Category Archives: Tagline Creation

Get vacuous slogans by the dozen

I commented about the new American Airlines tagline a couple of days ago. I thought it was weak to the point of being inane. Their “We know why you fly” slogan is bad branding that neither positioned the airline nor communicates a benefit. The slogan is a “given” if you’re an airline. It is clearly a platitude.

Then yesterday, a blogger from Selengor, Malaysia, linked up to my site. I followed the link to “A Hermit’s Muse” where I found a nice, iconoclastic “recreational” site. I was curious why she, the hermit, would want to link to my site. I found while scanning the page a link in the right hand column to a site known as “Sloganizer”.

Was this why she’d linked up? Don’t know, but I followed the link and came upon a “randomizer” site which suggested it was the answer to all me tagline worries. All I had to do was type in a “keyword” (name, descriptor, concept, etc.), push “submit” and the site would supply a slogan. “Wow”, I though, “What a great idea.”

So I tried it out.

I typed in “branding” as the keyword and got the following:

 “Branding makes dreams come true”

That didn’t really work for me  – there was no differentiation, just a vacuous, impossible promise. So I tried another time and got:

 “You can’t stop branding”

No good. So again I tried. This time it regurgitated:

 “Branding moments”

What? One more time got me this gem:

“Branding nonstop”

I quit after another half-dozen tries.

So here’s my point: this demonstration of “a thousand monkeys” approach to slogan writing was flawed from the beginning. There was no way the compiler of this database could know (and probably didn’t care) how to differentiate a generic product/service/event, or even impart a distinct benefit. He or she just thought up or borrowed cute phrases that copywriting hacks have foisted upon their clients for years. The creator of this clever – and dangerous if taken seriously – site has actually developed a “platitude generator”.

Like many real-life copywriters, this exercise relys on “clever” as a substitute for “relevant”, “meaningful” and “engaging”. 

You might want to go to the Sloganizer site and try it out on your product, concept, feature, etc. You might get lucky. But I think the lesson learned will be twofold: first know what differentiates your offering from competitors, and two, create a tagline that communicates that difference with power and credibility.

Martin Jelsema

Tagline Panic Setting in at American Airlines?

So it’s Sunday night and I was just watching the Colorado Rockies win their third consecutive game against Arizona. It’s an incredible run.

But that’s not the reason I’m blogging.

I want to comment on an American Airlines commercial that got through my ad filter during the game. Know I didn’t actually see the spot, I just picked up on their tagline, “We know why you fly.”

I immediately reacted: “Well, I should hope so.”

In fact, at least a majority of the taglines I hear today get that same response from me.

I first heard that response presented by Rich Harshaw and Ed Earle of Y2Marketing in a two-disk, no-nonsense mini-course called Monopolize Your Marketplace.

Their point is that most taglines (aka slogans and positioning statements) are platitudes that mean nothing, that don’t engage the audience and certainly don’t differentiate the advertiser. Their test for platitudes is the line, “Well I should hope so”.

Clever phrases that don’t differentiate, or at least imply a benefit, are a waste of money.

Just what had American Airlines in mind with that wimpy statement?

Had research shown that the flying public thinks other airlines don’t know that people fly to get to a destination? That they fly for business? That they fly on vacations? That they fly to visit friends and relatives?

No, there’s something else going on here. American Airlines, at the urging of their ad agency no doubt, believe by making a statement that another airline has not already made, that they can preempt a position.

But it’s not a differentiated position, nor is it one that is specifically benefit oriented. Knowing why you fly just means you’ve done market research. Taking action is what counts. I think they just got desperate. That deadlines were approaching. That they had seen so many tag candidates that they finally accepted one that was least objectionable. I don’t know how else such a lame tagline bereft of concept could have been adopted.

Anyway, I vote for taglines that aren’t platitudes.

And I’ll cheer on those amazin’ Rockies.

Martin Jelsema

Here’s a modest product with pro-like branding

Usually you’ll find me criticizing a branding travesty on these pages.

I can’t help it. There are so many of them and they stand out because they cause discord and disharmony. (And don’t give me the old story that any notoriety helps your brand. Not when with a little care and attention good vibes can be achieved for the same amount you’d spent on lousy branding.)

 Anyway, today I’m here to praise.

I saw an ad for a tattoo removing solution in last week’s USA Weekend. A 3/4 page, modestly colored ad with the headline “Finally…TATTOO REMOVAL. Beneath the headline a picture of the box was tied to the tagline, “It’s easy as opening this box.” The copy, a column on the right interspersed with visuals, speaks to the product’s advantage over laser procedures and a risk-free guarantee. Then an 800-number and an “ask for order” with bonus close.

