Tagline Jim Posts

Paranoid or Pariah?

Have I been shooting myself in the foot relentlessly for decades? Early in my career, I took to heart Stan Freberg’s idea of offering “more honesty than the client had in mind.” As a full time employee at what was then Tatham, Laird & Kudner, (now Havas), and then at FCB and Sturm Communications, as well as during my nine-year “full time freelance” stint at DDB, I always tried to stick to that goal.

I felt the value these agencies got from me, beyond the brilliant advertising ideas, was that I readily shared my thoughts with upper management about how the agency was doing, what it was doing wrong and how to fix things. Sometimes my “suggestions” were given consideration. Sometimes they got me in hot water.

I recall one time when I was full-time-freelancing at DDB, I resided in Beyond DDB, the “integrated marketing” branch of DDB, where all the stuff that the “regular” creative didn’t want to deal with got done. I’m talking about direct mail, promotions, business-to-business advertising, event marketing, all the stuff that wasn’t a TV spot or print or radio ad.

The Single Worst Word in The Tagline Lexicon.

Nope, it’s not “solutions” or “best” or “quality.” Those are merely meaningless.

It’s not “we” or “us”. It’s not “life” or “matters” or “innovation.”

The worst word is “trust.” With few exceptions, using “trust” in a tagline is self-negating. It erodes trust just to invoke that word, in most cases.

The reality it, trust is always something that must be earned, never something that results from simply saying “Trust us.” And it is something the company or brand is saying about itself. Better to turn the arrow around to point at the customer and what benefit they will derive.

Erie Family HealthCenter. Trust. Heal. Care.

Now, THATS a tagline.

 

It is rare to see a company truly embrace their tagline. And even rarer to use the tagline as a demonstration of the brand. Today I spotted the van above. Classic Color is a printing company. I don’t need to know anything more about them than the tagline, and especially the design of the tagline, to know they are a high end, high quality company.

It’s true that Classic Color has an advantage in that they are in a visual, art-related business which lends itself to such a tagline. That might mean something, if I hadn’t seen so many similar companies with pedestrian taglines, treated with a yawn, if they had a tagline at all.

It’s also true that the tagline, were it designed in a more ordinary way, the way their brand name is, would not be anything special. But it’s not. The tagline and its design are one entity, so that the actual words of the tagline are made true by the design.

Hey, all you big brands. PLEASE stop embarrassing yourselves.

Aarrghh!
I know I’ve railed about this particular tagline crime before. But it just keeps happening. Will this torture never end?
This is the far from complete list I’ve compiled.

AAA Membership. For Life.
Abbott. A Promise For Life.
Ameren Corp. Focused Energy. For Life.
American Institute of Architects. Building For Life.
Bosch. Invented For Life.
AAA Membership. For Life.
Cardinal Health. [Something?] For Life.
Constellation Brands Tastes For Life.
Daikin. Comfort For Life.
Dominicks. Ingredients For Life.
Dux. The Bed For Life.
Everest. With You For Life.
Everest. For Life.
HealthKey. Unlock Your Potential—For Life.
Heatmaster. Comfort For Life.
Horizon Pharma. Innovative Therapies For Life.
Iams. Good For Life.
Kubota. For Earth, For Life.
Medtronic. Innovating For Life.
Panasonic. Ideas For Life.
Perl Mortgage. Your Leader For Life.
Siemens. Ingenuity For Life.
Spectra Energy Corp. Energy For Life.
TNO Innovation For Life.
Tridivisions. Real Technology for Real Life
TwinLab Multivitamins. Answers. For Life.
Valcucine. Innovation For Life.
Varian Medical Systems A Partner For Life.
Victorinox. Companion For Life.
Volvo. For Life.
(I forget which Prescription Drug.) Take It For Life.
[Several companies.] Your Lender For Life.

Now another big pharma company joins the bandwagon. Maybe this isn’t even a new tagline for them, but it’s the first I’ve seen it.

Bye-bye “Slogan.”

Laura Ries, daughter of the legendary Al Ries, wrote a book a few years ago called Battlecry. It’s a book about slogans/taglines, and I’m very grateful to her for having written it. Precious few books consider slogans/taglines in such depth, and she has much of interest to say.

However, I strongly disagree with one of her contentions. It has to do with the distinction between a slogan and a tagline. I’ve written about this topic in a LinkedIn article recently, so I’ll contain my comments here to Laura’s argument and in particular one of her examples.

