How to Write a Tagline that Sticks

August 13, 2013

How to Write a Tagline that Sticks

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When you hear “Just do it” or “Think Different“, what comes to mind? If you’ve been conditioned enough, you’ll recognize that the two phrases are the taglines of Nike and Apple. The same thing goes for other taglines like “Who ya gonna call” (Ghostbusters) and “Snap! Crackle! Pop!” (Kellogg’s Rice Krispies). These taglines stick for two reasons, you’ve heard them often, and they’re well designed. If those are the two factors for tagline success, then it’s easy to write a good tagline, right?

Components of Successful Taglines

Unfortunately, a good tagline isn’t going to be that easy for you to coin. In an article on How Stuff Works, Timothy Foster describes the criteria for the “perfectly-formed tagline”. His components include making it memorable, referencing a key benefit, differentiating the brand, imparting positive feelings, and making it unusable by competitors. Every tagline you know nailed the first component. The line “Simply the best” is not memorable in any way, despite being used by more than 25 seperate businesses. Walmart’s taglines are good examples of referencing the benefit: “Always low prices” and “Save money, live better“. Not only are these memorable, but simply repeating them reminds you that Walmart has good prices. Taglines don’t need to reference this point to be successful though- Nike’s has literally nothing to do with benefits of their products, but remains incredibly effective. Subway and Quiznos are both very similar in that they are both franchised sub restaurants, and due to competition have very similar offerings. Their taglines however are quite different, and evoke completely opposite images. Subway’s “Eat Fresh” line appeals to health conscious people, while “M’m, m’m, m’m, m’m, m’m, toasty!“, Quiznos’ tagline, appeals to hungry people who want a hot sandwich. Two similar companies, starkly different taglines. The 4th point, imparting positive feelings, is another component that can be absolutely crucial, but also left out entirely. “The most trusted name in news“, CNN’s tagline, certainly fulfills this criterion well- as does Burger King with “Have it your way“. Both taglines are a good mix of components, though they fail to protect against the final criteria. If Wendy’s began using a tagline like “Exactly what you wanted“, Burger King’s tagline loses its uniqueness in the fast-food universe. To combat this, you can add brand uniqueness to the tagline, such as rhyming it with the brand name, or including the brand in the tagline. Petco’s tagline “(Petco), Where the pet’s go” is a good example of a tagline that would be very difficult to twist around for use by Petsmart or another competitor.  An excellent example of all 5 components in one tagline can be found in Raid bug poisons- “Raid kills bugs dead“. It’s memorable, references the key benefit, differentiates itself, imparts positive feelings, and is totally unusable by competitors.

Common Tagline Mistakes

So now you know the components of some of the most memorable taglines, what do you need to avoid in order to make yours good? Eric Swartz- self professed ‘Tagline guru’ and editor of taglineguru.com- lists 10 common mistakes people make when writing taglines. Though all the mistakes are commonly made, I’m only going to explain a few of them, since you have the benefit of the examples above.

  • Being cliché and bland are the first two mistakes, and you see them all over the place. No matter how powerful it sounds “Innovation Through Computing” isn’t memorable, and its the sort of line that will hurt you rather than help.
  • Imitating other taglines is something small business owners love to do, but is almost never a good idea. Ripping off Wendy’s “Where’s the beef?” tagline with “Where’s the meat?” may seem like a great idea at first, but it only makes people think of Wendy’s, and makes you look completely unoriginal.
  • Self-centered taglines aren’t so bad when they are tied to huge companies, but they can sound awfully self-serving when tied to local ones. “The best tires in the world have Goodyear written all over them” is a self-centered corporate tagline, but it doesn’t make people think badly of Goodyear. “The smartest designer in Oregon” may have sounded like a great idea when you coined it, but it just makes you sound pompous and self-serving.
  • Too many words can become an issue, as long taglines aren’t as memorable. The Goodyear line I just referenced can be mentally shortened to “The best tires are Goodyear“, but “John Doe plumbing will fix your leaks, pipes, and shower, since 1986” doesn’t get compressed so well, and is completely forgettable.

Swartz sums up the theory behind tagline length beautifully by saying “crispy thoughts lead to punchy messages“. “Just do it” is a punchy message. Lack of visibility is also a problem with tagline effectiveness. If it isn’t incorporated into every facet of your business, it will likely go unused and be completely ineffective. Place the tagline on business cards, signs, phone messages, emails- every place that it will fit.

Creating Your Own Tagline

Taking these things into account, how should you design your tagline? For starters, figure out the message you want to convey. Disneyland’s tagline “The happiest place on earth” is a good example of a clear message that makes people want to do something (IE Go to Disneyland). Panasonic’s “Slightly ahead of its time” tells people  that Panasonic products are state-of-the-art. Do you need to get people in the door, or have people remember you when they need something? Two popular trends to consider when thinking about your tagline are the one-word line such as Hankook Tires “Driven“, and the three-idea line such as Air France’s “New. Fast. Efficient“, or Chevrolet’s “Eye it. Try it. Buy it.”. The one-word tagline is likely not ideal for use by a small business, because it is best when associated with a known business. 3M’s “Innovation” tagline works for them because it conveys their strategy, and is paired with their logo, which is well known. “Innovation” wouldn’t work so well with many small businesses simply because they aren’t 3M. They won’t seem as innovative, and their logo, no matter how creative, won’t be nearly as recognizable. The three-idea line is much more suited to small businesses however. “Fast. Friendly. Local.” is an example of a generic tagline that would work well when applied to any number of businesses. “Us, helping you” is constructed on the basic formula of the three-idea line, and fits many of the components of good tagline design. Once you have come up with a decent idea for a tagline, be sure to test it in some way before moving ahead with it. Ask people around town, ask online, do whatever it takes to get a general consensus on the tagline’s quality before committing to it. Once you decide on a tagline, do everything you can to associate it with your business, and everything you can to make it stick. The 360 Most Famous Business Taglines The Top 10 Taglines How Ad Slogans Work The Tagline Guru