October 31, 2013
Taglines are difficult things to pin down. Some taglines have a certain force, a certain efficacy that makes us remember them years or even half a century later. The best ones even stick in our minds long after everyone has forgotten what they were originally for. “Reach out and touch someone” remains a well-known expression today, despite the fact that it originated as a slogan for AT&T back in 1979.
However, it’s also all too easy to put out a tagline that ends up being derided as cliché. People cheerfully mock slogan-oriented culture and buzzwords with fervor, and they do have a point. This is a content-conscious society, and people are skeptical about outrageous claims or comments that they’ve seen a thousand times before. A good tagline must be both memorable and honest, focused on the brand and the truth about that brand. Remember the phrase “tag, you’re it,” with the stress on the you. Make the tagline about your brand, and nothing else.
Tag Tip #1 – Be Truthful
If you have to make up or exaggerate claims about your brand, then you have no confidence in it and people will be able to tell. Your brand must be able to stand on its own merits, period. Any other assumption is ridiculous, and while deception might profit in the short term, the damage done to reputations through falsifications lingers.
To that end, avoid making patently outrageous or unrealistic claims in your tagline. Don’t claim, “It will change your life” if there’s really no expectation it will. Take the example of a kitchen appliance brand range. Perhaps it will make life a little easier, or maybe more efficient for the purchaser. It is unlikely it’s going to change their life as a whole.
Instead, focus on what your brand can do.
Tag Tip #2 – Be Bold
When developing a tagline, make a claim that illustrates your brand’s capacity. Consider the Timex tagline back from 1956: “Timex takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” Simple, direct and honest. Timex watches were built well, and thus could take a fair degree of abuse while still functioning. The statement was completely honest and compelling in its own choice of words. As an added bonus, this is another saying that’s moved into the common vernacular as an expression for anything that’s durable and reliable under duress.
Tag Tip #3 – Imply
Being honest and bold doesn’t necessarily require being simple. There are strong, direct slogans such as the aforementioned Timex tagline, but this is by no means the only step to take. Taglines can imply. After all… “got milk?” That powerful slogan from the early 1990s still elicits a strong, positive response today. Notice that there’s no direct claim in that tagline. It doesn’t outright say that milk is good, or even that not having milk is bad. It just asks if you have any. It leaves the work of the matter up to you to answer yes or no. From there, you begin to think if you’d like milk… and with two little words, the tagline has gotten you to do most of the work. In terms of branding power, it’s sublime.
Tag Tip #4 – Know Your Place
Don LaFontaine is legendary in the movie industry. He did the voiceovers for hundreds, if not thousands, of trailers in his lifetime. Sadly, he is no longer with us. He gave us the wonderful, iconic tagline, “in a world…”
You are not Don LaFontaine. If you’re trying to brand a movie with an opening tagline, do not use his line. It’s disrespectful of his memory, and disrespectful of your own brand, which deserves an original, creative effort.
This is an extreme example, but an important one. It can be tempting to refer to your product as “the next…” and fill in the noun. Or make a tagline that consciously apes another tagline. The problem is, unless you’re going for satire, people will recognize the disingenuous nature of the effort and respond poorly. Draw inspiration from prior ideas, by all means, but make sure that what finally comes out is a new line, reflective of your brand in its own right.
Tag Tip #5 – Embrace Brevity
Keep the tagline short. The second part of tagline is “line,” after all. It’s not motto, creed, paragraph, mission statement, article of faith or essay. If you can’t say the whole tagline in less than five seconds, it’s not a tagline.
For example, consider these: “We make money the old fashioned way — we earn it.” “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s Mastercard.” Both are fairly long by tagline standards, but they can still be said in three seconds without sounding rushed. They go on as long as needed to do the job, and no longer.
Tag Tip #6 – Be Flexible
Sometimes a tagline just does not work out. This is alright; it’s neither a disaster nor the end of your reputation. Sometimes you’ll put together some words that sound great to you, but that everyone else just finds humorous. Consider the case of Iain Duncan Smith, an English politician known for his soft voice. He tried to brand himself with the phrase, “Don’t underestimate the resolve of a quiet man.” This was a great line in and of itself; however, due to the quirks of British politics, it led to people teasing him with shushing noises. He accepted this, and moved on.
If your tagline doesn’t work, move on to one that will. Just make sure you aren’t simply jumping from one bad ship to the other. Treat every misstep as a learning opportunity, and try to refine instead of making the same mistake twice.
Enzo F. Cesario is an online branding specialist and co-founder of Brandsplat. Brandsplat creates blogs, articles, videos and social media in the "voice" of our client's brand. For the free Brandcasting Report go to http://www.Brandsplat.com or visit our blog at http://ibrandcasting.com/.