Taglines, Slogans, and the Art of Verbal Branding
Written by Michelle Ong
“Just Do It” is one of the most famous and successful taglines in history. Succinct, inspirational and memorable, it helped propel Nike to its legendary status. Everyone—from sports coaches to business executives—seems to have incorporated it into their everyday lingo. A tagline can be a powerful branding tool for a company at any stage, whether niche, growing or leading the market. Creating a memorable tagline can be a highly effective way to boost brand recall—37 percent of people are more likely to buy a product if it uses a catchy tagline1. But a successful tagline is more than a memorable catchphrase—it acts as a bridge between a brand name and its identity, solidifying this connection in the minds of consumers. To promote brand awareness, a tagline should be repeated frequently and consistently across all touchpoints. And, at the very least, a tagline must be distinctive in order to differentiate a brand from its competitors. In many ways, finding the right tagline mimics the process behind brand naming—research, strategy and creative work can all contribute to achieving the perfect end result.
Taglines vs. slogans
Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, industry insiders usually make a distinction between taglines and slogans: taglines have longer shelf lives. While slogans can change with seasonal advertising campaigns, taglines are found at the heart of a brand’s identity and seldom have expiry dates inside of a couple of years. Slogans, therefore, can be catered to more specific campaign themes, customer segments, or periods of time.Budweiser Tagline “King of Beers”Budweiser Campaign Slogan “Wassup?!”
On the other hand, taglines capture the core idea of a brand, and if a brand does change its tagline, it’s an indication of a more significant effort to shift perceptions of the brand’s position or personality. When GE retired its famous tagline “We Bring Good Things to Life,” and replaced it with “Imagination at Work,” the goal was to move away from being perceived as a “lighting and appliances” company and “play up the conglomerate's efforts in realms like medical technology, robotics, media and financial services.”2 In the words of GE’s manager of corporate identity, the new tagline is a means of “expressing ourselves in a new way for a new century.” 3Taglines can take on different forms or functions. For example, descriptive taglines may state the benefits of a brand’s product or service, evocative taglines appeal to emotion, and motivating taglines call the audience to take action.
What makes a good tagline or slogan?
Good taglines are first and foremost differentiating. In a sea of similar offerings, consumers notice brands that stand out, and creative taglines help brands differentiate from competitors. Apple’s brand rejuvenation in 1997 is one example: to counter flagging sales and a tarnished image, it launched a revolutionary advertising campaign. Its new tagline, “Think Different” was a refreshing spin on IBM’s “Think.” Rather than trying to compete with the reputation for reliability and trustworthiness of its chief competitor, Apple positioned itself as a dynamic brand with inventive alternatives to the status quo.
Meters/bonwe, China’s leading casual clothesline brand, uses the line “不走寻常路,” which roughly translates to “Not walking the conventional road.” Mercedes Benz uses “Engineered like no other car in the world.” Both taglines work wonders for these companies because they suggest a benefit to consumers who buy their products. Successful taglines not only draw attention, but explain how a product, service, or organization will fulfill the desires and satisfy the needs of customers. What’s the point of having a fantastic tagline if no one can remember it? Memorability is probably the most important element in determining the efficacy of a tagline. While the accumulative effect of repetition over the years has a big impact on memorability, emerging taglines can increase their “stickiness” through brevity, catchphrase potential, and stylistic devices such as alliteration, consonance, rhyme, repetition. When it comes to questions of length, shorter—five words or less—is often better. Catchphrase potential can be enhanced through humor, such as Grey Poupon’s “Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?” or by co-opting existing, relevant phrases, such as Budweiser’s “Wassup?!” or Verizon Mobile’s “Can you hear me now?...Good!”
Stylistic devices can also be useful for creating catchy taglines. Nongfu Spring, China’s leading manufacturer of bottled water and beverages, employs the line “农夫山泉有点甜,” or “Nongfu’s spring water is a little sweet.” The characters for “spring” (泉, quan), “a little” (点, dian) and “sweet” (甜, tian) sound similar. Not only is the phrase easy to say and remember, its rhyming scheme also connects the three words to reinforce its key point: Nongfu’s water has a hint of sweetness thanks to its unique spring source.
To market its baked beans products, food manufacturer Heinz capitalized on its German founder’s foreign-sounding name for the tagline “Beanz Meanz Heinz.” This creative use of rhyming—not to mention the rare consonance of “z” sounds—proved highly successful and was voted the most popular line in the Advertising Hall of Fame4. Coined words, puns, jingles and even made-up words (like Louis Vuitton’s “Epileather”) are also ways to make a tagline stick.
Simply being easy to remember isn’t enough. Taglines should also build positive brand perceptions through imparting good feelings. Evocative vocabulary is one powerful way to create meaning.
Since slogans are made for shorter running advertising campaigns, it is important that they stay relevant to their target market. Taglines, on the other hand, should not strive to be trendy at the risk of sounding dated after a few years. Since a good tagline stands the test of time, it should work across a variety of mediums, functioning like a thread that unifies the stories together. Consistency is crucial: numerous taglines and continual changes confuse consumers and dilute brand equity. H&R Block, a leading tax-preparation company, flipped between the slogans “America’s tax team,” “Just plain smart,” and its current “Get it Right” in just a few years. The fragmentation risks leaving consumers unable to discern a single brand identity for the company.
Lastly, in order to fasten the link between a tagline and brand identity, many taglines incorporate the brand name. Citibank’s “Because the Citi never sleeps” and Finish Detergent’s “Brilliant cleaning starts with Finish” are examples. However, some brands may purposefully choose to leave out their names so that their taglines or slogans don’t impair future brand extensions.
Whether they’re called endlines, straplines, signatures or payoffs, taglines and slogans are an integral tool to building brand equity. The best lines go above and beyond their original purpose of pushing a product. They become a part of our everyday lingo, and lodge themselves into society’s collective consciousness. In today’s Twitter-obsessed culture, these bite-sized chunks of verbal branding are the perfect medium to express a brand’s identity.
 “Guinness tops advertising slogans most used in everyday life”, Telegraph.co.uk, December 19 2008.
 “G.E. to Spend $100 Million Promoting Itself As Innovative”, Nytimes.com, January 16, 2003
 “GE: Imagination at Work”, Mediapost.com, May 1, 2003
 “The Advertising Hall of Fame”, Adslogans.com, April 10, 2000.
“G.E. to Spend $100 Million Promoting Itself As Innovative”, Nytimes.com, January 16, 2003 “GE: Imagination at Work”, Mediapost.com, May 1, 2003
“Guinness tops advertising slogans most used in everyday life”, Telegraph.co.uk, December 19, 2008
“How ad slogans work”, by Timothy Foster. http://www.howstuffworks.com/ad-slogan.htm
“Slogan and Jingle List”, http://www.taglineguru.com/sloganlist.html
“Taglines are it”, by Elizabeth Goodgold. Business 2 Business Marketer, July/August 1998
“The Advertising Hall of Fame”, Adslogans.com, April 10, 2000