Now I can’t vouch for the product, nor am I a prospect. I dodged a couple of “lets go get a tattoo” episodes in my college days. Sometimes I wonder how I survived those days, but that’s a subject this blog will not explore. Ever.

Anyway, the product’s name is WRECKING BALM.

 Wrecking Balm package

Isn’t that a great name for a tattoo fading product? See the tension? Isn’t it memorable? Won’t that be the kind of name people will enjoy repeating to friends and associates? 

The logo goes well with the name even though it smacks of patent medicines of a hundred years ago. Yet it does depict a character, Doc Wilson, who may or may not be real. Nevertheless his name lends some credence to the product.

 Wrecking Balm logo

The color palette, a faded rust and black, provides contrast and seems appropriate. If Wrecking Balm ever makes it to store shelves, it will display very well.

All in all, I’d say this was a first-class branding and advertising effort.

Now that this product’s on the market, perhaps I’ll look into getting that tattoo I nixed 50 years ago.  Nah.

Martin Jelsema

Branding a Car Dealership –Ugh!

This will be the most negative blog I’ve written to date.

That’s because I can’t foresee a branding project that’s as hopeless as automotive dealerships.

We’ve all had our “war stories” concerning dealerships, whether on the sales floor or in a service department. I won’t bore you with my own – I’m sure they’re similar to your own. They all center upon the fact that the dealer is out to get as much from your wallet as he/she possibly can without regard to customer satisfaction or long-term relationships.

Now I know Saturn dealerships and one or two other dealers in the Denver metro area proclaim to be “different”. But I don’t believe it. And that’s where the rubber meets the road – customer perceptions. We’ve come to believe an auto dealership is the place you go to get screwed.

That’s why I’m going to use a car buying service the next time I shop for a new car. That’s why those customer-oriented businesses are gaining such popularity and success.

So how would I, as a branding professional, advise a car dealer? Well, I probably would turn down the opportunity except that our assignment this month as a member of the BrandingWire posse is to advise a generic dealership on branding.

Here’s the problem: the dealership that wants a “brand” that helps them get people into the dealership so they can be fleeced won’t last too long. Word of mouth, Internet rating services and blogs, BBB and other consumer advocate groups will soon expose their true nature. (You won’t see too many derogatory news reports because radio, TV and newspapers make a lot of money from dealer advertising.) Yes, I am cynical.

Dealers need a new way of thinking

A successful new agency brand must start with a new way of thinking about running a dealership. The owner must embrace a new business model based upon customer satisfaction, honesty, ethics and a long-range view of success.

This will take guts. Even though customers and prospects hate the old business model, it has up ‘til now been successful for most dealers. High-pressure, don’t let the prospect leave the showroom without a car mentality still works. Selling high-priced financing and insurance is still profitable.

Also, the car makers have high expectations and training programs based on the traditional model. And car salespersons, by and large, are single-minded in making a sale because of the commission/compensation plans they are presented. Another factor is the perception that car salespersons are only interested in money and possible recreational drugs. Now that’s a perception and not necessarily a fact or even an educated observation. But perceptions drive customer activities just as frequently as facts and expert opinions.

We all know any business wishing to establish a successful brand will need to have a brand champion in the CEO’s chair, and that the brand must be communicated and absorbed by each and every employee. Everyone on the payroll is an ambassador of the business and must personify the brand. Then, it’s making your vision, your value statement and your code of conduct foremost in all dealership activities.

It’s in these areas that a dealer needs to differentiate the business. Assuming these activities are customer-driven and based on a true desire to serve a market, there’s a chance to establish credibility over time. I’d say it’s worth exploring.

Some specific branding suggestions

Okay, let’s assume a dealer has adopted and instilled a code of conduct and in-store practices to differentiate itself from the ordinary car dealership. Now what?

Here are a few suggestions. Avoid the temptation of the owner, or a close relative of the owner, becoming the spokesperson for the franchise. I would hire a spokesperson full time. But this person will be an ombudsman (or woman) expressing customer concerns and explaining how the dealership avoids or eliminates the problems customer usually face in dealership experiences.

Next, I would make sure I did not shout at people through my radio, TV or print ads. I’d establish a strong individual graphic presence, but it would be a graphic identity that’s warm and understated. My ads would feature auto-buying hints, safety and teen driving tips, how-to articles about insurance, financing, maintenance and acquisition options. Yes, I’ll feature cars and special incentive programs and sales, but each ad would have an educational element as well.

I’d adopt a tagline that might be constructed as a challenge. “We’re on your side” might be the theme. But it will take time for that or any other theme to gain credibility. So expect this to be a long-range, relationship building experience.

One other thing: I’d become a major and visible community source of contributions in the form of cash, and more importantly, in people giving of their time and knowledge for everything from Scouts and Junior Achievement to runs for a cause and crisis relief. I’d contribute cars for student driver education. I’d help schools fund manual arts programs. I’d become a “soft touch” for one-time charitable activities.

