I love great taglines. I used to see them everywhere. Less so these days, I’m afraid.
Since the advent of commercial television, corporate taglines have been fighting the battle to penetrate our minds, win our hearts, and open our wallets. Some of these brand-bites have had a profound influence on our culture.
Large companies spend millions to create taglines for their brands, and on lodging them into the public consciousness. Some examples are: ‘A Great Way To Fly’ (Singapore Airlines); ‘Impossible Is Nothing’ (Adidas); ‘I’m Lovin’ It’ (McDonald’s); ‘Just do it.’ (Nike); ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’ (BMW); ‘Have It Your Way’ (Burger King).
Tagline, slogan, strapline, catchphrase, theme line…
Whatever you call it, it’s the key phrase that identifies your business by capturing the essence of your brand and its promise. Taglines reinforce your branding message. The question then becomes do you really need a tagline?
If you are a new business just starting out, then I would say yes, you may need a tagline. People don’t know who you are, and a tagline can reinforce your position in the consumers’ minds. It must be short, catchy, and memorable—a simple phrase that captures your brand’s personality, positioning and separates you from your competitors. A tagline should also evoke an emotional response. That’s a lot for such a short phrase to accomplish and why taglines are difficult to write.
Coming up with a great tagline can be a struggle. More often than not, people get it wrong by focusing on product features, while neglecting the benefits a product offers to the consumer.
Avis, the car rental company, recently changed its tagline. After 50 years of service, ‘We Try Harder’ is out, replaced by ‘It’s Your Space’. Let me cut straight to the point. This is one lame tagline. What makes a tagline like this distinctly Avis? What differentiates this tagline from any other rental car company? I like change, but change for change’s sake is sheer waste. If you are going to change a tagline that has stood the test of time, at least come up with one that has a memorable idea and that means something. It makes you wonder how much Avis paid for that recommendation.
Some companies like to change their taglines quite often. Toyota for example, changed their tagline in 2012 to ‘Let’s Go Places’, replacing ‘Moving Forward’, its tagline since 2004, which replaced the equally vague tagline ‘Get The Feeling’, which harkened back to Toyota’s classic ‘Oh, What A Feeling’ (1980-86). Other past Toyota taglines include: ‘You Asked For It. You Got It.’ (1975-79); ‘Who Could Ask For Anything More?’ from 1986 to 1990; ‘I Love What You Do For Me’ (1990-97), and ‘Toyota. Everyday.’ from 1997 to 2001.
How is Toyota’s new tagline going? Not too well from what I hear. Does the tagline ‘Let’s Go Places’ engage us enough to consider buying a Toyota? It doesn’t do it for me. The new tagline is the result of extensive research and collaboration with several partners including Saatchi & Saatchi, Dentsu America, Intertrend, Conill, Burrell, and Grieco Research. I’m flummoxed to learn that a venerable brand like Toyota would pay six agencies to create a new three-word tagline. If you’re counting, that’s two agencies per word. Who knows how much that cost them?
Writing good taglines
A few good lessons on writing taglines can be learned from other brands like BMW. They distinguish themselves less by product features, and more by brand values (the attitude of a brand) and brand personality (an expression of the brand). These two components individually and collectively bring depth to the brand. The bottom line is that the more a brand is rooted in core beliefs (values) and the way a brand expresses and represents itself (personality), the more engagement you can create around your brand. The brand personality gives consumers something with which they can relate, effectively increasing brand awareness and popularity.
From their original tagline ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’, and more recent ‘Sheer Driving Pleasure’, the taglines BMW has come up with have been some of the most memorable in the auto industry. BMW believes it needs to come up with new lines every now and then to keep its advertising fresh. In 2013 the automaker announced a new tagline that borrows from the past, but also highlights a new focus on design. The new tagline for the latest campaign is ‘Designed For Driving Pleasure’. BMW sees the design of its products as the most important reason for the majority of its customers to buy the brand, so focusing on design is a natural. Ask my friends which BMW tagline they remember most, and nine out of ten will tell you it’s ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’. Go figure.
This tagline from Asia is one of my favourites
One great example of a distinctive tagline created in Asia, is the highly-memorable ‘A Great Way To Fly’ created by Batey Ads. The well-crafted line has embedded itself so deeply into the traveler’s mind that it instantly conjures up imagery of the Singapore Girl and engenders Asian values of hospitality—caring, warm, gentle, elegant and serene. Today, the phrase ‘Singapore Girl’ has become just as much the airline’s signature tagline as ‘A Great Way To Fly’ has in the mind of its customers and stakeholders.
As consumers, what we think of airline brands today has as much to do with emotion as it does with rational benefits. Both SIA’s taglines embody an emotional message that tells people who they are and why you should choose them over other airlines (when there’s a choice of course). In his book ‘Asan Branding-A Great Way To Fly’, Ian Batey said, “The best long-term bonding between SIA and the public is with the brand’s service soul, reflected through the genuine, timeless warmth and grace of the Singapore Girl”.
