The Good Brand Checklist No.6

No.6 — We have a good sticky tagline

A tagline (strapline or slogan) is an important tool in branding, helping brands provide additional information about the brand in an established format, when time and space is limited.

nike just do it tagline

e.g. Nike’s famous tagline: “Just do it.”

Writing a good tagline is hard, unless you’re lucky to stumble across the perfect one liner. There are plenty of great taglines and plenty of awful ones too.

The most successful taglines are remembered for decades.

So here are some tips to inspire you onto tagline greatness.

A good tagline should:

  • Help customers understand what the brand offers to the customer. Example: “Just do it
  • Express some personality, invoke an emotive response. Example: “Think Different”
  • Be quirky and memorable. Example: “Think outside the bun”
  • Be 7 words or less. Example: “A passion for chocolate since 1896”
  • Be used consistently for a period of time. Example: “Just do it” has been used by Nike for more than 30 years.
  • Be unique.

Styles of tagline

There are broadly speaking, two styles of tagline, Obscure and Descriptive.

OBSCURE taglines such as Nike’s — “Just do it”, are experiential or emotive and don’t directly say what the brand does.

Other examples include: “Think Different”, “We try harder” and “Have it your way”

DESCRIPTIVE taglines, such as Whittaker’s — “A passion for chocolate since 1896” directly reference the product or service — in this case chocolate.

Other examples include: “Buy your last camera first”, “America’s Diner is Always Open”, “Eat Fresh”, “POS software you’ll love to use.”, “Beautiful Accounting Software”

Do this simple exercise

Here is a small list of some great taglines. Look at the taglines above and below. Think about how they make you feel and then work out the brands associated with them.

  • “Just do it”
  • “I’m lovin’ it”
  • “Nothing runs like a Deere”
  • “Connecting People”
  • “Go Further”
  • “Impossible is nothing”
  • “Because so much is riding on your tires”
  • “Mmm! Mmm! Good!”
  • “Where’s the beef”
  • “Real ice creamier”

*Brand answers at the bottom of this post

Which style should I use?

There is a right time and a wrong time to use each style of tagline.

In the early days McDonalds always included the words Hamburger in their branding, as seen in the image below. So they used a Descriptive (or literal) style.

Mcdonalds tagline before

McDonald’s early signage mentioned the product ‘Hamburgers”

Over time as they became better known they dropped the Hamburger and adopted more obscure, emotive taglines like the current “I’m lovin it”.

McDonalds tagline I'm lovin it

McDonald’s now use a more emotive tagline.

So which style should you use?

This will depend on the level of awareness of your brand.

We use a simple scale of Brand Awareness to help us determine what style of tagline to use.

Essentially brands fall into one of 3 levels:-

Household Names — Brands are well established in the minds of the consumers and the wider market. Example: Nikon

Category Leaders — Brands that are well established in a particular market segment. Example Hasselblad in high end cameras.

Unknown Brands — Brands that have low awareness, or are still establishing themselves. Work out where your brand is on the awareness scale. Be honest.

Then:

If you’re a Household Name or a Category Leader, congratulations, you’ve earned the right to be less literal and more emotive in your tagline.

In fact your customers are probably looking for something a little more insightful about your brand. This is particularly so for brand fans and advocates who feel that they are “insiders” and an insightful tagline often resonates with their self-image.

By way of Example, Nike has established it’s brand as a Household Name. Nike has strong Brand Awareness and so can use an obscure tagline, which “Just do it” most certainly is.

If you’re a Category Leader brand, be careful when using an obscure tagline outside of your category. You could even use two different taglines depending in the audience you’re talking to.

If you’re an Unknown Brand, or you need to re-establish your brand, unfortunately you don’t have the luxury of an obscure tagline.

The number one job for your tagline is to tell the audience who you are and what you do. To help you sell.

That means being descriptive and more literal*. While still attempting to invoke the right emotional response and making it as momorable if you can.

*There is an exception to the Descriptive Tagline rule for Unknown brands. That is if your brand name includes what you do in the name itself then you don’t necessarily need to repeat it.