Get prepared for a long period of relationship-building

In summary, I’d make my agency as human and warm as possible by adopting a low-key approach to promotion, by hiring and training compassionate people, by giving to the community, and by being patient.

I may be naïve in my recommendations. Car dealers will follow their tried and true methods as long as they work. But I’m afraid that old model will change as one, then another, and another dealer find the old way no longer meets their expectations, their auto maker partner’s expectations, and most important of all, their customer’s expectations.  

Now, please go to the BrandingWire to read what the other members of the BrandingWire posse have written about auto dealership branding. If I know this bunch, you’ll find new perspectives, challenging ideas and well-formed opinions that branders in general and car dealers in particular will find helpful.

Martin Jelsema

Estes Park: a Resort with an Inferiority Complex

As you probably know if you’ve been here before, I’m a member of the BrandingWire posse, one of twelve branding bloggers who monthly tackle a common branding subject.

This month that subject is branding a resort destination, specifically, Estes Park Colorado. You’ll find a branding brief we all worked from at

Estes Park has an inferiority complex.

Situated at the east entrances of Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), Estes Park appears to want to be known for that and nothing more. It’s image is subservient to RMNP and it accepts that role. On the official website, there are great photos of RMNP, but not one good photo of the town itself.

Estes Park logo

Residents of the area apologize for the town’s gift and souvenir shops and the congestion of its main street. And although everyone knows taxes are reasonable only because of the tourist traffic, most of the better educated, retired segment of the community would rather there be no expansion or the hurly burly of a summer tourist season.

Even the long-standing tagline is deflective: “Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park”. (You go through a gateway, you don’t spend a week there.)

As stated in the branding brief, Estes Park requires a larger tax base and cash flow to maintain traditional town services and to promote Estes Park as a desirable place to vacation.

The Town of Estes Park itself is responsible for funding and managing promotional activities, and they certainly are doing a great job in distributing literature to anyone who asks. They also run several modest ad campaigns as well. The town just completed a new convention and visitors center, a concert venue and a new website – They are instigating shuttle buses to get visitors from the motel areas into downtown this summer.

In order to achieve their financial goals, I suggest FOCUS.

An unfocused Brand Is Confusing

And Confused Prospects Don’t Become Customers.

I believe the solution is market segmentation.

There are several market segments to choose from, and several that need minimum “maintenance”. The day-trippers and RV nomads will come through as they have ever since the automobile became common. The small group of summer residents with second homes in the Estes valley, and families who habitually rent cabins by the week, will continue to come.

Scenes of Estes Park and RMNP 

I suggest focusing on two specialized groups: conference and meeting organizers and tour organizers. Though both segments are very competitive, Estes Park can be differentiated to appeal to these organizers and their clientele. There are two advantages for Estes Park: 1) extending the season into the fall and spring, and 2) welcoming people predisposed to spending money – some expense account derived – over a three-five day period.

It Takes a Village 

I’d work with facilities – the YMCA of the Rockies, The Stanley Hotel, the more up-scale restaurants and motels – to provide the infrastructure for such groups. I’d make sure there was entertainment and activities available for non-meeting times, even during off-season. I’d encourage attendees to spend by offering coupons and discounts for attractions.

But most of all, I’d want the stakeholders of the town, residents and merchants alike, to buy in. In other words, do an internal branding program. Help make each stakeholder an ambassador and evangelist to visitors.

The Brand, Estes Park, starts with the scenery and wildlife, and continues through the activities and events people experience. But the thing that will encourage folks to return to Estes with their families, and to talk up their Estes Park experience to others back home, is the overall feeling that they were welcome and that the people of Estes Park wanted them to return. That emanates from gracious and hospitable people whose honest desire is to help visitors enjoy their experience.

Also, for all market segments, I’d attempt to change the way Estes is thought of as a place to stop for a night or two and then venture on. I’d want to implant the idea that Estes Park is the only place you need to go to enjoy a vacation of a lifetime. That Estes provides all the activities and events that any and all family members will find enjoyable and memorable.

Think of Estes Park as a Destination Instead of a Gateway

So instead of branding Estes Park as “The Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park”, I’d go with the idea of “Awesome in So Many Ways”, or “Estes Park: It’s a Happening”. Then I’d make sure the Estes Park website and promotional literature reflected the variety of an Estes Park experience.

As it now stands, the website is static. I’d place plenty of videos on it. Panorama sweeps, wildlife sequences, downtown walk-abouts, concert and horse show performances. I’d show people enjoying Indian crafts, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, snow-shoeing, golfing. I’d do views from the aerial tramway.

