Category: Taglines

FAIL: PETCO Thinks We’re Idiots? Yes. Yes they do.


Well, PETCO certainly doesn’t win any points for the creativity of their product name, but when it comes to the art of needlessly clarifying proper use of the product I think I’ve just witnessed perfection.

This, folks, is why I don’t hire lawyers to write copy.


A Branding Firm With No Tagline?

We get lots of great comments and feedback about our brand when people encounter it.  Sometimes it’s a reference to how cool or unique it is, sometimes it’s a comment about the fact that a brand like ours would never get through the approvals process at a company such as theirs.  Occasionally we get questions, too.  The number one most asked question?

What’s your tagline?

We don’t have one.  And for the moment that’s just fine – our name, visuals, positioning, and attitude give us everything we need for now.  If that changes we’ve got the ability to respond without needing to rip into other aspects of our brand.  In fact, we used to have a tagline, but as our business expanded it no longer suited our needs… which is pretty sad, because our tagline truly added value for us by reinforcing are straight-forward approach and explaining what we did at the same time.  The old tagline?

We name stuff.

RIP, old friend.  You served us well.

I played around with some concepts that might help position us aggressively in the branding marketplace but my team informed me that perhaps I was going a little too far out on the edge with my personal favorite.  Which is…

Stokefire: Brands In Heat

I love it.  I’m not sure if I love it in spite of or because of its blatant bad taste.  Probably “because of.”

Maybe not the best slogan for an agency employing one’s mother-in-law, however.  Even a mother-in-law as cool as mine.  Rather than using it as a tagline I think I may just make a ringer-tee with the slogan for family, friends, and clients that aren’t likely to go all litigious on us.  If you are in any of the above three groups (or would be interested in potentially purchasing said slogan tee) let me know of your interest and it’ll be a lot more likely to happen.

In the mean time?  No tagline.

How Not To Create A Tagline

Most regular readers of this website will know I’m not a big fan of the way most organizations use taglines.  It seems that companies use them because they’re supposed to have something under their name and above their address on their business cards – but they’re not quite sure what its supposed to do.

I wrote about this more than a year ago right here.  Note the second bullet under the “best taglines” section.  That’s something very few companies seem to be able to get right.

Brains on Fire – a firm we at Stokefire happen to like a lot (and not just because they’ve got “fire” in their name) wrote a post about this on their blog last week.   They suggest that you take your tagline and try to see if you can slap someone else’s name on it – and if it fits you should keep searching for the right tag.

Interesting that all the taglines were of the Three. Word. Taglines. variety.

As much as we hate these trite constructs, we do think there’s a purpose (and perhaps a reason why they all seem so much alike.)  There’s one thing that the TWTs do pretty well – they communicate to the people that work for the company.  They see it on their cards, letterhead, and website.  It’s a constant reminder of what their own product does (or what it stands for.)  Sure, it may be the same thing as everyone else – but companies that use this construct have a rare benefit – everyone from president to janitor knows what the company does.

That ain’t necessarily a bad thing, is it?  If you’re having confusion within the company this could be a tool to fix it.  The only problem is that most of the companies using these TWTs seem to think that people outside the company actually care enough to remember which three words are the ones that matter.  Internally?  Piece of cake.  Externally – nearly impossible.

Nike’s tagline – “Just Do It” – is indeed great… and the philosophy of the corporation is well communicated by it… but isn’t it conceivable that there’s someone in a factory job in a poor village somewhere in Asia who doesn’t realize that the fabric he’s making will help people run faster?  (The question of whether or not this matters is a topic for another post.)

(Full disclosure: the last company that had me as a full time employee uses a TWT – But they started using it after I left…  And I didn’t name ’em either.)


The Simpsons’ Springfield Gets Branded For A Bazillion Bucks

In last night’s Simpsons episode (Papa Don’t Leech) there was a quick exchange between Lisa Simpson and Mayor Quimby that fans of destination branding (and taglines) can appreciate. 

The setup – At the three minute mark in the show Lisa visits Quimby to sell him cookies (Skinny Mints!) and he attempts to pay from the city vault…

Lisa:  Where’s all the money?
Quimby:  Why it’s right… Uh-oh.  We spent all our money on that new slogan for Springfield. 
[Cut to view out the window where we see a billboard that says “SPRINGFIELD: GOOD”]

Springfield GOOD.jpg

Honestly… it’s at least as good as most of the recent location branding efforts we’ve seen lately.  Say WA anyone?  At least Springfield has an excuse for their cartoonish looking Power Trip.

