Monthly Archives: March 2010

What makes a strong tagline?

Taglines may be the second most important branding element. Names are certainly first, but taglines can play an important role in conveying the brand message.

Most taglines, however, do not enhance the brand. They are afterthoughts. Names and logos and trade dress usually precede tagline. They are usually done by an ad agency as an element in an advertising campaign, and are advertising slogans rather than integral elements of the respective brands.

The difference between a tagline and a slogan

I’ve subjectively defined tagline and slogan as two different beasts with different objectives. The tagline carries the brand’s message and is part of the whole life-cycle of the brand itself. It is integral to the brand.

The slogan on the other hand, is a tactical “pay off” of an ad campaign. Its purpose is to help consumers remember the advertising message.

There will be a lot of people who disagree with me – they’ll suggest they are the same thing and that I’m just playing a semantic game. Okay, but I’ll stick with the definitions above because it makes explanations a little easier.

This difference between a tagline and a slogan for purposes of branding, then, is very simple. The tagline is a crystallization of a brand promise and is a strategic-based element. The slogan, is an advertising element just as a headline or illustration. In the case of a corporate identity ad program the tagline and the slogan can and should be the same.

But my experience concerning an agency-created tagline is that its life is just as long as the campaign it was created for, not for the life of the brand.

Positioning statement vs tagline

There may be some confusion about the difference between a positioning statement and a tagline as well. Again, this is my interpretation and opinion about them. Some will believe they’ve created a positioning statement with the finalization of a tagline. I don’t. For me they are two entirely different, though related, branding components.

The positioning statement is usually longer and more detailed than a tagline. It will quite often borrow from the mission statement, the value statement, the vision statement if it is a corporate brand. It is primarily an internal document but certainly not a confidential one. In fact, it is beneficial to espouse a positioning statement in the business lobby, in the annual report, as part of a proposal. It is an integral part of the brand platform, and drives the direction of the creative process when developing brand elements – name, tagline, logo, graphic standards, trade dress, brand messaging and packaging. It is possible for some positioning statements to be voiced as a tagline as well, but this will be a rare occurance.

So, the positioning statement precedes the development of brand elements and is usually a paragraph in length rather than a short phrase. The tagline crystallizes and furthers the brand story or promise and is usually connected to the name and logo as part of the company/product identification.

First things first: is a tagline needed?

Even though I’ve stated I believe the tagline to be the second most important branding element, often a brand may not even need a tagline. So the first question in the tagline development process: is there a need for a tagline in the branding element mix. A tagline may be superfluous. And on rare occasions, the name itself can function as name and tagline because the name communicates all there is to communicate in differentiating brand and suggesting a consumer benefit. So why guild the lily by making the same point using different words?

There are times, too, when a descriptive phrase is more appropriate. This is especially true with a product establishing a new category. In this case, you wish to “own” the category by being and remaining first in top of mind, for as long as the category exists. This description replaces the tagline as branding catalyst.

And finally, if you’re branding a feature or a brand extension, you’ll probably omit a tagline as being in conflict with the master brand and its tagline.

Criteria for a strong tagline

In my last post I pointed out three things to avoid when creating taglines, along with another two additional points about taglines. To reiterate, those five things, translated into evaluation criteria are:

Make an incredible (read unbelievable)claim (don’t)
Write a self-serving tagline (don’t)
Create a platitude (don’t)
Differentiate you from competitors (do)
Integrate with other brand elements smoothly (do)

To these five criteria I would add:

Make tagline instantly understandable. Many taglines are cute turns of words which you must think about in order for them to make an impact. (Here’s where a universal metaphor or meme can be quite powerful.)

Make the tagline enhance the main brand idea. If the tagline just restates the “big idea” already conveyed through name and/or logo, it is redundant. The tagline should support and extend the brand promise or theme, not just repeat it in different words.

Make the tagline communicate a major benefit of doing business with the company or of buying the product/service. (But be sure you’re creditable.)

It should appeal to the targeted audience. By that I mean use their language to convey the thing your product or service does for them specifically. It is sometimes advisable to call out the audience by name in the tagline.

Keep it short: seven significant words or less.

As an example, here is a pretty good tagline – it’s the one I use for my branding consultancy, Signature Strategies. Helping smaller companies profit from the power of branding.

If you’re looking for help with your tagline, or any and all parts of the branding process, why not contact me. Just click to go on over to Signature Strategies, or give me a call at 303-242-5975.

Three Tagline Traps You’ll Want to Avoid

It’s really easy to create – or approve – an incredulous, self-serving platitude as a tagline.

It’s done every day, even by people who should “no” better.

I’m not going to be naming names in this post, but even without my help you’ll conjure up examples from your own experiences; examples from companies big and small whose advertising and promotion you are exposed to on a daily basis.

If you’re like most of us, you’ve learned to filter them out of your consciousness after a while because you realize they’re meaningless.

Lots of taglines are adopted as part of the branding process because folks think they’re critical to their marketing efforts. Certainly a tagline can crystallize a brand promise and make it memorable, but just as often you get an incredulous, self-serving platitude. In those situations, the tagline distracts and detracts from the brand’s promise and image.