Laura contends that a tagline is just the catchy little something that occurs at the end of a commercial. It doesn’t reflect or indicate the brand’s positioning. Whereas slogans are all about expressing the positioning of the brand.
She gives, as one prime example, Motel 6. The tagline of their commercials is We’ll keep the light on for you. But the slogan, which you’ll find at the top of their website home page is, “Lowest price of any national chain.”

Hellmann’s’ instructive tagline journey.

I am a consumer of Hellmann’s mayo—and a consumer of their taglines over the years. For a long time, they stayed with Bring out the Hellmann’s and Bring Out the Best. They weren’t phased by Budweiser’s similar Bring Out Your Best tagline. They had a good tagline and they held their ground.

A few years ago, they changed direction, deciding to focus on “real”. They launched an ad campaign anchored by a new tagline, It’s Time For Real. I took them to task back then because I felt this was a vacuous tagline. What were they talking about? In retrospect, my sense is that they must have had research that told them people were looking for “real”, “authentic”, as opposed to “artificial”, which was helping to drive the whole push for eating local, blah blah blah.

Did they think people perceived their competition, especially Miracle Whip, as not real, or less real? Miracle Whip doesn’t claim to be mayo at all, but people find it in the same place on the supermarket shelf as Hellmann’s and other brands of mayo. So was this an attack on Miracle Whip? Or did they just want to emphasize their own pure, simple ingredient story with no artificial stuff?

Silk’s new tagline—such a beautifully subtle, effective little sleight.

As with most commercials, I don’t recall the content of the Silk commercial, other than the tagline. I’m sure I’m more susceptible to this kind of selective memory and perception than most, given what I do. In this case, As is often the case, with me at least, the rest of the content, aside from the tagline, is secondary, even inconsequential.

So, let’s talk about this tagline.

Silk Tastes Like Better

They could have just said Tastes Better. This would put them in the ranks of hundreds? Thousands? of other brands of food products. And it would have rendered the tagline impotent, meaningless and invisible.

But, in the simple act of transforming the adjective “better” into a noun, the tagline provides that little bump, that nanosecond of pause and replay in the brain that forces just the slightest engagement, the slightest bit of processing. And this, in turn, renders the tagline meaningful, visible, effective.

Lactaid’s tagline: simple, smart, human.

A good tagline doesn’t have to express a grand thought or be extremely clever. The new tagline for Lactaid Milk makes this point nicely.

The tagline is this:

The milk that doesn’t mess with you

At first glance, rather unremarkable, right? but here’s what I like about it. First, by saying “The milk”, this tagline establishes that Lactaid Milk is, in fact, milk. It avoids the question of whether this is a milk substitute, a pretender of some kind, by being assumptive up front. Answered. No need to ask.

Second they’ve chosen to put the benefit in conversational, colloquial language—it’s milk that doesn’t mess with you. They could have talked about lactose intolerance or lactose sensitivity or something like that. But they characterize the problem very empathetically in a way that anyone who is lactose-intolerant understands.

Also, the use of the word “mess” is very smart. The manifestation of lactose intolerance can be messy indeed. But the Lactaid folks dial it back just a little, avoiding the grosser connotations of that word by using it as a verb, not a noun. So the allusion to the “mess” is very subtle, implicit, indirect. Tasteful, without becoming euphemistic. It doesn’t evoke the messy end result, but rather, the gassy, crampy, uncomfortable experience of lactose intolerance.

You think you know the Menards tagline, but you don’t.

Those of you who live within advertising’s distance of Menards have had their main message imprinted on your brain for many years. But, if I asked 100 people what their tagline is, 100 of them would be wrong.

You’ll Save Big Money at Menards. Right? Wrong. Okay, I’ll admit that this is their de facto tagline. But if you were to pay attention to the end of one of their TV spots, for instance, in most cases, the official Menards tagline appears on screen underneath their logo right there at the end of the spot. It even is trademarked.

You still have no idea what I’m talking about, right?

Okay, I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. Menards’ tagline is . . .

Arconic reveals print ad innovation!

Paging through Fast Company recently, I came upon an ad for Arconic. Having read the ad, I have very little sense of what they do. They seem to be an engineering firm.They make “materials and technologies.” Another thing they make, as evidenced by this ad, is taglines. Three of them in this one ad alone.

Two of the taglines are in customary positions for taglines. There’s this one positioned directly below the logo:

Innovation, engineered. Boring and generic.

Then there’s the tagline that sits in bold at the end of the block of body copy:

Arconic. Where the future takes shape.

“Future” = “Innovation.“ “Takes shape” = “engineered.” So, at least they’re being consistent, both with their brand’s message and with how boring and generic both taglines are.

Diminishing poets by making them pitchmen.