Kudos to the Simpsons writers for pointing out that the clothes the branding industry is wearing right now aren’t exactly visible.

Some can do a lot worse than this example when it comes to destination branding…  And they have.

Hat tip to Michael for the find.

Can A Tagline Double Your Sales Overnight?

It can if you’re Alka-Seltzer.

Back in the day, market research indicated that people knew what Alka-Seltzer was for (stomach upset) but didn’t know that you were supposed to take two of them.

Enter a great tactical jingle and tagline – Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it isand suddenly everyone knows how many tablets to put in the glass.  And they did it without having to tell people that they really should read the directions first.

Side note: I’m not suggesting the tagline is perfect.  It’s not always desirable to have a tagline serve double duty as something kids taunt each other with on the playground when someone messes themselves.

Remember, taglines and jingles don’t have to be permanent.  Alka-Seltzer brings this one back every so often – and even had a contest to update the jingle.  Not sure I think that it was much more than a curiosity, but it did get them some press for a product that’s been frozen in time.

In my humble opinion, the old jingle was more valuable as it was.  It would’ve been a better idea to work on an alternative message that focused on the history of the tablets.  A “keeps on ticking” sort of approach – or an approach that reflected the relevancy of something so reasonable sounding in an age where people seem to be swept up with snake-oil sales pitches about magnets, crystals, and the power of positive thinking.  “Lost a limb?  Think of fluffy bunnies and all will be okay!”

And why didn’t they jump on the Alka-Seltzer and Coke bandwagon? 

Hmmm… on second thought… Maybe I don’t want people to wonder whether or not their stomachs will explode when they accidentally combine my medicine with a soft-drink to ease their pain…

(Though the thought of some edgy commercials shot with a hand-held cam where someone tries to debunk the urban myth that people explode after taking Alka-Seltzer – and the guy successfully proves it is safe only to have the person explode after he turns away… THAT would be awesome…)

Next week?  We’ll cover the musical message you didn’t even know you knew…

Turning Your Dreams Into Bromides

Can an old chemical term provide insight into the world of taglines and branding?  Tune in and find out!

I was going over some old college textbooks recently (mostly to see if I could finally find a way to part with them) and I came across a notation written by someone evidently smarter than myself in the margin.

It said “BROMIDE!!!”

…and it had an arrow pointing to an underlined phrase… which was “That is neither here nor there.”

I remembered reading something about Bromides from my chemistry classes.  The original meaning of bromide has something to do with a smelly element used in some printing methods.  (Though I think it probably had the name before the printing method was devised…)

Bromide also has another purpose – it is a sedative.

While I evidently hadn’t been interested enough to check this out when it might’ve helped my grades, I was moved to pull a dictionary to learn how this word was repurposed. Answer: Gelett Burgess used the word in a book published in 1906.  The title?  “Are You a Bromide?”  (Full text of the book can be found here.)

To badly summarize the author’s point, he views Bromides as the stuff people say that really doesn’t need to be said at all.  By anyone.  Ever.  (Incidentally the phrases tend to be overly polite, optimistic, trite, and phony.)

He provides examples:

  • “This world is such a small place, after all, isn’t it?”
  • “I’ve had a perfectly charming time!”
  • “Now, DO come and see us!”
  • “Of course if you leave your umbrella at home it is sure to rain!”

Though most of these are a bit out of fashion today, his list does contain some that hit closer to home.

  • “I don’t know much about Art, but I know what I like.”
  • “…she doesn’t look a day over fifty.”
  • “You’ll feel differently about these things when you’re married!”
  • “I thought I loved him at the time, but of course it wasn’t really love.”
  • “I really [shouldn’t] tell you this, but…”
  • “…I know you better than you know yourself!”
  • “It isn’t so much the heat as the humidity…”
  • “I don’t know what we ever did without the ______ ….”  [Telephone, Television, Internet, etc…]
  • “You’re a sight for sore eyes”
  • “You can live twenty years in _____ and never know who your next door neighbor is.”
  • “He’s told that lie so often that he believes it himself, now.”
  • “Don’t worry; that won’t help matters any.”

Okay, so the phrasing is a little awkward to parse, but you’ll note that you probably could anticipate how each phrase would end.

There are things that people say that everyone can recite right alongside.  It’s a bit like if I walked into a room of first-graders and shouted “Hickory Dickory Dock!”   Assuming that they’re too young to have listened to Andrew Dice Clay the majority of them would answer my call with something about climbing rodents and timepieces. 

Bromides aren’t worth saying because… well… to use the power of a Bromide… they go without saying.  Or to alter the intent a bit… they are better left unsaid.

