Brand Tagline Strategy

We are big believers in taglines. They are an effective way to communicate the brand’s “unique value proposition” powerfully, succinctly and memorably. It is very difficult to create the perfect tagline, however, because of all of the objectives that it must accomplish:

  • It communicates the brand’s “unique value proposition”
  • In an economy of words
  • It is believable for the brand
  • Competitive brands are not saying and cannot say the same thing
  • It is memorable – it must stick in people’s minds
  • It can’t be trite
  • It needs to do more than just refer to the product category
  • It should not promise a “cost of entry” benefit for the category
  • Ideally, it is entertaining or emotionally appealing

Common tagline mistakes:

  • Claiming something that is overused or trite
    • We are the [quality/service/innovation] leader
    • Excellence in all that we do
    • You can count on us
    • We care about people
  • Saying something that sounds good (is “catchy”) but that does not differentiate the brand in a meaningful way
  • Communicating what product category the brand is in…period.
  • Claiming a benefit that all brands in the category must deliver (a “cost of entry” benefit)
  • Saying something that many or all brands in your brand’s category could also say
  • Saying something that is so broad that it is meaningless
  • Saying something that is too complicated or confusing
  • Using too many words

Taglines must be developed based on a well thought through “unique value proposition” informed by customer insight. Only then should one begin the process of generating hundreds, if not thousands, of tagline options, which will be evaluated against the above mentioned criteria to filter out all but the most powerful options.

Over my 30+ years as a marketer, I have encountered hundreds of tagline examples, most of them quite bad. Luckily, I forgot most all of the bad ones.

Here are a few examples of ineffective taglines (current and historical):

Ames Rubber            Excellence through total quality.

BF Goodrich             Creating value through excellence in innovation, quality and people

Blockbuster              No more late fees. The start of more.

Chicago                   We’re Glad You’re Here!

Delta Airlines           We get you there.

Denny’s                    A good place to sit and eat.

Exxon                      We’re Exxon.

Lehman Brothers      Where vision gets built.

Mobile                     We want you to live.

O’Douls                   What beer drinkers drink when they’re not drinking beer. 

Rochester, New York I’d Rather Be in Rochester – It’s Got It

Here are a few examples of effective taglines (current and historical):

Alka-Seltzer             I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.

American Express     Don’t leave home without it.

Apple Computer       Think Different.

Avis                         We try harder.

BMW                        The ultimate driving machine.

California Milk Processing Board  Got milk?

DeBeers                   A diamond is forever.

Foodlink                  Abundance Shared

IMAX                       Think big.

Kentucky Fried Chicken   Finger-lickin’ good!

Lay’s Potato Chips          Betcha can’t eat just one.

National Pork Board        Pork. The other white meat.

Timex                            Takes a licking and keeps on ticking.

United Negro College Fund    A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

VISA                                It’s everywhere you want to be.

FootJoy (FJ)                   The Mark Of A Player.*

*Disclaimer, The Blake Project developed this

What taglines do you consider effective? Ineffective?

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Brad VanAuken The Blake Project


  • Mike

    March 9, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    I love the “We’re Exxon” slogan…talk about boring. I think a lot of companies put too much emphasis on making something catchy, without making the slogan meaningful. It is important to make something catchy and memorable, but it is just as important to put the idea in a person’s head that they actually want to buy whatever the product is.

  • Nathan Adkisson

    March 12, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    “Communicating what product category the brand is in…period.”

    What’s wrong with that?

  • Michael Troiano (@miketrap)

    March 12, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    We’re partial to Zipcar’s “Wheels when you want them.” Same disclaimer 🙂

  • Brad VanAuken

    March 13, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    Nathan, communicating the product category is better than communicating nothing at all but I believe a tagline should work harder than that. It should communicate a brand’s promise of differentiated benefits or, stated another way, its unique value proposition.

    There is one instance where I believe communicating just the product category makes sense, and that is when the brand has created a new category that requires some explanation. In this case, the tagline could communicate the category benefit. Zipcar’s tagline mentioned above is an example of that.

  • John

    March 16, 2012 at 11:18 pm

    Tell as much as you can about the product and quality of service in as short a sentence possible in a memorable phrase.

    (Customer focused)

  • Robert

    March 26, 2012 at 6:00 am

    Great post! Taglines are such an important asset for a business. I see it as the logo’s sidekick; it’s usually the second thing people see when visiting your site or receiving your business card.

    I love this one: “Good to the last drop.” Maxwell House (1917), originally said by President Theodore Roosevelt after taking a sip of the company’s coffee!

  • Bruce Johnson

    April 4, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    Hi Brad,

    I read most of your thoughts on Branding Strategy Insider, primarily the subjects that are of most interest to me. Very impressive in quality and quantity.

    Earlier I worked for Ogilvy Advertising (Ogilvy & Mather at the time) for 10 years, where I was a Vice President, Management Supervisor. David led the agency for most of those years before he retired.

    Most people don’t know that prior to starting his agency, David Ogilvy worked at Gallup research. Also, that many people (me for one) recognized David’s agency at the time as having the best research department of any advertising agency.

    David felt strongly that taglines did not work, and conducted research that showed most consumers could not remember which taglines were linked to which companies or products. I have seen this research replicated by other organizations since with the same results. Based on the research results I have seen, I am in agreement with David’s views.

    Why do you include taglines in your recommendations?

    Bruce Johnson

    P.S. David also didn’t believe in jingles or cartoon characters. I led the team that introduced the Pink Panther to Owens Corning and it took us two weeks to get David’s approval to present the Pink Panther to the client. The campaign was extremely successful until Owens Corning declared bankruptcy because their previous asbestos products led to many personal injury lawsuits.

  • Brad VanAuken

    April 4, 2012 at 7:00 pm

    Bruce, thanks for sharing your experience on this. I would love to know exactly how the research was conducted so that I could gain a better understanding of what exactly was learned from it. Frankly, I am such a big advocate of taglines because I believe they are the easiest and least expensive way to get a payoff on brand positioning work. And, I recommend that they appear as a part of the brand identity (locked with the name and icon) every time it is presented. Another thing I think taglines can do is communicate the business the brand is in and perhaps its key point of difference, especially for a relatively unknown brand whose name does not provide a clue regarding the product category or the brand’s unique value proposition.

    My gut tells me that “JUST DO IT.” does have an impact on how Nike is perceived and that most people would be able to associate it with Nike. I also know from my experience at Hallmark that “When you care enough to send the very best” has had an impact on Hallmark’s quality (and price) perception. I was in one focus group however in which one of the participants erroneously identified Hallmark’s tagline as that of FTD. That was ok with us though as we were exploring consumer permission for Hallmark to enter the floral gift market.

    One thing I can say for sure. For a tagline to be associated with a brand it needs to be consistently presented with the brand name and icon over a long period of time.

    I am a big advocate of consumer research and have conducted hundreds of studies during my marketing career. Perhaps a marketing research professor at some university would like to craft a study or studies to better understand the impact of taglines on brand perceptions. I would be happy to provide input to the research design.

    Thanks again for raising this point, Bruce. And thanks for your kind words regarding our blog.

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