Runaway Sloganeering

Jack TroutDecember 4, 20073 min

As I sit through all of the expensive commercials running during NFL games, I’m struck with the fact that the marketing world is mired in what can only be called, runaway sloganeering.

If you doubt this, take the following quiz. Here are some current multi-million dollar slogans for some very big national advertisers. See how many you can match up with a sponsoring company:

Your future made easier.
Your world delivered.
Yes you can.
Way of light.
Uncommon wisdom.
Always worth it.
Today’s the day.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s not fair to take a slogan out of context. They are just some ideas for a commercial or a print advertisement. That’s the problem. If you think like that, you’ll probably end up with just a cute but meaningless set of words. A good slogan should be a position or differentiating idea.

None on that list comes close to being that. What you’re after are the likes of what I call “Hall of Fame slogans”–such as these, which I suspect you’ll have little trouble with.

Diamonds are forever.
The real thing.
The ultimate driving machine.
Everywhere you want to be.
Better ingredients. Better pizza.
Eat Fresh.

Some of these have been around for decades. One is still remembered (even though it hasn’t been used in decades). All go to the essence of the product, not to the commercial. None of them can easily be expressed by a competitor. (That happens to be a litmus test for a slogan.) For example, Nokia has been running the meaningless slogan “Connecting People.” Well, what else does a cell phone connect? That same idea could easily be expressed by Motorola or Ericsson. What really differentiates Nokia is their position of leadership. The slogan they should be running is “The world’s No. 1 cell phone.”

That same leadership concept would make far more sense than “I’m lovin’ it” for McDonald’s. When you consider their size and global reach, you could easily position them as, “The world’s favorite place to eat.” Agency folks would quickly label leadership as boring and not interesting. And ask how can I put it to music?

What these folks ignore is the psychological power of leadership. People tend to buy what others buy. It’s what psychologists call the “herd effect.” (People judge their actions correct to the degree they see others performing them.) But instead of using this psychology, they choose to be cute and creative. Next stop, a meaningless slogan. What many agency folks and marketers fail to understand is that there are many ways to differentiate a product beyond the product itself. In addition to leadership, there is heritage, attributes, how it’s made and next generation strategies to pursue. (I wrote a book on all this entitled, Differentiate or Die.)

The underlying problem is that these slogans do not help or produce a reason to buy a certain product over another. This means that the advertising isn’t very effective. This in turn causes marketers to loose faith in advertising. The bottom line: Meaningless slogans are like a virus that is undermining the world of marketing. Unless it’s stopped, we are watching category after category become commodities.

And that is big trouble unless you have a very low price.

Quiz No. 1 Answers

Your future made easier. ING

Your world delivered. AT&T

Yes you can. Sprint

Way of life. Suzuki

Uncommon wisdom. Wachovia

Always worth it. Bud Light

Shift. Nissan

Today’s the day.

Quiz No. 2 Answers

Diamonds are forever. DeBeers

The real thing. Coke

The ultimate driving machine. BMW

Everywhere you want to be. Visa

Better ingredients. Better Pizza. Papa John’s

Eat Fresh. Subway

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Jack Trout


  • Steve Wright

    December 4, 2007 at 11:01 am

    Well said, Jack. I’ve actually had the experience of clients becoming so infatuated with a proposed new tagline to the point that they’re ready to re-write the brand to accommodate it. Taglines, applied appropriately, can serve the brand, but as you say, they’re only one tool among many that can be used to bring a brand to life. The knee-jerk use of slogans seem to be one of those unquestioned conventions that have seeped their way into marketing and it’s probably time to disrupt that convention.

    BrandWeek had a recent piece on the growing backlash against sloganeering:

  • Chuck

    December 5, 2007 at 1:24 am

    The Hall of Fame slogans seem very simple and functional, like a brand manager wrote them rather than a creative. The weak slogans seem more aesthetic or poetic.

  • Ryan Gerardi

    December 5, 2007 at 12:07 pm

    With you on the reasoning, but even with a vague or non-impacting slogan, these companies thrive. This begs the question, how important is the slogan? It seems that advertising dollars can outweigh the importance of your slogan.

  • Martin Jelsema

    December 6, 2007 at 3:44 pm

    Right on! It’s not the quantity of slogans that bothers me. They’ve been around and used by advertisers since the beginning – Ivory Soap: 99and 99/100% Pure – it floats – comes to mind.

    My idea of a great and useful slogan differentiates the product/service/company. I’ve blogged about slogans recently – about six or seven posts in the past couple of months – at I’ve only given raves to two recent taglines. eBay’s “shop victoriously” is a gem in my estimation. It differentiates and more. It imparts the idea of fun and competition.

    Another winner is Crayola’s “The Art of Childhood”. It certainly positions Crayola. And more, it proclaims a leadership position which it legitimately deserves.

    Slogans/taglines are more than a way for copywriters to display their creative skills. They need to communicate a relevant and meaningful message in seven words or less.

  • Mike Hobby

    December 12, 2007 at 12:42 pm

    I have found that slogans work against you at times in closely competitive environments, take the battery commercials, I read a poll where over half the respondents incorrectly identified the company that uses the bunny with “going and going” as their slogan.

  • Nader Ashway

    January 31, 2008 at 10:28 am

    Thanks for this post…I have been obsessed with tagging and sloganeering my whole career. I have found that the best slogans or taglines are like mini ads unto themselves: they should deliver the value proposition in some way, they should SELL in some way (or at least entice,) and they should put distance between the marketer and its competitors. I also agree with Martin in an earlier comment that the slogan should help differentiate the marketer in its category.

    Many marketers used to take slogans seriously, and now are at the mercy of shareholders or just “keeping up with the Joneses,” and end up changing their slogans every year, or even more frequently. Think about it. After “Be All You Can Be,” every slogan for the US Army has been a less-than-stellar attempt at niching 16-17 year old boys, and it shows in the enlistment numbers and overall equity of the brand.

    What’s worse, we live in such a capricious visualized society that some marketers don’t even bother with words anymore…there’s just an icon. Think Nike, Apple, McDonald’s golden arches. We’re in trouble here, folks.

    Seriously, there should be courses in advertising school and/or communications programs solely devoted to the slogan and slogan development. (I’ll volunteer to develop the syllabus!) It would make for better marketing, and, maybe better CMOs and brand managers in future generations.

  • Petra

    July 31, 2008 at 8:24 am

    I wouldn’t quite agree with this post. We are always to remember the emotional connection that has to be built between the consumer and the brand and I see no emotion whatsoever in “The world’s No. 1 cell phone”. And I have to add, following Jack’s thinking, that “Everywhere you want to be” could easily be claimed by any travel or airline company thus is not that unique and meaningful.

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