more harm than good. “Choose Freedom” for Toshiba makes no sense to me. How is my computer helping me choose freedom (or not)? What does freedom have to do with computers? Domino’s “Avoid the Noid” slogan? Whatever it means, I’m going for Pizza Hut.
The ultimate bottom line when it comes to bad taglines is best summed up by Eric Swartz (a.k.a, the Tagline Guru) – who describes himself as “a verbal branding professional and master wordslinger.” His take is that “Bad taglines are typically vague, awkward, pretentious, inane, underwhelming, confusing, complicated, negative, or ambiguous – and often communicate an unintended message. They are also occasionally guilty of using trendy clichés and meaningless business jargon. They tend to devalue a brand.”
The Final Question
Before you get all excited about covering your website with a catchy tagline, it’s a wise idea to ask yourself (and your team): Should we even have a tagline?
Are there such cases when a tagline is just superfluous? When it would be better, smarter or wiser to forget the slogan and just call it a day?
Fast Company recommends staying away from the tagline-making-business unless you’re a $50 million company who needs to differentiate over the other $50 million company. There is definitely some truth to that, although I have to admit that a mom-and-pop with a catchy slogan might make me turn my head. Instead of Googling new restaurants in my area, I might just go to the new one with the clever tagline because I remembered it and it made an impression on me.
So my advice would be – if you’ve got a couple of creative thinkers on your team and you can coin a phrase that will turn heads – or at least be memorable – then by all means – go ahead. But if you’re spending hours upon hours and pouring money into a think-tank for a slogan, you might want to save your money (and marketing efforts). Try telling stories, instead – whether you’re a big company, a small startup, B2C, or B2B. Dan and Chip Heath of Fast Company say (and I agree), “When you have a big idea, make it come alive with a story. Make it real, color in some details, let it be something people can care about.”
- What other taglines would you add to the best/worst lists and why?
- Do you have a tagline for your business? How did you choose it, and have you seen its benefits for your company?
- Did you purposefully opt-out of the tagline game? Why?
(Oh, and hey – just for fun – check out the Slogan Generator!)