When Brand Recognition Counts: The Art and Meaning of Taglines

Posted on Mar 22, 2012 in CHI Insight
Tags: public relations, integrated marketing communications, pr tips, branding tips, branding, taglines

Corporate taglines…making it look easy.

If you’ve ever been involved in development of a corporate tagline, you know how excruciating the process can be. Arguments over even a single word can erupt into weeks of committee work.

Yet somehow, the great brands make it look so easy.


Why’s it’s easy for some, harder for others.

The first hurdle in writing a good tagline is resolving often competing interests within a company.

That’s why it’s usually a terrible idea to develop a tagline by committee. What you usually get is something too long or strained or a few words that seem to sound good yet stand for nothing.

Often the first step in developing a great tagline is getting your core values down to a short outline of key objective. That serves as a creative springboard for a tagline that can “say it all” without taking up more space than your logo and address combined.


Best Bad examples: Town slogans

To illustrate the challenges of developing effective taglines, it helps to look at some really bad examples.

But rather than pick on real people and real places, we can turn to the little town of Pawnee, Indiana, the fictional community featured on the TV show "Parks & Recreation."

The town of Pawnee has featured a number of really bad slogans in its history, each made worse by its habit of overreaching and basically apologizing for its sorry past in an attempt to promote the character of the community.

A few Pawnee slogans include:

  • “The Akron of Southwest Indiana”
  • “Pawnee, The Factory Fire Capital of America
  • “Welcome to Pawnee: It’s Safe to Be Here Now”

The first tagline displays a deep acknowledgement of an inferiority complex. The second slogan turns a dubious aspect of Pawnee’s history into a supposed claim to fame. The last admits that life used to really suck in Pawnee. Now it apparently only sucks a little.

And while these slogans are fictional, they do reflect some of the really badly written community slogans, and by proxy, some of the ill-begotten corporate taglines that somehow creep out into the world by committee or good old ignorant arrogance. Or the other way around.


Back to Reality: Don’ts and Do’s

Nothing hurts a brand reputation worse than a corporate tagline that confuses, misleads or distracts customers right from the start.

So here’s how not to do it.

Example: If you manufacture parts for the auto industry but don’t actually produce tires, a play on words like “Wheel Solutions” is not only too indirect, it actually leads your customers away from what you do sell within that industry. Because you don’t want your potential customers asking, “What the? They don’t even sell wheels.”

Or there are those corporate taglines that desperately try to leverage cute into relevance. Don’t do that.

A good brand tagline should work by association, using positive aspects of your culture, your value system or your specific product line to communicate what you’re about. But please, don’t make your potential audience work too hard to get there or you’ve lost them. And we never advise coming up with corporate taglines by surveying the employees. Once in a great while you might get lucky. But you might find yourself forced to choose from a lot of bad ideas, and wind up with something like the City of Pawnee.

So consider this tagline, which is pretty good…

"Nokia. Connecting people."

This Nokia tagline accomplishes a number of nice objectives. It speaks to what the product does while leveraging the built-up strength of the brand name to imply what products they actually make.

The Connecting People strategy works for a company with the size and reputation of Nokia. But if Nokia was a startup telecommunications firm, it might need to begin its brand journey with something more modest and tangible and even a bit more literal toward its products.


Getting better all the time

One of the best ways to get better at developing and recognizing great taglines and how to use them is to take a great example and try to improve upon it yourself. The exercise can help you discover the reasons why great taglines work, let you explore options and methods to create better brand recognition for your own product and get connected to a world where the fine art is using as few words as possible to say as much as you can about your brand.

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