What Makes a Great Tagline

by Colleen Ferrier and Rick Petry on Mar 24, 2017 12:05:36 PM Brand Marketing, International Home + Housewares,, Marketing, Taglines

Photo Credit: IHA

As we roamed the cavernous halls of this year’s International Home + Housewares Show which wrapped up this week at Chicago’s McCormick Place, and stood among the colorful and distinct booth and displays, we wondered: what makes a great tagline? A tagline, after all, can help advance positioning and create competitive differentiation. At its best use, it is highly memorable and helps reaffirm positive feelings for a brand, product, or service. In fact, this year’s theme for the show – which acted as a kind of tagline was – “It’s smart.” This was in keeping with the emphasis on innovations for the smart home, which uses technology such as smartphone apps and voice commands to run everything from lights and locks to indoor and outdoor appliances for the sake of convenience and efficiency.

We think that notion is pretty smart ourselves, yet astonishingly a good many companies do not take advantage of a slogan which, when done properly, can be a powerful tool in the marketing arsenal. The simple reason may be: it isn’t as easy as it seems. For example, take this test: What company does the following motto represent, “We Bring Good Things to Life”? How about “Imagination at Work?” The answer, in both cases, is GE (General Electric Co.) Yet depending upon your age, it’s likely that you recognized the first one, which did a sturdy job for some 23 years before the second tagline took over in 2003. Given how diverse its business is, GE’s challenge was formidable though not uncommon.

With this in mind, we set out to explore the attributes of good taglines to see if we could identify those qualities that make some stand out while others feel pedestrian. Here’s what we found, along with some relevant examples to help illustrate the point:

Memorable. Advertising is storytelling and a good slogan helps consumers recall scenarios that reflect brand attributes they want to be associated with. That’s the brilliance behind the Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World campaign which features the tagline, “Stay thirsty, my friends.” Why the imported beer brand decided to replace the original Man with a French imposter that is the equivalent of New Coke is a matter for another blog.

Fewer Words Are Better. According to cognitive neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene, the average native English speaker can recall a memory loop (that is, the time to repeat what is heard), for about two seconds. That’s the power behind a succinct slogan such as Bissell’s “We Mean Clean.” Contrast that with something lengthier and yawn-worthy such as “The Leader in High Quality <fill in the blank> at an Affordable Price.” One gets to the heart of their value proposition, while the other relies on claims that may or may not be supportable. As you will see, there are exceptions to the shorter is better rule, but in a nutshell five words or less is probably best.

Easy-to-Recall. Along the same lines, fewer words mean the tagline is easier to recall. Kaiser Permanente’s “Thrive” captures their mission in a single word that is a cinch to call up in your memory bank.

Encapsulates A Unique Selling Proposition. The Unique Selling Proposition or (USP) is that one thing that separates a brand or product from all others. Put another way, it is the point of differentiation. There are countless amusement parks across the planet, but there is only one that can claim it is “The happiest place on earth.” Of course, you know it as Disneyland.

Different. The trouble with taglines that rely on sales puffery such as “the best” or “the finest” is that they are claims that any competitor can make. But a great tagline can help establish differentiation and foster positive associations. Take, for example, Master Card’s powerful motto which violates the short rule, but is nonetheless eminently catchy: “There are some things that money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard.” Upon hearing that, haven’t you thought of a situation where that was applicable to your own life?

Aspirational. Is it possible for a tagline to inspire you enough to want to associate your heart and soul with a brand? This was the genius behind Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan. In three simple words the company captured the imagination of the committed athlete as well as the wannabe because the desire it encapsulates – working out and staying fit despite any barriers – is supremely aspirational.

Rings True. Whatever the reputation of a brand is, the slogan had best sound a familiar note for the majority of the public. For example, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” is a marvelous and funny articulation of the city’s Disneyland-for-adults allure. In fact, it is so memorable and sticky that it has no doubt been repeated countless times by tourists describing their own misadventures in Sin City.

Resistant to Satire. Life is dynamic, so avoiding a situation where your tagline backfires on you, isn’t such an easy thing. For example, Samsung has used the slogan, “A Galaxy of Possibility” to advertise its Android smartphones. Now plaster those words over an image of a Galaxy smartphone catching fire and… Seoul, we have a problem.

There are no doubt other nuances to be explored as it relates to developing a great slogan, but this pick list is a solid start. The more of these boxes you can check, the harder your tagline will work for you and, in an ideal world, rise to become an indelible part of the cultural lexicon.


About the Authors

Colleen & Rick.jpg

Colleen Ferrier is a seasoned direct marketing expert who specializes in guiding integrated direct-to-consumer campaigns with an acute focus on ROI. Her broad experience has included management oversight of marketing, operations, media, and international distribution.  The campaigns she has been instrumental in helping lead to success across her 15+ year career include Pillow Pets, Little Giant Ladder, Dream Lites, and Stompeez. Ferrier has a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Augusta University, Georgia.

Rick Petry is a direct marketing veteran of over 25 years who has been involved with campaigns that have generated over $1 billion in sales. He provides creative services to both B2C and B2B marketing campaigns and recent projects have included Actegy/Revitive, Education Connection, GOLO, Joybird, and OYO/DoubleFlex. The author of over 200 articles on direct marketing best practices, Petry has a Bachelor of Arts in Cinema/Television from the University of Southern California and an MBA with a Concentration in Marketing and Sales from Marylhurst University.


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