The Problem With Taglines.

Frequent readers will know that I’ve got problems with the way most organizations utilize taglines. The typical company uses their tagline as a way to fit in rather than a way to stand out. Consider the following examples:

  1. Making your dreams a reality (or) Turning your dreams into reality. With over a million hits for the combinations on Google it’s clear that the slogans aren’t doing a thing for the firms that use them. And also note that there’s nothing at all here to tell us what industry the firm is in.
  2. Customers are Number One! Yep. And if they weren’t you wouldn’t be in business.
  3. Creativity. Strategy. Execution. Really this is a reference to the trend to have three single words as the tagline. No one ever pays attention to it. And it sounds reeeeeally pompous.

I was asked what I thought led to strong taglines last week and after a few minutes of thought I came up with this:


The best taglines have a few things in common:

  • They represent the brand spiritfast.jpg
  • They specifically apply to the company using the slogan – to the exclusion of any other company in the industry
  • There’s something unexpected or unique – perhaps rhyme, interesting word choice, or an attitude that hasn’t been seen in the industry. It has to have at least a little risk.
  • They address a specific audience and are meant to drive this audience to do something (like buy the product, think about particular qualities, talk about it, bug their parents, or something else.)

I was also asked whether there was a test that could be applied to determine if a tagline was great. I think that longevity comes close, though longevity isn’t a requirement. Certainly there have been some powerful taglines that were created for singular events.


In some industries (such as with automobiles) you’ll find manufacturers changing the tagline every year or two. Sometimes this can be good, but usually it is a sign of a major problem. Just look at what Buick has done over a four year period:


2001 – It’s All Good
2002 – The Spirit of American Style
2004 – Dream Up
2005 – Beyond Precision


I challenge any of you to find the common brand theme or thread here. I see optimism, patriotism, creativity/aspiration, and accuracy. How do these ideas come together in a cohesive brand package?


Answer: They Don’t.


I have a feeling that we’ll be seeing yet another tagline from Buick soon – as they realize people don’t buy Buicks for their tight handling or precise fit.


Contrast this tagline churn with what Saturn has done:


1990 – A Different Kind of Car Company
2002 – It’s Different in a Saturn
2004 – People First
2006 – Like Always. Like Never Before.


Common threads? How about ‘being different by valuing the relationship with the buyer/owner’? Every tagline references that in some way. This isn’t tagline churn because the previous one was ineffective, it is churn that brings out deeper aspects of the core brand.


If you’re going to invest in a new tagline every few years shouldn’t you at least make sure that each one builds on the last?


Tate Linden
Principal Consultant
Stokefire Consulting Group
703-778-9925

One Response to “The Problem With Taglines.”

  1. Tate,
    I’ve do believe that a tagline is a promise. Saturn fulfills that promise every day which is what makes it so powerful.
    Good post.
    D



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