When advertising practitioners stoop to a new low, it must not go without comment.

Recently, it seems that some advertisers have decided to parade the world’s greatest poets as pitchmen. Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road” has been co-opted by Grey New York for its client, Volvo. There’s now an Infiniti spot featuring William Blake’s The Tyger. And some entity called “America’s Pharmaceutical Companies” has stolen Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.”

Borrowing or stealing from cultural sources in advertising is nothing new. In fact, it happens all the time. And doing so isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s really case-by-case, a question of degree, context and target audience.

But, when ad agencies feel compelled to resort to the borrowed greatness of other people’s writing, rather than challenging the copywriting talent within their own cubicles, it’s clear that, in this era of the visual, our industry has not only devalued language, we’re not even bothering to articulate the brand’s message. Just stick some poem in there. It’s borrowed interest, pure and simple, the language equivalent of exploiting the image of a large breasted woman to sell hamburgers or car parts. It’s apparent that either there is a glaring shortage of competent—never mind talented—copywriters, or, there is no such shortage, and ad agencies are simply squandering or disregarding their own copywriting resources due to a combination of laziness and an obsession with the visual image that blinds them to the power of language.

My take on the 2017 Super Bowl ads.

Meh.

Happy is the tagline word du jour. Why so late to the party?

A few years ago, Best Buy endorsed the following edict in its tagline: Buyer Be Happy. More recently, Coca-Cola has encouraged us to Open Happiness. Febreze wants us to Breathe Happy. Hershey’s suggests that we Welcome Happy, and, alternately, that we say Hello Happy. Hello Hershey’s. And Lay’s explains to us that Happiness is Simple. Some online service called Live Happy promises Happiness delivered right to you!

It doesn’t surprise me that the advertising world has glommed onto that word. What surprises me is how long it has taken to get to this point. After all, the word happy has a long and storied tradition in song titles, (Happy by The Rolling Stones, Happy by Pharrell Williams, Happy by C2C—and that’s just titles consisting entirely of just that word); book titles, (10% Happier, The Art of Happiness, Authentic Happiness, The Happiness Advantage, The Happiness Project, etc); movie titles (I found 22 such titles in Wikipedia); surprisingly few band names, (Happy Mondays, Happy Go Lucky, The Happy Goodman Family, Happy Flowers, Happy Rhodes); lots of consumer products and many other forms of popular culture. But, if memory serves, (and it seldom does these days), the occurrence of happy in taglines, at least with such frequency, is a relatively recent development.

Taglines, according to most people, should allude to a key benefit of the product or service. Happiness could be considered the ultimate benefit.

Further proof that no advertising “idea” is too stupid to be mimicked.

Back in the 60’s and 70’s, Imperial Margarine ran a TV campaign with a memorable, if irritating, mnemonic device. When someone in one of their commercials bit down on some food with their margarine spread onto it, a crown would magically appear on the person’s head, and a trumpet would announce the arrival of this crown with a four-note fanfare: ta—ta ta da.

Now, 40 years later, we  have a campaign for Jimmy Dean foods in which we see a person biting a Jimmy Dean sandwich, smiling and growing a crown on his head, which he now infects someone else with by smiling at them, and that person smiles at someone else who in turn grows a crown.  So, apparently, you can enjoy the benefit of Jimmy Dean by association,  just by being somewhere in proximity to someone who was smiled at by someone who ate some Jimmy Dean product. The Jimmy Dean folks call this passing on of the crown “shining it forward”.

(In fairness, the animated “crown” in these commercials is intended to be more like sun rays emanating from the person’s head, but it looks like a crown to me. In either case, it’s oh so hokey.)

Let’s hear it for a somewhat better than average tagline.

 

In between the rare great tagline and the countless bad, boring, invisible taglines that account for the bulk of the tagline population are a some taglines that have some merit, some something that elevates them above the massive tagheap of crap taglines.

It is often some very subtle something that accomplishes this lifting and separating. Such is the case with Turkish Airlines’ tagline:

Widen Your World.

Yes, the alliteration is helpful. But what caused me to pause when I encountered this tagline was the use of the word “Widen”.

Apart from doing its part in the alliteration, it is, to me, a somewhat interesting choice of verb. There are many ways to articulate the general notion expressed in this tagline. We speak of broadening or expanding our horizons, our outlook or our perspective. But “widen” isn’t really in that list. The closest that “widen” gets to that notion in our ordinary language is as the latter half of “worldwide”. But as a verb, it doesn’t come up much.

This is not a striking or arresting use of the verb, but it is still not the most expected verb. It’s a little bit surprising.