So, how does this all relate to a branding and naming blog post? 

While it is possible to achieve success using Bromides or even by being a Bromide (just look at IBM – who became their own metaphor that no one ever got fired for using…) it does take a lot more effort.  And money.  Lots more money.

Consider my old nemesis tagline – “Making Your Dreams A…”

What’s the next word?  Is it “Mess?”  How about “Nice Set of Felted Slippers?”  No, likely it is neither of those things.  Making Your Dreams A Reality is perhaps the most trite of all slogans and is one I’d place firmly in the Bromide category.  Want to become world famous with that tagline?  You’re looking at spending tens of millions of dollars – likely more – to get any notice at all.

A few Bromide Taglines for you to consider:

  • Anything having to do with dreams or ideas and a transition to reality
  • “Our Customers Come First”
  • “You’re Number One”
  • “We’re Number One!”
  • “The Customer Is Always Right”
  • “Best Deals In Town”
  • “All Under One Roof”
  • “We’ll Treat You Right”
  • “We’ve Got What You Need”
  • “See Yourself Here”

This list took me about 35 seconds to make.  I’m sure that given a day I could list a couple hundred.

I can see that having a predictable tagline might be seen as a positive since it would mean people would always be able to recall your brand – but the predictability comes at a cost.  If it is predictable then chances are good the tagline is already attached to something else in the target’s mind.  Or more likely lots of other things.

Worse, the predictability isn’t one born out of any particular level of insight – it’s a bit like a familiar tune or phrase spoken or sung in another language.  We know it because we’ve heard it before – but when we say it ourselves we don’t actually think about the meaning.  As a recovering classical musician I am very familiar with this – I’d have to learn songs in Italian and French – two languages I don’t know anything about.  I can belt out some familiar tunes from The Marriage of Figaro, but I do it out of habit, not comprehension.  I’m pretty sure I’m singing about sending some kid off to war and being broke, but the why’s and how’s aren’t known to me.

Shouldn’t your tagline be more useful than a few noises that remind people of your brand without adding any value?  (Especially when everyone else is using exactly the same noises?)

C’mon folks.  I’m sure y’all have a lot more examples of some popular Bromide taglines.

Drop a comment and let’s see ’em.  (Who knows, maybe we can start a revolution against crappy branding.  We can predictably guarantee that “the revolution will not be televised.”)


IAAPA – Brass Ring Awards Judging

Oh the stuff that Thingnamers get to do…

I had the opportunity yesterday to help judge the Brass Ring Awards for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions with numerous other leaders in the Association Marketing space. My judging team selected the Best Integrated Marketing Campaign, Best Seasonal or Special Event Marketing, Best Print Advertisement, and Best Outdoor Advertisement.

While I’m not at liberty to say who won in the various categories, I was surprised to discover many trends in verbal and visual branding that become apparent only when you’re confronted with 120 campaigns all selling what is essentially the same thing – a day of entertainment for the family.

  1. The smallest organizations fall into two categories – either they mention every single attraction the park offers (in the hopes, we assumed, that at least one would be interesting to the audience) – or they were completely off the wall and creative. The smaller parks typically have no guidance from a corporate office somewhere so if the marketing department knows what they’re doing they get the chance to be amazingly strange (and effective.) They also don’t get the coaching that the mid- to large-sized parks get and aren’t prevented from putting out adverts that look an awful lot like catalogs, penny-savers, or junk-mail. Lesson learned: If you’re a small park you shouldn’t see marketing campaigns as places to save money or try shotgun marketing – see them as places to take a stand. The ones that just said “this is who we are and why we’re cool” really impressed us.
  2. Animal parks, zoos, animal events, and animal experience sites were far and away the most creative. I’d assumed I’d be leafing through pages of “come see the baby panda” and “Hey kids – come for your birthday – our elephants won’t forget to give you a present” sort of stuff. I was wrong. In an age where kids and adults are more likely to watch a video or simulation of animals the zoos have really risen to the challenge and come up with some great ways to show not only what they have to offer, but why it is important that we (as people, families, society) really need to experience it. While quite obviously the visuals were stunning, the words they used were also spot on. When the awards are announced I’ll spend more time on this.
  3. We’d been drooling over the prospect of judging the batch of major theme parks – the biggest in the world. Sadly, this group really let us down. What we discovered was a batch of very clean advertising with a singular message (textbook, really) that had absolutely nothing unique about it. They were often beautiful to watch, but gave the viewer nothing to connect with. They really contrasted with the low-production-value small parks with interesting messages. Many were the sort of thing you’d expect to see on an intercontinental flight between movies. They felt canned. Sponsored. Fake. Empty. In a few instances we had trouble finding a runner up (or even a winner) because every single park took the exact same approach to an event. Corporate thinking… isn’t.
  4. Most entertaining (though not always award winning)? The rare literal break-out piece. A billboard being broken into pieces. A sign flipped sideways to give better perspective on an attraction. Using the edges of an advertising space to help convey the size of something at the park. The most effective pieces were so great that I wanted to hang them on my wall… They really show how closely linked art and marketing can be. The best ads tended to be visually striking – and made all the judges in the room immediately say “I want to do *that*.”

