Why Lots of Taglines Suck. But Yours Doesn’t Have To. The Three C’s of Effective Taglines.

Over the course of 25 years as an agency writer, strategist and creative director, many a creative brief for a tagline has hit my desk. The clients have ranged from hospitals to telecommunications providers to our city’s zoo to even a manufacturer of LEED-certified, environmentally friendly trash can liners. Each one of those experiences, as well as years of work on successful brands, has provided some pretty clear insight on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to taglines.

The tagline, for those unfamiliar with the term, is the succinct description of what your company is all about and you can usually find it nestled underneath the logo of most brands. Sometimes the tagline is product-centric, sometimes it’s aspirational and sometimes it’s a cultural rallying cry. Regardless of its tone, the tagline represents a key opportunity to cement an image of your brand in the head of your prospect. Here is how to make sure you are not cementing something mundane, confusing or inappropriate.

Clear.

The best taglines tend to be the most straightforward. But you can take this advice too far. For instance, Ford’s tagline a few years back was Drive One. So when it comes to being clear, they get high marks. Although you could argue they went to the extreme on the lack of imagination scale. The only thing that would have been more blunt and less inspiring is if Ford just came out and said Buy One. For the record, they have since changed their tagline to Go Further, which I think strikes a pretty good balance between the literal and the figurative.

Concise.

Just Do It. This ubiquitous rallying cry from Nike has transcended decades. One of the big reasons for its staying power is that it totally fits their brand. But just as important, it’s short and to the point. Those three monosyllabic words have inspired generations of runners, basketball players, tennis fans and sedentary people who just like colorful sneakers to spend billions on athletic apparel. They nailed it. And if you and your agency keep it brief, you can, too.

Correct.

This one seems obvious but it gets overlooked or just ignored by many brands. Is what you’re saying in your tagline true and accurate? If not, there is going to be a fundamental disconnect with your audience. If Taco Bell’s tagline was, Stuff in Tortillas That’s Good For You, there would be skeptics. Instead they have the slogan, Live Más. And while you could technically argue that the grub at T-Bell could quite literally shorten your life, resulting in living less and not more, it’s nevertheless a good conceptual angle. Because, for their target audience of hungry college bros, eating Doritos Locos Tacos in front of a PS4 is “living mas.” So, well played Taco Bell.[Tweet “The tagline represents an opportunity to cement an image of your brand in the head of your prospect.”]

Extra Credit: Clever.

Being catchy or evocative never hurts when it comes to taglines. One that our firm created a few years back fits the bill. After rebranding the city of Rogers, Arkansas, our agency and the town settled on the tagline, Where Possible Lives. Based on our research and experience with the town, this progressive city located in one of the fastest growing regions in the country was truly a place of great possibility. In this case, we also managed to check off all three boxes on our list: clear, concise and correct. And like most good taglines, it is now fully integrated into the city’s marketing plan and they do their best to live it on a day-to-day basis.

Have a tagline that you love or hate? Let us know. We’d love to hear your take.

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Author Thoma Thoma

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