Taglines: why you should not “just do it” yourself.

Taglines: every day you hear them. Quick, snappy snippets fighting for those precious spots in your memory. With all the advertising and sponsorships we see, taglines (aka straplines, slogans) are more common than pop stars making bad decisions.

They come in all shapes and sizes: clever (Southwest’s “You are now free to move about the country”), evocative (“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”), onomIlt is not a headlineatopoetic (Mazda’s “Zoom, zoom, zoom”) or stupidly obvious (Delta’s “We’ll get you there”). Notice that they always work best where they’re the absolute last thing said, to cap off an enjoyable message. We call them “buttons” sometimes, to show how they finish the communication.

So how do you know if your tagline is any good?

Say you’re on a first date, but rather than a whole evening, you only have three seconds to make an impression. One line to set yourself apart from every other person in the dating pool, to win his/her heart. What do you say? More important – what does he/she want to hear? Will hearts melt more with “Tell me more about yourself,” or “I have an IQ of 147”?

Taglines work the same way. They are your chance to tell your prospects you can be important to them, in benefit-minded terms, to differentiate yourself from competitors. This ain’t a time for empty bragging.

Taglines can only perform one function well, and you have choices for that function. It can describe what you do, make a brand memorable, promise a benefit, claim a position versus competitors, connect with consumers’ emotional needs, or establish a call to action. If you’re lucky, it can be even fun to say: “Bounty, the quicker picker-upper” – again, it’s the last word, polishing off the message – firmly positioning you as smart, or unique, or urgently needed. It is not a headline.

What it must not do is spout self-serving gibberish that makes you disappear into background noise. Nor should it try to explain more than one thing about your organization, product, service or candidate . Focus on one benefit and let prospects learn the rest from your advertising, sales force, website and jungle drums.

You have many choices: Pinpoint how your product emotionally benefits consumers, and play on that emotion (e.g., L’Oreal’s “You’re worth it”). Focus on a physical difference so consumers can find your product (Duracell’s “You can’t top the copper top”). Use a mission-based tagline if you offer multiple services or products (GE’s “Imagination at work,” which was a huge improvement over the fatuous self-congratulation of “We bring good things to life.”). If you offer a complex service or are a little-known B2B company, say exactly what you do. (Hint: that is not permission to talk about yourself. Tell the customer what you will do for them.) Only well-known companies can use image-based taglines. McDonald’s’ “I’m lovin’ it” works because even a hermit in the Himalayas probably had a Big Mac last Thursday.

Taglines allow you to stand out for one good, specific reason, far apart from commoditized competitors.  This is especially true with low-involvement purchases: You’re at the store and remember you need trash bags. You also remember being on your hands and knees cleaning up coffee grounds after one ripped. You saw a commercial for more durable bags, but can’t remember the name. While you’re scanning your options, it hits you — “Don’t get mad — get Glad.” Voila, the commoditized selection gets personal.

Referring to a product’s name in the tagline can be a sound move if it’s done properly. It should directly tie a benefit to a product name in a memorable way (“Every kiss begins with Kay”). It should not merely say the name to take up space, as in Exxon’s old slogan, “We’re Exxon.” No kidding? The only way that tagline could be worse for Exxon is if they mentioned oil spills, Valdez and oil-soaked seagulls.

Whatever you do, don’t pat yourself on the back with a combination of generic blather like “quality,” “service,” “passion,” “excellence,” or the 150 years you have been doing these things. A tagline that talks about “Me Me Me” will turn people off before they look at your product. So “putting the customer first” is your priority? Who cares? What kind of company doesn’t at least pretend to care about customers and quality? You may as well say “We won’t kidnap your mom.” (Hmmm. That actually would be memorable….)

We should also add, if you need to be reminded, that “solution” is not a solution. That word is so 1999. Keep up with the tour group.

Geez. Quality is important – shouldn’t we mention it in our tagline?

If you want to disappear, go ahead. Use the “___ years of quality ____” formula. Mission accomplished. Here are ten companies and ten brain-dead taglines (past or current). Can you match these taglines to the correct company?

1. BF Goodrich Aerospace A. The new symbol for quality in America.
2. Jockey (underwear) B. Bringing quality to life.
3. Sanyo (TVs) C. Quality in everything we do.
4. Whiskas (cat food) D. Quality and innovation.
5. American Eagle Outfitters E. Best quality ever.
6. Velcro F. A commitment to quality and value.
7. Whirlpool G. Demand quality.
8. Goodyear Tires H. Dependable quality.
9. Buick I. Creating value through excellence – In innovation, quality and people.
10. Ernst & Young Financial J. Affordable quality.

How’d you do?* Do you even care at this point? Isn’t it remarkable that companies of considerable substance (and trust us, there are many more) will summarize themselves with gaseous blather? Passing up the opportunity to say something meaningful and memorable about your brand is worse than wasting time – it’s setting fire to money.

Whether it’s “Quality with style” (four companies in the last decade), “Quality without compromise” (we found seven of those) or “Quality” with some allusion to affordability (one zillion examples), it’s clear that quality of branding is in short supply.

The best advice? Don’t “just do it” yourself. Invest in professionals who bring objectivity and world-class creativity to the task. Call 312.836.0050.

*Oh, if you must know, it’s 1-I, 2-F, 3-J, 4-E, 5-H, 6-G, 7-B, 8-D, 9-A, 10-C.

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