Pop quiz: Which successful brand has used all of the following slogans within the last 25 years: “America’s real choice.” “Life begins here.” “Always.” “Red, white and you.” If you don’t know, it’s because they were not very good taglines. And it wasn’t for lack of effort or media dollars, either. The brand in question is perennially one of the world’s leading advertisers. But while older slogans such as “It’s the real thing. ” “Have a Coke and a smile,” and “Coke is it” have retained at least some recall, some of their more recent slogans (yes, these were all for Coke) have not. Does their recent line “Open happiness” ring a bell? No? Me neither.
But so what? How important is a slogan or tagline to a brand?
At it’s best a brand can coin a phrase and propel it into our vernacular, at least for a time: “Where’s the beef,” “Wazzup”, even “Fahrvergnügen” accomplished that for a time and drove sales higher for Wendy’s, Budweiser, and VW. At it’s worst, it can become a symbol of your own failure and be mimicked, such as “It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile,” which did little to halt the free fall of the Oldsmobile brand, but has actually out-lived the brand that it was created for as in, “It’s not your father’s [insert desperate product here].”
Some taglines remain relevant for decades. BMW’s “The ultimate driving machine” is now 37 years old and though some other taglines have taken it’s place briefly, (such as the incredibly bland “A company of ideas”) it remains their central tagline today. “Come to where the flavor is. Come to Marlboro Country.” Is one of the longest-running slogans ever. Yet the most powerful brand in the world, Coke, seems to have commitment issues to its slogans and changes them frequently.
Try looking at it this way. A slogan is the beginning of a brand’s message, but it’s not the end. A slogan or tagline can state a central benefit (“Have it your way” or “Intel Inside”) or a core philosophy (Apple’s “Think different”). But it will take a lot more communication and brand touches to build the whole idea of the brand. “Just do it.” is a great brand slogan, but it required a great deal of effort and expense to make it meaningful to the world.
And the importance can vary. Many brands are able to thrive without slogans because the brand itself has become so strong. Apple signs off it’s advertising with whatever or whichever product they are featuring– iPhone, iPad or Mac. Because their ads are highly distinctive, as are their products in design and performance, Apple really doesn’t need a tagline right now. In fact, both Nike and Apple can sign off without even using their name. Their logo mark alone will suffice.
Here are some basic questions to test the power of a tagline:
Is there a strong promise? Could anybody say it, or is it specific to your product or company? Does it communicate some kind of value or advantage?
Does it use memorable language? For an endless slogan samefest, try Googling “Creative solutions for your business,” which may be the most common slogan in the world. Then Google your current slogan and see what comes up. Hmm. When creating a new line, be careful with alliteration and avoid negative phrasing, which was the Achilles heel of Oldsmobile. And never mimic a slogan from another category. Aside from possibly being a trademark infringement, it’s indicative of a lack of imagination.
Is it central to brand concept? Who would argue that BMW is truly THE ultimate driving machine? But because they have consistently delivered high performing sports sedans with an evolving mix of luxury and engineering to meet changing demand, they can own the phrase over, say, Ferrari or Lamborghini. It fits the BMW brand that is centered on performance. And BMW made it unique by calling it a “machine” instead of a “car.”
Is it concise? Less is easier to remember. Shorter slogans work hard and fit on billboards. Yes, Marlboro’s is an exception. And so is “Two-all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickels-onions-on-a-sesame-seed-bun.” If you have the money to help us all learn a long slogan, go for it, but you probably don’t.
Slogans are a fickle part of any brand program. Coke treats them as disposable. Most brands try to build some sustainability only to see their market demand change. The best can survive for a decade or more. And, yet, a slogan is not a requirement for success. For some powerful brands, like Apple, the best slogan is no slogan at all.