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The Art of the Tagline

You have 5 seconds to sum up your business or product before your listener walks away or clicks off.

Go.

Yes, it’s time to write your tagline – a slogan that says what you do. You get even fewer words than the classic elevator pitch – maybe five to ten – so think of the tagline as the express elevator.

The tagline does a lot of work with those five to ten words and travels a narrow path to success. It has to be clever but not cute; descriptive but not flowery; clear but not didactic. Funny is good but silly is not; if you’re sacrificing the clarity of the message just for laughs, you’ve failed.

Types of taglines

A tagline comes in two flavors: informational and inspirational.

The informational tag tells the customer that the product or service is exactly what they need or want. Like these:

  • Melts in your mouth, not in your hands. (M&M’s candy)
  • The quicker picker upper. (Bounty paper towels)
  • Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there. (State Farm insurance)
  • Save money. Live better. (Wal-Mart)
  • We stop breaches. (CrowdStrike cyber security company)

The inspirational tag presents an idea or belief held by the listener and motivates them to act because of the shared value:

  • Just do it. (Nike athletic apparel)
  • Think different. (Apple tech products)
  • Because you’re worth it. (L’Oreal cosmetics)
  • It’s the real thing, (Coca-Cola beverages).
  • The few. The proud. The Marines. (U.S. Marine Corps)

What makes a great tagline?

Wordplay. Puns always work but don’t get cute. Utah’s tourism office came up with “The greatest snow on earth,” which is a perfect pun for “The greatest show on earth.” Dollar Shave Club tells us it helps us “Shave time. Shave money.”

Alliteration. I love Kay Jewelers’ “Every kiss begins with Kay.” Throw in the double meaning of the words “kiss” and “Kay” both beginning with the letter K and it’s a – well, it’s a gem of a tag.

Clarity. It’s the most important quality, I think. The reader should be able to get some sense of what your company does. I was an avid fan of the drama series Mad Men, about the life of a 1960s advertising executive. Don Draper was supposed to be a genius, but I never got his proposed slogan for Bethlehem Steel: “Oh little town of Bethlehem.” It ran with an image of New York City, which apparently had been built with Bethlehem Steel. I guess.

Tag, you’re it

Some taglines are so successful in their message that they transcend their product and inspire imitators. How many variations of “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” have you seen? Or “Got milk?”

Just don’t let your tagline inspire the wrong kind of imitation. The Marines’ previous slogan, “We’re looking for a few good men,” didn’t last long, for good reason.

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