I’d video kids splashing in a pool, riding a train, playing miniature golf, etc., etc.. Also, I’d set aside a section of the website for travel agents and tour organizers, together with programs to get them to do tours TO Estes. I’d have another web section for meeting and conference planners.

Then I’d hire a staff to coordinate these activities.

These suggestions do mean synchronizing and focusing the town’s thinking. Instead of attempting to be everything for everyone, in means singling out certain lucrative market segments and concentrating efforts there. And those efforts mean not only promotional materials and tactics. It starts with the mindset of the town’s influentials, then spreading that evangelistic message to every resident, every merchant, every tour and meeting organizer, every travel agent. And finally, by demonstrating the message to visitors, you allow them to carry the message back home: “Estes Park is the only place you need to go to experience a vacation you’ll remember forever”.

Estes Park: Focus and follow through. Focus and fulfill your promise to visitors. Focus and thrive.

Now that you’ve read my blog, you can read what the other posse members have to say about branding Estes Park. Just go to, or look up individual blogs from the BrandingWire listing in the right column.

Martin Jelsema


Naming Tips – Number 15 in a Series

Carrying on from last week, here are a couple of additional functions a brand name can assume aside from identifying the company, product, service or event.

The name can help in the selling process for the product, primarily by stating or implying a benefit. Think Easy-Off Oven Cleaner. Or Healthy Choice. Or Die-Hard. Or Secure Horizons.

Closely allied with the benefit-imparting function is the emotional trigger. Here the name is used to stir something in the “gut”.

Perhaps mystery (Obsession) or domesticity (Hearth & Home), or patriotism (Minute Man), or security (RightGard) can be aroused simply through the name.

But quite often the name won’t be able to function as either a benefit or emotional trigger for a number of reasons: legal, professional, competitive and/or strategic. If this is the case, it’s usually time to create a tagline that states the benefit or acts as the trigger.

Martin Jelsema

Branding Basics – Step 10

Now comes the question, “Do you need a tagline?”
The answer is, “It depends”.
There are several possibilities here. First, the brand name may not require an “expander”. In and of itself the name may identify and differentiate the company, product or service. This would be classified as an ideal name. They don’t occur frequently. That’s why almost everyone thinks they need a tag (aka, slogan).
A tagline can serve as many as four purposes, but normally no more than one or two. That being the case, you’ll have to choose which purpose you believe is most appropriate and important. If another function can be accommodated, so much the better.
First, a tagline can be a positioning statement. That means it’s the tagline’s function to express how the offering attempts to differentiate itself from competition.

Second, the tagline can define the product category in which the offering is based. Sometimes it will also include an unsubstantiated claim about the superiority of the offering within its category.

Third, the tagline can communicate an overt benefit that may or may not be exclusive to the brand. This can become a “preemptive” tactic to associate the benefit with the brand before competitors become known as the provider of this benefit.

Fourth, the tagline will identify the prospects for the product or service. This may be particularly valuable if you offer different “versions” of the product/service, and you promote each version to its intended market or industry.

For instance, he tagline for my business, Signature Strategies, attempts to serve two purposes: communicate a benefit and identify prospects. That line is: “helping smaller companies profit from the power of branding”.

But beware of the tagline as platitude. Y2K Marketing purports that most taglines are platitudes that mean nothing to the prospect or customer. Their test is this: if your reaction to a tagline is, “Well, I should hope so!”, then you don’t have an effective tagline that communicates with credibility or meaning. You have a platitude.

How well do you think the line performs those objectives? Comments welcome.

Martin Jelsema

More on memes

Last week I blogged about memes as a means of branding. Memes are icons or phrases with universal meaning such as the red cross of the Red Cross organization.

I suggested that some marketing advisors embraced the idea of associating a product or service with an existing meme such as Prudential has done with the Rock of Gibraltar. I then stated that I’d be very careful in associating your brand – or incorporating a meme into your brand as Prudential has done – because the meme by its very definition is not unique.

I still hold to this premise. But I must expand my thoughts to say that a meme can be a really powerful brand element or association if you’ve created it. In other words, if you’ve established and promoted your brand through a unique graphic, audio or text element that has become a meme through your presentation of it, and through people’s acceptance of it, you’ve got a winner.

Another way to say it: you’re practicing viral marketing. (As an aside, is it a coincidence that viral and virile have the same root?)

So if you’ve created “where’s the beef?”, or a bald-headed, house-cleaning genie, or “you’ve got mail”, you may be gaining brand equity. (Just a warning, though, the toy bunny with a drum is most often associated with Duracell even though he belongs to Energizer Holdings.)

Still, finding a unique way to express the essence of your brand is vital, whether that icon or tagline ever becomes an authentic meme.

Martin Jelsema