Anyway, here are three questions I raise whenever I need to evaluate a tagline.

Is the tagline creditable?

Quite often taglines make sweeping claims that are not, or cannot be, substantiated. They sound good on the surface, but are too far from reality to be believed. Okay, I couldn’t resist naming this name: Dunkin’ Donut’s “American Runs on Dunkin’ Donuts”. Really? And all this time I thought it was gasoline. The point is that the statement just isn’t creditable. It’s an ad slogan straight from the ad agency’s “creative” department. (As an aside, someday I’ll share what I think are the distinctions and functions of taglines vs slogans vs headlines. That may take several blog posts, in fact.) Now I do expect a tagline to have a little zest to it. And some humor or even a double entandre will help make the tagline memorable. But claims to be first when it’s patently not true, declarations of superiority when your brand is number three or four, statements of capability that no one possesses: these are tagline traps that need to be avoided if credibility is to be prized.

Is the tagline self-serving?

This type of tagline was probably written for a fast approval by an egocentric executive. Well, maybe not all of them, but I’m pretty sure a great number of the self-serving lines were third or fourth attempts to get an approval from in-bred managers. So the creators, in desperation, serve back what management would like to think the brand represents when “the market” knows better. These taglines will usually begin with “We”, and then go on to claim whatever this year’s “hot button” (is it still “being green”?) happens to be – or at least what management has spent the most money developing most recently. The question is: “Where does the consumer fit in?” Quite often what management considers important is of no relevance to the consumer and this is reflected in a lot of self-serving taglines.

Is the tagline a platitude?

According to my copy of The American Heritage Dictionary, a platitude is “a trite remark or statement”. And “trite” is defined as “overused and commonplace; lacking interest or originality”. Platitudes do not make good taglines. Yet you’ll find a lot of taglines in this category. The folks from Y2 Marketing had a sure-fire way of identifying platitudes. They said if upon hearing or reading a tagline your reaction was, “Well, I should hope so!”, you’re experiencing a platitude. We run into these kinds of taglines all the time: “We care about our customers”, “Quality is what we strive for”, “Our people know ______”.

Two more ways to evaluate taglines

Here are a couple more criteria you can use in judging taglines. First, does it differentiate our business from our competitors? If not, back to the drawing board – no explanation required. Second, does it reflect and summarize the one idea our brand wants to communicate? This second question goes back to the branding process and has to do with having all the branding elements integrated in lock-step. There should be no disconnects

So, these are the negative points to keep in mind whether you’re creating or approving a tagline. Now you know what I suggest you not do. Next post I’ll attempt to provide some positive approaches to writing taglines.

Branding with a USP is Short-Sighted

From the late 1950’s, the term Unique Selling Proposition, more informally known as USP, has been part of the advertising and marketing jargon. I believe it was coined by Rosser Reeves, head of Ted Bates Advertising, and best exemplified by the commercials for Anacin. Bate took the major advantage of this headache preparation, speedy relief, and presented over and over and over. It demonstrated the headache by a hammer to the side of the head with an animated diagram while the word “FAST” was flashed un-screen time after time.

Anacin USP was fast relief, but where are they now?

Thus, Anacin claimed and defended this USP for a number of years. But along came Tylenol, followed by Advil, and then Aleve and a host of others. Anacin couldn’t keep up. And look where that brand is today. I don’t know the numbers, but one indication of its popularity: no longer does it advertise on TV.

The USP is a tactic

The unique selling proposition should not be confused with a positioning statement. The USP is just what it says – a sales proposition that no one else is promoting at the time. It’s a short-range competitive tactic. It may take competitors quite some time to discover that a particular USP is helping a marketer boost market share, and another little while to counteract that USP with an offering that’s even more attractive. Devising and broadcasting a new theme (USP) is done very well by most advertising agencies. I’m of the opinion that that’s the only value provided by today’s agency. (That’s the subject for another post rater.)

The positioning statement, though not necessarily a consumer message, is a statement of what you’d want your brand to be. If Anacin had adopted a positioning statement that read: We will do all in our power, through research, development, production and packaging, to always have the fastest pain reliever on the market, then Anacin would have won that position in the minds of consumers by consistently demonstrating their dedication to fast pain relief through their actions. With that kind of mind set, let the agency develop a USP that reinforces the positioning statement.

The positioning statement is strategic

The commitment of any organization to provide a consistent level of performance, and to dedicate major resources to accomplish that performance, builds the brand, not a USP.

But today, we still hear those connected with branding use these terms interchangeably. They miss a major difference between a brand strategy and a sales tactic. They also confuse those that aren’t paying attention, namely the executive staff who’s wondering anyway why marketing can’t seem to be held accountable.

I might have stepped on a toe or two with that last paragraph of rant, but it rankles. And don’t get me started on the ad specialty salesperson who wants to sell you a couple gross of imprinted pen because it’s “effective branding”.

Anyway, there’s a place for the USP. It can enhance the brand if it adheres to the positioning statement and the branding platform. And if one isn’t increasing sales, just ask your new agency to create another.