The tagline: There is no substitute.

Posted on: June 29th | Filed under: Copywriting

I recently got a tagline assignment from a major entertainment company.

Your first thought might be, “Cool, Scott. Who hired you for that.” To which my response is “I signed an NDA.” To which your response might be, “Oh, so why are you bothering to tell us?” To which my response is, “It’s a good lead-in for a discussion about taglines (the English call them ‘Strap Lines’) and the role they play in branding.” At which point, you’re either falling asleep, or willing to enter one of the more nerdy points where marketing and copywriting intersect.

I’m going to take a quick moment here and speak to the noobs out there who may not fully understand what a tagline is. A tagline — or ‘slogan’ — is a statement that is usually associated with a brand as a shorthand way of describing what company does, or how they do it. Car companies are awash in taglines. Some famous ones include Lexus: “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection.” and GMC: “We are Professional Grade.” Both of which I love.

Some folks out there think taglines are the same thing as headlines. They are not the same. I wince a little when someone refers to the headline as a tag. A headline is more of an OPENING statement in a print ad or web page, meant to make a specific point about the product or service, usually in tandem with a compelling visual. Taglines, on the other hand, are a CLOSING STATEMENT on what the whole brand or campaign is about. Rarely can a line of copy work as both. A good tagline usually starts as the summation message of one campaign. If they truly resonate, then they get elevated to a status above any specific campaign and are used in every part of a company’s communication stream.


My favorite taglines of all time (and why):

  • Memorex. Is it live or is it Memorex? Great way to convey sound quality!
  • M&Ms. Melts in your mouth, not in your hands. Novel USP. Big solution to a small chocolatey problem.
  • Beef. It’s what’s for dinner. I just love the unapologetic ‘love of meat’ conveyed here.
  • California Milk Processor Board. Got milk? Great tag, but ONLY because it was set up by brilliant tv ads.
  • Pepperidge Farm. Pepperidge Farm remembers. Great way to connect baking tradition to product quality.
  • Nike. Just do it. Motivation at its most distilled. Like ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ so often heard, that it’s now hard to appreciate its brilliance.
  • Hebrew National. We answer to a higher authority. Brilliantly ties quality to its USP: Kosher food standards. One of those rare instances where a headline became a tagline.
  • Burger King. Have it your way. Empowered people to take full control of the business of building burgers.
  • BMW. The ultimate driving machine. Elevates the car into some higher sphere of engineering excellence.
  • Apple. Think different. Sums up the Apple appeal and approach beautifully, grammar be damned.
  • American Express. Don’t leave home without it. Created an aura of status, trust and comfort around a credit card.
  • ClubMed. The antidote for civilization. Escapism, elegantly articulated.
  • Ajilon Professional Recruitment. Move up in the world. It’s aspirational yet accessible. And, yes, I was proud to be part of the team that came up with this.
  • Porsche. There is no substitute. A practical truth that says “drive one and be different from everyone else.”

Some bad taglines, (and why):

  • McDonalds. I’m loving’ it. Forced attempt to evoke emotion and enjoyment. No product connection.
  • Milk Board. It does a body good. Maybe. Research goes both ways.
  • Pepsi. The taste of a new generation. The eighties version of ‘everyone’s doing it.
  • Ford. Drive one. Nah. No thanks.
  • Audi. Never follow. While Audi builds amazing vehicles, I just don’t buy Audi as a ‘leader.’


So, based on what we’ve read above. Here are MY basic guidelines for tagline writing:

  1. Stay true to your brand. If Ford had claimed to be the ‘ultimate driving machine,’ would you believe it?
  2. Stay truthful. If you make a quantifiable claim, it better be 100% indisputable. And INTERESTING!
  3. Get emotional. Depending on your product or brand, try to evoke an emotional response. You can be aspirational, empathetic, inclusive, fanatical, etc.
  4. Use verbs. Choose words that have motion, create action, take people places and incite riots.
  5. Make it complementary. Make sure the tagline dovetails nicely with the ad messages themselves.
  6. Avoid blindness. When possible, write the line in a way where people will know what you’re talking about without any ad stuff around it.
  7. Strike a chord. Find what’s important to your customers. Deliver it better than anyone else. Then say it better than anyone else. This goes for taglines, ads, marketing in general, business in general.
  8. Make it quick. Say it in as few words as possible. It’ll be easier to remember, and your Art Director won’t need to break it onto two lines under the logo.
  9. Make it last. Think not only about its connection to the current campaign, but to the long term mission of the brand.
  10. Say it out loud. Make sure the words flow together if they are spoken out loud. You’d be surprised how many times words just don’t sound good together.
  11. Be funny. Not punny. Humor is always appreciated in advertising, but rarely accomplished. And, just a personal preference, here, I HATE PUNS, as do most professionally trained copywriters. Besides, pun humor usually fades fast…
  12. Rhythm and rhyme can be mighty fine. Phrases that have rhythm can make for a memorable tagline.  Same can be said for ones that rhyme. But in both cases. Do not force this to happen. Disaster or confusion will quickly ensue.
  13. Punctuate. Use periods, question marks, exclamation points and pipes ( | ) wisely. They can help drive the timing and cadence of the line and separate two or more thoughts you’re trying to convey.

As you can see there are lots of ways to create and gauge the quality of a tagline. If you think you’re ready to add a tag to your brand, give us a call at 919.338.1098.

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