Has anyone ever done a study on the effectiveness of taglines that refer to the date the business began?

Is there even one shred of evidence—even anecdotal evidence—that any consumer is interested in, or, more importantly, cares about or sees value in how long a company has been in business. Perhaps invoking the founding date means something in some categories where businesses are notoriously fly-by-night?

Companies who tout their year of birth no doubt really believe that their longevity is reassuring to customers, that they must be doing something right to have stayed in business this long, right? Companies generally take pride in having been in business for a long time.

But from the consumer’s point of view, does the date carry any weight? Is it meaningfully differentiating?

Let’s look at just two examples

  1. Samuel Hubbard. Shoemakers Since 1930.

The first thing that came to my mind when I saw an ad featuring this tagline was, “How is it that I’ve never even heard of this brand if it’s been around so long?”

That puzzle aside, is this tagline effective? It informs us that Samuel Hubbard is a shoemaker. I call that a descriptor, and my contention is that taglines shouldn’t play the role of a descriptor because it wastes the opportunity to express the brand. If a brand needs a descriptor in addition to the brand name and tagline, then add the descriptor, don’t waste the tagline by making it the descriptor.

So, okay, they’re shoemakers. But does ” . . . Since 1930″ mean anything to their customers or prospective customers? Is it differentiating. does it play any role in the consumer’s decision whether to patronize that brand or not?

Well, ” . . . Since 1930” does tell us that they’ve been at it for a long time and therefore, presumably, they are skilled at and knowledgeable about making shoes. Of course, not only is this true of many other shoe companies that started in the early 20th century—Keds, Stride Rite, Converse—if longevity is a meaningful criterion, Samuel Hubbard is a piker. Boston Shoes started in 1648, Birkenstock in 1774, Scheer in 1816, Clark’s in 1830, Evans in 1832, Frye in 1863, Florsheim 1892 and on and on. So the only thing that would make ” . . . Since 1930” seem like a long time for a shoe company to be in business would be consumers’ ignorance of the history of shoemakers. In the broader scheme of things, Samuel Hubbard is really a relative newcomer.

And let’s keep in mind that being in business for a long time is no guarantee of quality. Unless I’m missing something, I can only conclude that Samual Hubbard’s tagline is fairly meaningless and, therefore, impotent.

2. Abt. Pleasing People . . . since 1936

For those who live on Mars or somewhere else other than the Chicago area, Abt (which is their family name) is a one-location megastore that started out selling appliances, and has expanded over the years to offer electronics, beds, and a ton of other stuff.

Theirs is a stronger tagline than our first example because it at least alludes to the benefit Abt offers, namely, that they please people. The implication of this claim is that customer service and satisfaction is a priority for them, which is something most retail stores pay lip service to, at best. (I can attest to Abt’s commitment to customer satisfaction. I’ve been a loyal customer for 40 years or more.)

However, “ . . . since 1936“ doesn’t satisfy me in the slightest. While it’s true that many appliance and electronics stores, particularly chains, have come and gone over the past half century, I just don’t see how there is any value or meaning in bragging that they’ve been in business for 80 years. What does that have to do with selling me the product I want at a good price? What if they’d only been pleasing people since 1957 or 2004? Would I be more—or less—inclined to patronize the store if that were the claim? For me, at least, it would be entirely irrelevant to my choice of store to patronize. Especially when I’m looking to buy an item that has a tech dimension to it, such as kitchen appliances and electronics do. It’s not about how old the store is, it’s about how knowledgeable and up-to-date they are about the products they sell.

The biggest problem with referring to your company’s year of birth in a tagline is that it squanders the opportunity to say something more meaningful or intriguing or engaging about the brand. A tagline that fails to do this might as well not exist. In fact, it’s worse than having no tagline because having a meaningless or invisible tagline sends the message that you don’t know what your brand is about or what differentiates your brand from the competition. It makes you look clueless.

The sad fact is, I would guess that most companies who include their founding year in the tagline do so for one or both of two reasons: “corporate pride” in the accomplishment; or laziness. Invoking their founding date is a concrete thing they can say about their business that won’t get them in trouble, Doing so saves them the effort of trying to find an interesting way of alluding to their brand’s differessence.

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