Taglines, Slogans, Themelines: Separating the Bland from the Bold
21st Century Insurance recently debuted a campaign claiming the same coverage as competitors like Geico, but for up to 40% less. In fact, the tagline they are using is: Same great coverage for less.
It’s a simple point but, man, is that tagline a bore. I have mixed feelings on these things, especially since I am such a strong advocate for the venerable tagline. For years, Geico has used 15 minutes could save you up to 15 percent or more on your car insurance. Same category but it’s specific, it’s interesting, it’s more ownable and it sells.
Crafting a tagline — also known as straplines or themelines — is a humbling and defining opportunity for a copywriter. It’s a chance to assert a point of view for a brand that mom and everyone else sees, akin to being, well, published. It’s worth a chunk of money, career longevity and at least a few Cannes Lions, especially if it lasts a few years, which all do not. One of my first creative director bosses penned Don’t Hate Me Because You’re Beautiful for Pantene, and she rode that fame wave for decades. She was always known as that woman who wrote Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful. (As her secretary, I knew her more as that woman who made me Windex her black glass desk every morning.)
In my nearly twenty years working in the industry, I’ve admittedly never written an iconic tagline such as Just Do It, A Diamond is Forever, and certainly no Don’t Leave Home Without It. In fact, the closest I’ve gotten to notoriety was during a dark, desperate freelance period writing newspaper ads for a gay male phone service. To make ends meet, I wrote the ads in the back of free weeklies and even the seedy script for the phone tree when you dialed in. My tagline for the phone service: The boy next door is now even closer.
My first real tagline was for Stella D’oro baked goods, a regional New York brand now part of Kraft. Stella D’oro makes these really delicious and distinctive Swiss Fudge Cookies, crispy, crunchy Breadsticks and S-shaped Breakfast Treats which you dip into your morning coffee. Yum. At the time of the assignment, sales for the brand were flat and the brief sought to reinvigorate the most loyal customers to buy more Stella D’oro.
The best tags are rooted from brand truths. Research for Stella D’oro revealed that while fans loved the product, what was slightly irritating was the crinkly plastic sleeves all Stella D’oro products came in, though they apparently and importantly preserved the fresh taste. So the creative strategy we proposed was that when you ripped any bag of Stella D’oro open, you instantly got a waft of a freshness. To illustrate it, first I wrote a radio campaign all about the intoxicating smell that revealed itself. As became my custom for a decade writing radio, I used characters like my mom, her best friend and friends from my life — and even got a well-known TV actress Cynthia Harris (from Mad About You) to read one of the voices. But the important thing was the sign-off which punctuated each radio spot: Stella D’oro. You Can Taste ‘Em Before You Taste ‘Em.
The different types of taglines: Designing Brand Identity* provides categories of taglines I like to use for clients. The author organizes types by Imperative (Nike Just do it), Superlative (BMW The Ultimate Driving Machine), Provocative (Diary Council Got Milk?), Specific (Hebrew National We Answer to A Higher Authority) and Descriptive (Allstate You’re in Good Hands). Sometimes, like Nike’s long-lasting directive, they utterly embody the brand essence; other times, like Old Spice’s Be a Man, Man, they simply but not necessarily memorably, sum-up what is great advertising (the TV spots won the Film Grand Prix at Cannes this year), not trying to be a hero.
My favorite taglines:
I Want My MTV. Built the MTV brand in 1996 and also worked as direct response, getting people to demand it on their cable system and to watch it.
I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up. Spoken by “Mrs Fletcher” rescued by the medical alert and protection company LifeCall. Eventually re-licensed to LifeAlert.
Las Vegas —What Happens Here, Stays Here. Following failed attempts at family positioning, Las Vegas embraced its Sin City Image. Tourism hit all time highs when this debuted in 2003.
Schaefer is the one beer to have when you’re having more than one. Tells you exactly when to drink it.
Fingers that Dance. A tagline for the Typettes, a typing service we used for transcripts of interviews. Small businesses have great fun with taglines.
Where the pets go. For Petco, great for memorability.
How do you spell relief? R-O-L-A-I-D-S . Even better for memorability. There’s an entire school of thought for using the product name within its tagline.
Readers favorites: I posted and tweeted for more favorites and got back a few more good ones:
From Steve Strickland: The Car in Front is A Toyota, There’s a method in the Mangers.
From Richard Bloom: Verizon’s Can you hear me now? and Avis’s We’re number two. We try harder.
From Taras Kennedy’s local butcher in Ireland: I’m pleased to meet you with meat to please you.
From Alison and Tony for Red Stripe Beer: new school tag: Hooray, Beer! and classic ‘plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is.’ (you really don’t need the rest of the ad)
From Christopher Klein: Trust Sleepy’s for the Rest of Your Life. and With a name like Smucker’s, it has to be good.
From Diane Sinott: Irn-Bru — Made from girders.
From David Kaminsky: Buy Mennen and We Pour Every Ounce of Ourselves into our Juice.
And from Colby Lysne, my favorite so far: Jimmy Dean — Nobody Beats My Meat.
Please share your favorite taglines below in the comments and why — or your thoughts generally on them. I’d love to keep a running list of great ones and comments on those that emerge.
One final related note/shameless plug: To help attract members to The Faster Times, I’m offering a bonus gift of a personal tagline for those who become a member of TFT at the $60 or higher level and choose me as favorite writer. I’m not sure what I’m getting myself into, but I hope I’ll be swamped.
*Designing Brand Identity, by Alina Wheeler; Publisher: Wiley, 2009)
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