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.