*For Example: BurgerKing™ doesn’t need to mention Burgers in it’s tagline “Have it your way”.

Should I change my tagline?

Well that depends.

coke open happines

If your tagline is a good one and well established, you’d have to consider very carefully before changing it.

But even top brands change their taglines as their brand (and perhaps the market) evolves over time.

e.g. Coca Cola for many years used “Delicious and Refreshing” , then “The real thing” for a period and are now using “Open Happiness”

e.g. FedEx has used a collection of taglines over the years, including “Our Most Important Package is Yours” and “Why Fool Around with Anyone Else?”. “Relax, It’s FedEx,” arrived in 2004 and in 2009 FedEx adopted the tagline “The World on Time”.

Will “Open Happiness” and “The World on Time” last forever? Probably not.

There’s plenty of evidence of brands updating their taglines over time, as the brand and the times evolve and change.

If your tagline isn’t working or doesn’t meet the Awareness test above — Yes, you should consider revamping and then investing in your tagline. Just avoid frequent change. Once you have a good tagline — stick with it and invest time and money in it.

Tagline #Fail’s

For every great tagline there are dozens of bad ones. Often brands that are new and with low awareness fall into the trap of the Obscure tagline, perhaps emulating some of the better known, more illustrious brands, that we’re all exposed to.

Here are some examples of what, are in our opinion, abject failures:

Xfinity — “the future of awesome”

The future of awesome what? We have no idea.

xfinity tagline

Australian Tourism — “Where the bloody hell are you?”

I’m at home watching the tele, who the heck are you, you rude bugger. Why would I want to visit you for a holiday?

tourism-australia-tagline

Columbia Tourism — “The only risk, is wanting to stay.”

What? Are they saying it’s a risky place to visit or risky place to live? I’m possibly curious, but seriously, why would I want to visit?

colombia tagline

Next Steps

If you have a great tagline and are happy with it, you can check this item off, pat yourself on the back. You’re on your way to a good strong brand.

If not, then your brand needs work.

Creating a great tagline is challenging to say the least. We’ve played around with our own taglines for years.

The fact is , it’s OK to change and it’s Ok to use different taglines.

In fact it’s far better to change and experiment with the tagline than the brandname or logo.

If you’re looking to create a tagline or update one,

  • Take your time
  • Have a good look around at what others are doing
  • Consider engaging a professional writer or professional branding facilitator with experience in naming and taglines
  • Consider getting your team together, preferably away from your place of work. Try a brainstorming session. As a brain starter try coming up with the worst taglines you could possibly create for your brand, or a tagline for each person attending the session and then switch to doing it for your brand.

Happy branding 😀

Tagline = Brand Answers

  • “Just do it” = Nike
  • “Think Different” = Apple
  • “Think outside the bun” = Taco Bell
  • “We try harder” = Avis
  • “Have it your way” = BurgerKing
  • “A passion for chocolate since 1896” = Whittakers
  • “Buy your last camera first” = Hasselblad
  • “America’s Diner is Always Open” = Denny’s
  • “I’m lovin’ it” = McDonalds
  • “Nothing runs like a Deere” = John Deere
  • “Connecting People” = Nokia
  • “Go Further” = Ford
  • “Impossible is nothing” = Adidas
  • “Because so much is riding on your tires” = Michelin
  • “Mmm! Mmm! Good!” = Campbells
  • “Where’s the beef” = Wendy’s
  • “Real ice creamier” = TipTop
  • “Eat Fresh” — Subway
  • “POS software you’ll love to use” = Vend
  • “Beautiful Accounting Software” = Xero

Thanks for reading, I’m David Vaassen, and I love and work with great brands everyday as a brand strategist and founder of brand management systems company e-see® and Brandkit®.

This article is no.6 in The Good Brand Checklist series.

p.s. I wrote this originally in 2014 but like most brand practices it still applies today.

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The Good Brand Checklist No.6

No.6 in the The Good Brand Checklist series of articles. We have a good sticky tagline

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