The Chicago Sun-Times has a little article in today’s paper about a cupcake shop in Chicago named Skinny Piggy. They’ve reworked their business model. Now customers can build their own cupcakes. Their new tagline:
Choose. Decorate. Smile.
Upon reading this, I curled up in a twitching ball, whimpering and sucking my thumb under the table at the Burger King where I work much of the time.
As it happens, the day before I began writing a post on the phenomenon of the
Three. Word. Tagline.
This cupcake line was the icing on the cake. It’s gotten to the point where I eagerly await the next stupid tagline fad just to get some relief from this one. Unfortunately, since anyone—ANYONE—can write one of these pathetic excuses for a tagline, I suspect they’ll be around for a long time.
Any company that pays its ad agency or marketing consultant or freelance writer any money to come up with a tagline consisting
Of. Three. Words.
is a company to be wary of, because, boy, are they suckers. If that’s as smart as they get running their business, you’d be well-advised to steer clear.
And, regardless of who came up with the three words the company bought, it’s still the company that bought the “tagline”, which makes them as lazy or clueless or both as the people they hired to strain their brains for, what—30 seconds?—to think of three words that describe what the company does. Or the names of three benefits. Or some combination of these.
Just take a minute to soak in the scintillating taglines in this far-from-exhaustive list:
Alibaba.com. Find it. Make it. Sell it.
Benedictine Unversity. Learn. Grow. Lead.
Blue Cross Blue Shield. Experience. Wellness. Everywhere.
Buffalo Wild Wings. Wings. Beer. Sports.
Century 21. Smarter. Bolder. Faster.
Chartwells. Eat. Learn. Live.
Ellen. Love. Laugh. Dance.
Hershey Syrup. Squeeze. Stir. Share.
Kellogg’s. People. Passion. Pride.
Mariano’s. Shop well. Eat well. Live well.
Nite. Style. Quality. Performance.
Northern Initiatives Launch. Grow. Prosper.
Regions. Loans. Treasury Management. Can-Do Attitude.
Skinny Piggy. Choose. Decorate. Smile.
Trojan. Real. Good. Sex.
I have less of an issue with the lines that list benefits than I do with those that simply describe the process they hope their customers will participate in. Because these lines are not taglines at all (with the exception of the Blue Cross Blue Shield line which I begrudgingly must acknowledge makes the most of this “three separate words” format to identify three benefits, and form a sentence in the process). Other than that one, these are mundane, run of the mill, unremarkable descriptors. They tell us nothing about the brand. They certainly tell us nothing differentiating. It’s as if someone gave them the following exercise:
“Describe, in an ideal world, what your customers would do upon entering your store/website in three words”.
If you own Skinny Piggy, given its new business model featuring cupcakes that customers build themselves, how long and how hard would have to think before coming up with Choose. Decorate. Smile.?
All that these three word descriptors are expressing is the wish of the owner or CEO: “Geez, fingers crossed, I sure hope customers come to me and do the following three things.”
As for the other version of these taglines, the one that features three benefits of availing one’s self of the product or service, at least this version has, nominally, something to do with the prospective customer. Still, writing one of these lists of benefits should already have been accomplished earlier in the the process than at the tagline-writing stage. Presumably the ad agency wrote a creative brief as a guide in taking on the challenge of creating the tagline. Right there, in the creative brief, there’s a section that pertains to the benefit or promise of the product. Instead of using this as direction in the quest for a compelling tagline, the writer simply copies three words from the brief on a separate sheet of paper and turns it in to the creative director. Voila! Instant tagline.
So, we can agree that writing one of these accursed taglines is so easy a junior account guy could do it.
Now let’s consider for a moment not how easy they are, but how effective they are. How evocative are these taglines? How sticky? Let’s randomly choose from the list above the Kellogg’s corporate tagline: People. Passion Pride.
On the plus side, this tagline has alliteration going for it. Three “P” words in a row. Few of the others even attempt any sort of alliteration.
Now let’s consider how differentiating this tagline is, how effectively this tagline sets Kellogg’s apart from its competition, or from any other business, or for any organization of any kind for that matter.
People. Not a whole lot differentiating about that, since, without people, you’d be hard pressed to have a company or any other sort of organization in the first place. Of course, what they mean by “people” is probably, “We have great people.” I’d venture to say every single other organization on the face of the earth would make the same bold claim.
The next two words . . .
get a little more specific about the nature of the presumed nature of their people (They’re passionate about what they do) and the feeling that results from having all these passionate people (Having passionate people makes us swell with pride). As well as the pride their people take in what they do.
Again, I’m not going too far out on a limb in assuming that every organization in the world would say and feel the same.
So what purpose does this tagline serve? What does it make us feel. Does it intrigue us? Provoke us? Make us smile? Does it get us pumped? Does it motivate us? Does it affect us in any way, really? No, certainly not. It’s just another of countless examples of corporate blah blah that we have been immune to, as a species, for, what, centuries? Probably longer.
And by “us” I don’t necessarily mean us, consumers. This tagline is primarily aimed at an internal audience, the employees at Kellogg’s. That’s the “us” I’m talking about. They are no less immune than the rest of us.
Let’s sum up. These
Three. Word. Taglines.
1. Take no effort to write
2. Have no effect on their intended audiences
3. In no way allude to or attempt to leverage the brand’s differessence
The fact that these taglines are oh so popular speaks volumes about the pervasive lack of understanding of what a tagline is, what it’s supposed to do, or how invaluable it can be to a business.
For most companies, the tagline is just an item to be ticked off on their obligatory, mindless marketing check list. The primary goal is to find a passable one quickly, inexpensively and with minimal effort, so that they can concentrate on important items of the list (social media, SEO, big data, etc.).
There is a price for this kind of intellectual laziness. I can’t back this claim up with hard numbers. But the business landscape is riddled with dead and dying companies who weren’t as smart or as hard-working about their business as they needed to be. Tagline laziness is just one indication of this flaw.
If you’ve read this far, you’ve already given the nature and value of a good tagline far more thought that the companies that have embraced taglines like the ones on the list above. I applaud you for that.
The good news is that, for the companies that take taglines seriously, every competitor that doesn’t provides one more competitive edge.