March 23, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

As an ad nerd, I love a good tagline. Think different. Just do it. But taglines (or slogans if you call pop “soda”) are tricky things. They’re easy to get wrong—easier than most everything else branding-related. They’re often too trite, too obvious, too obtuse, too clever by a turn, too forgettable, or too overstuffed with “messaging.” So, I’d like to offer some advice gleaned from two-and-a-half decades of writing more than a few taglines.

Pick one message. Unless you’re Miller Lite circa 1974, chances are you’re not going to get away with saying two things in one tagline (and I’d even argue that Miller Lite’s was a single message as neither “tastes great” nor “less filling” meant anything without the other). Yes, this forces you to define your business and its purpose in very specific terms. Remember, that one thing doesn’t have to be a product feature—it can be an emotional pull or a shared state of mind.

Keep your voice. The fewer words you use to say something, the greater chance there is of it sounding generic. That’s just how language works. But maintaining your brand voice is imperative if you want your tagline to ring true. And if your overarching brand voice is already generic (no “We’re all about…” please), now’s a good time to fix it.

Set realistic expectations. Most taglines are not destined to enter popular culture in any real way. Because it takes millions upon millions of dollars in media to accomplish this feat. Instead, understand that your tagline acts as a nice reminder of what your brand represents—both practically and attitudinally—to your customers. Better yet, a good tagline can act as a great battle cry for your employees better than any Successories-style mission statement ever could.

Don’t mess with a good thing. If you’ve managed to create a memorable, ownable tagline, don’t screw it up. Sure, times change and businesses change and consumer tastes change. But don’t change your tagline just for the sake of change. Take Lexus, for example. When they launched in 1989, their tagline was “The relentless pursuit of perfection.” Spectacular. That was the goal of their company—to never quit refining their cars regardless of the obstacles. Then, a few years later, they removed “relentless,” implying they’d get around to perfection if it weren’t too much bother. Today, it’s the hyper-generic “Experience amazing.” Which sounds like a headline from a billboard for Big Zeke’s Reptile Emporium and Gator Wrasslin’ Expo. Avoid this (both the tagline and Zeke’s).

Honestly, it is wiser to forgo having a tagline at all than to attach a mediocre one to your brand. But if you manage to craft a great one, you’ll wonder how you lived without it. As a calling card, a mantra, and a reminder of what’s important—an exceptional tagline has no equal in ad land.

Jason Fox is a freelance creative director and writer. He can be found at jasonfox.net and adsavior.com.

This article was printed in the April/May 2018 edition of B2B.