Regrettably, in recent years, the ‘Singapore Girl’ marketing idea has been criticized as being sexist. Apart from the inaccuracy of the term ‘Girl’, the idea has been accused of being a stereotype of the Asian women—desirable and subservient. Let’s hope the Singapore Girl is not replaced anytime too soon. For me, she remains timeless, and one of the most memorable brand images of all time. The Singapore Straits Times said, "To remove the Singapore Girl icon from SIA is like removing Mickey Mouse from Disneyland. Although the carrier's branding strategy is expected to adapt to the new times, SIA has promised to retain the Singapore Girl and her traditional uniform”.
Some of the recent marketing for Singapore Airlines does away with the 40-year-old tagline, opting for 'Discover The Lengths We Go To'. Is it better? What do you think?
Taglines: Part of a bygone era?
Some marketers predict the death of taglines. They consider them part of a bygone era. There’s growing evidence that taglines have diminished in importance. Brands like Starbucks, Google, IndiaTimes, and Amazon, don’t have taglines. Apple never had a tagline, not until their ‘Think Different’ campaign was introduced. Apple hasn’t used the tagline ‘Think Different’ for years—a tagline that helped propel them to greatness. Yet people still remember it. Apple’s most recent TV ads sign off with the closing salutation ‘Designed by Apple in California’. Definitely not a tagline.
These days, marketers are shying away from campaigns with lengthy ad copy due to the belief that consumers have shorter attention spans. So with fewer traditional big campaigns requiring them, taglines have diminished. I think creative guru Sir John Hegarty of BBH, backs up this belief when he says: “People have retreated to the edges of advertising. They’re happy to do some small little campaign somewhere or they’re doing something on the net that hardly anybody sees. They’re not changing the way people think or feel”.
What’s more, today’s most common advertising real estate is the small mobile phone screen, and taglines don’t sit well on small digital screens. Besides, marketers seem to be moving to more flexible branding, changing their ad campaigns every year, some every six months, depending on shifts in the marketplace. Long-term campaigns and their taglines have less value in these more fluid applications.
While some in our industry are declaring the death of the tagline, I believe it’s more the way we use taglines that needs to change. For example, taglines such as ‘Don’t Leave Home Without It’ (American Express), and ‘Just Do It.’ (Nike), were written as declarative statements—they challenged you. As advertising power shifts from companies to the domain of consumers, it no longer seems appropriate for brands to be issuing imperatives. Taglines that are inviting in their appeal, seem more connected to today’s consumer sensibilities. ‘Because You’re Worth It’ (L’Oreal), ‘Open Happiness’ (Coca-Cola), and ‘It’s Everywhere You Want To Be’ (Visa), demonstrate the power of inclusion. Perhaps in this hyper social age, modern taglines can function not only as welcome signs, but succinct mission statements.
Taglines leave an impression of your value
There are a few simple principles to creating a successful tagline that is both meaningful and memorable. A successful tagline encapsulates your key value proposition, what you bring to the party, and why the consumer should buy from you. The tagline leaves an impression of your value. A successful tagline differentiates you from all the other offerings clamoring for the consumers’ attention, and provides a positive emotional value. A great tagline is also a mighty powerful tool that can help consumers, customers, suppliers, and other interested audiences, link your company or product name to a brand promise and a message. After a brand name or company name, the tagline is often the second most noticeable element.
Still, many good and potentially effective taglines fail because they are simply not used enough. Too often, the tagline is left in isolation, separate and apart from the company’s literature, website, social media sites, sales materials, and on and on. It must be said: If you want a tagline to be successful, you have to use it. Everywhere.
Let me leave you with a story about taglines that’s circulating on the internet
The boss of a Madison Avenue advertising agency called a spontaneous staff meeting in the middle of a particularly stressful week. When everyone gathered, the boss, who understood the benefits of having fun, told the burnt-out staff that the purpose of the meeting was to have a quick contest.
The theme: Viagra advertising taglines. (Viagra is the drug used to treat erectile dysfunction).
The only rule they had was to use past advertising taglines, originally written for other products, that captured the essence of Viagra.
About 30 minutes later, they turned in their suggestions and created a top 15 list.
With all the laughter and camaraderie, the rest of the week went very well for everyone!
The top 15 were:
15. Viagra, The ultimate driving machine. (BMW)
14. Viagra, Everyone’s invited. (Samsung)
13. Viagra,The choice of a new generation. (Pepsi)
12. Viagra, Let’s go places. (Toyota)
11. Viagra, Just do it! (Nike)
10. Viagra, Whaazzzz up! (Budweiser Beer)
9. Viagra, Melts in your mouth, not in your hands! (M&M’s)
8. Viagra, The best a man can get! (Gillette)
7. Viagra, When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight. (FedEx)
6. Viagra, Be all that you can be. (U.S. Army)
5. Viagra, Reach out and touch someone. (AT&T)
4. Viagra, Connecting people (Nokia)
3. Viagra, We bring good things to life! (GE)
2. Viagra, It’s everywhere you want to be. (Visa)
1. Viagra, Home of the whopper! (Burger King)
Mike Fromowitz is president and chief brand officer of Mantra Partners, a full-service advertising and branding agency. The company works for clients in Asia, South America, USA and Canada.