Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tattoos & Taglines

In recent years, many have doubted the usefulness or value of taglines. Certainly in some cases, taglines have acted as crutches for otherwise undifferentiated products. And for some advertisers, their brand promise is so clear even without taglines that they can get along fine without them. Starbucks, to my knowledge, doesn’t have one, yet they remain a household name. However, saying that taglines are useless because they don’t always increase sales is tantamount to say advertising doesn’t work because it couldn’t sell the Ford Edsel.

For starters, taglines exist on a branding level, not a promotional level, and are therefore pretty hard to quantify, especially over time. Somehow I doubt Nike would be as strong without “Just do it.” Second, even unsuccessful companies and products use taglines. No amount of advertising or clever line is going to save a bad product or a company who lacks a clear brand promise. I think that taglines are more difficult than most people realize, that focus groups destroy the possibility for truly effective, insightful taglines, and that corporations often get in the way with their undifferentiated grandiose vanilla “Innovation. Commitment. Dedication.” type lines. Kudos to companies who can get out of the way of great work, it takes great courage.

Taglines can give people a few things that can really ad value. It gives them something familiar to hold onto that’s not visual. People don’t carry little trading cars with corporate logos on them, but they can sure spit out a slogan or two. For anyone trying to recommend your brand or product to another, it can help them communicate what you do, creating easier brand evangelism. For new companies, it can help communicate and/or clarify their brand promise. When FedEx came onto the scene, we knew they did shipping. But their tagline, “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” positioned them not just as a shipping company, but as the authority on fast shipping. I think it would have taken longer for the company to take hold without it.

In the modern era of consumers increasingly interacting with and influencing brand communications, the NBA has had a huge hit this year that illustrates the power of a well-crafted tagline. (I should mention here that the difference between brand lines and campaign lines can be blurry) “Where amazing happens” and its many iterations was a massive success this year. And while some purport that the success of this season’s playoffs is due to a lack of tattoos, I submit that it was due to a tagline that provided endless possibilities for customization and created something that consumers could take and play with, change around, have fun with and make their own. How else can you explain the hundreds of thousands of parodies of the Where Amazing Happens NBA spots online? The same concept was behind the overwhelming success of Elf Yourself. While more conservative thinkers might posit that letting someone “bastardize” your brand like that is a detriment, it’s actually a great brand building tool. It lets consumers interact with your brand on their terms, share your brand, get excited about it and associate it with positive experiences. If you still doubt the utility of taglines, maybe you should scrap logos too. After all, facebook uses plain type and it’s a cultural phenomenon.

So, are taglines dead or futile? Not a chance. They’re an art that just have to be handled very well to be successful.

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