And a side note to potential entrants of contests… if you’re going to submit multiple entries you may want to consider submitting low multiples. It’s really hard to see how unique a particular park is when they submit (say) five similar campaigns in every single category. Sure, odds seem to point to a better chance of winning… but it also means that every single one of your campaigns seems less special.

Awards judging is similar to the original point of marketing. You want to stand out. You can’t do that if you create a crowd as soon as your entries hit the table. Pick your best… leave the rest.(tm)?

Hey… that slogan works for the ad campaigns too.

Many thanks to my fellow judges for a fun day and to Eamon Connor for selecting a Thingnamer such as myself for such a cool project.

“Don’t Clear Your Throat”

At an event put on by ASAE last night I heard David Colton, page one editor for USA Today, say the words in the title of this post. Unlike most of the online references to this topic he wasn’t talking about how to preserve your singing voice or avoid painful laryngal issues.

He used the phrase to jokingly refer to the way most newspapers write articles. It’s the advice he gives to others at USA Today if they want their article to be printed as written. Most newspaper articles start with a convoluted introduction that sets the tone, provides context, or tells the back story to the article before the real reason for the story happens – leading to the reader wanting to scream, “GET TO THE STORY ALREADY!” As you probably know, USA Today just says what happened and leaves the verbal gymnastics to the other papers.

I’ve heard a somewhat similar phrase used in the news industry – “Don’t bury the lead.” But it has key differences. Burying the lead implies that you miss the point of the story. Clearing your throat doesn’t mean the point of the story is missed – it just means that it is delayed.

I really like the new phrase, though. It’s got a lot in common with something we say at Stokefire all the time – that being “Get the [bleep] out of the way of the message.” We often spend so much time in marketing trying to set up the perfect delivery of our message that our audience loses interest before we get the chance to tell ’em why we’re worth knowing.

I think we may end up stealing “Don’t Clear Your Throat.” I like it that much.

And in case you’re wondering how Stokefire lives up to our own phrase – here’s how I introduce my team:

“Hi – we’re Stokefire. We name stuff.” And if I’m feeling ornery I might add “…and we do it pretty damn well.”

Might be worth taking a look at your own messaging to see if you’re expectorating a bit much. (No one likes to hear you gargle.)

And last – David’s discussion was pretty cool. He talked about how the focus of the paper help bring the nation together. To provide common ground – stuff that everyone could talk about over the water cooler. I could really see how this philosophy has to be paired with the no-nonsense delivery of facts without preamble. No one starts a water cooler conversation with “Did you hear? Twenty years ago these two guys started a tech company in their basement…”


DSCC Misses The Mark… So Stokefire Tries To Hit It.

rightsticker.jpgThe DSCC had a contest… and it feels like we, the people, lost.

So rather than continually complain (as I’ve done for the last couple days) I figured I’d fix the problem.

We’re not waiting for a vote. We’re goin’ out there and developing a solution. To the left you’ll see Stokefire’s attempt at a bumper-sticker we’d actually like to see. So… we made it and are ordering them ourselves, damnit. You can order stuff by going here.

Feel free to order ’em and plaster your stuff (or maybe the neighbor’s Hummer?) with ’em. We were full enough of ourselves to think that y’all might want bags, shirts, mugs, and stuff, too, so we’re making those available.

Want to order mass quantities of something? Send us an email and we’ll work with you to cut a deal. Licensing is available…

Tell the family, friends, and politicos… the Left may just have a workable slogan.

And if this actually earns money we will donate a significant portion of the profits to a platform-related charity or non-profit. If it comes to pass we’ll let you know the percentages, amounts, and recipients.

165490142v2_240×240_front.jpg[Update: We’re still fiddling with the wording… moving stuff around… playing with the degree of the left turn… look for tweaks over the next couple weeks. But buying now gets you an Original!]

[Update 2: We’ve added a different option for the text based on feedback. Now we’re a little less cryptic.]

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