To Tagline or Not to Tagline

by Patricia Fitzgerald

All Shakespeare allusions aside, this is a question we get quite often from our clients. “Should we have a tagline?” usually followed by, “And what’s a tagline for, anyway?” We hear these so frequently, in fact, that we’re dedicating an entire blog post to that little statement that tags along after your company name and logo.

Let’s start by discussing what a tagline is not. Taglines aren’t jingles that worm their way into your ear holes. Nor are they headlines you find in print ads. And they’re definitely not wordy value propositions or positioning/vision/mission statements typically packed with business jargon. They’re often and understandably confused with slogans, which are usually more short-lived and limited to a single campaign or product rather than an entire brand. “The Happiest Place on Earth” is a tagline. “I’m going to Disneyland” is a slogan.

So then, what are taglines? In short, they’re brief statements written for your audience that are typically used in conjunction with your business name and logo. They’re meant as extension of your brand — a succinct, pithy, ideally memorable encapsulation of who you are and what you do for your customers.

Taglines to what end?

Taglines are often used for effect, not merely as an explanation of what your company does or sells. Different taglines are used for different purposes, and elicit different responses from their audiences. For example, you have your humorous taglines like Wendy’s classic “Where’s the Beef?", Sin City’s cheeky “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas," or one of our personal favorites, “Foster’s — Australian for Beer.

Other taglines strive to inspire, motivate or pack an emotional punch. Think the Army’s “Be All You Can Be.” Peace Corps’ “The Hardest Job You’ll Ever Love.” Mazda’s “Zoom Zoom.” Red Bull’s “It Gives You Wings.” And of course, one the most famous taglines of all: Apple’s “Think Different.

Some taglines communicate a benefit that differentiates their owners from the competition. Men’s Warehouse claims “You’re Going to Like the Way You Look.” Staples shrugs “Yeah, We’ve Got That.” KFC promises to be “Finger Lickin’ Good.” M&Ms says “Melts In Your Mouth, Not In Your Hands.” Bounty boasts itself as “The Quicker Picker Upper.”

While they each serve different purposes and elicit different reactions, you’ll notice that great taglines have certain qualities in common. They’re short, simple, and speak the language of real human beings. Staples’ “Easy” tagline is the ultimate example of this. The most memorable taglines also tend to be specific, with a certain cadence and rhythm that break through the clutter and sticks in your mind.

When the tagline’s strong enough, brands can build entire campaigns around them. Nike’s iconic “Just Do It” or the California Milk Board’s long-lived “Got Milk?” ultra-successful campaigns spawned from simple, two- and three-word taglines.

Too big for taglines

So now that we have a clearer idea as to what a tagline is, we turn to original question: “Do I need one?” The unsatisfying answer: It depends.

Taglines in general aren’t as popular as they used to be. Apple, for example, no longer uses “Think Different” as their tagline. In fact, they no longer have a tagline at all. Neither does Facebook or Google or Starbucks or BMW for that matter. Look back at all the most famous and memorable taglines, and you’ll notice most of them pre-date 2000.

There are a variety of reasons taglines aren’t as common as they once were. Powerhouse brand names like Apple don’t really need one. The idea that they “think different” is now engrained in their brand DNA; they no longer need to broadcast it. You’ll see a few of the bigger brands still trotting out taglines — i.e. Coca-Cola’s recent “Open Happiness” tagline. But these days, most don’t.

The explosion of digital marketing has also led to the demise of the tagline. Mobile devices with their small screens don’t allow much room for the extra words taglines require. When consumers look for products and services, they search online using key words not catchy tagline phrases. As such, taglines have in large part been replaced by hashtags in an effort to make brands more findable in the digital sphere.

Tag, you’re it

That being said, we’d argue that taglines still have a place in the marketing toolbox — for the right company, and used in the right way. When determining whether our clients could benefit from having a tagline, we look at a few different things.

Extra help

Does your company name alone convey what is is you do? For example, our company moniker, Copy & Design, pretty much speaks for itself. It’s simple, direct, honest — our brand in a nutshell. Which is why we don’t have a tagline.

If, however, your name alone does not really say anything about what you do and who you are, then yes, a tagline could come in handy. If you’re still trying to establish your brand and build awareness for it, than a tagline could also be an effective way to support those efforts.

Human touch

Taglines can also give your business an added warmth, humanity and personality. A good tagline can help create an emotional connection that names and logos alone may not. Think “Cotton: The Fabric of our Lives.” Brings to mind a lot more than a t-shirt, doesn’t it?

Let ‘em know

For companies that are making a shift in the marketplace, taglines can be a useful way to communicate that change. For instance, maybe you’re a company known for selling just shoes. But now you’re expanding your product line to include handbags, belts and sunglasses as well. Adding a tagline that says “Hip accessories from head to toe” might be a good way to let consumers know you’re more than just footwear.

Make a statement

Here’s a great example of using a tagline to respond to changes in the marketplace. In 2017, Pulitzer-prize winning newspaper Washington Post decided to adopt a new tagline, “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” in an effort to communicate the important role journalism plays in protecting democratic institutions. It was the first time the newspaper had used a tagline in decades, and an obvious response to the current political climate.

Brag about it

When well crafted, taglines can be an effective tool for highlighting a core benefit that sets you apart from your competitors. That was the thinking behind Burger King’s “Have It Your Way” tagline — a direct hit against other fast food chains that did not offer to “customize” your burger.

Know thyself

Creating a tagline itself can also be a useful internal exercise. It forces you to articulate and distill who you are and what you’re about in a single, compact sentence — something many companies struggle to do. Going through this process can help illuminate what makes you different, and the real value you bring to your customers.

Nobody’s doing it

The rarity of taglines these days is precisely what makes them stand out. Having a tagline — when none of your competitors do — can attract notice and set you apart. Taglines can offer a way to engage with your customers when you're not there to do so in person. They can be funny, moving, thought-provoking, and attention-grabbing.

I’ll never forget driving down the highway, looking over at the truck next to me owned by a sod company, and reading their tagline painted on the side: “Instant Grassification.” I laughed out loud and never forgot the name of that company (which was Marathon Land, by the way). It worked.

And a great tagline just might work for you too. We’d be happy to discuss the possibilities.

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