Tagline, slogan. Potayto, potahto. 

Some advertising people try to maintain a distinction between the two terms, but that distinction has pretty much collapsed. “Slogan” is the term civilians are most familiar with, whereas “tagline” is the term most often used in the industry.

“Slogan” is strictly an advertising term, whereas “tagline” can refer to different things in different contexts.

You can find “promotional” taglines on movie posters.

And “descriptors” that might appear on a websites or on the side of a van, that are sometimes referred to as taglines. But they’re usually not. They’re descriptors. They talk about what, rather than how or why.

Sometimes taglines provide the explanation point or exclamation point for a single ad campaign. In this context, “tagline” is synonymous with “slogan.”

Other taglines are fused to a particular brand that doesn’t advertise at all, at least not as advertising is usually defined.

I prefer to use the term “tagline” rather than “slogan” because the latter term has a connotation of being dated in the industry. I’ve attached my brand to “tagline” because I want to signal that I write all kinds of short bursts of evocative language, whether that burst is called a slogan, a tagline, a catch phrase, a motto, a mantra, a rallying cry, a theme or any other such powerful, compact piece of language.


BOTTOM LINE: it doesn’t matter.

Regardless of the context or lifespan, all taglines need to be about the brand’s essential, differentiating aspect, characteristic, benefit, appeal.

In order to generate an effective tagline, you must know what your brand’s essence is, and what your brand’s difference is.  I’ve coined the term DIFFERESSENCE to refer to this often elusive, all important entity. Once you’ve determined what your brand’s differessence is, it becomes possible to find a great tagline.

Therefore, I propose this stipulative definition of the tagline:

A tagline is a small set of words that expresses, encapsulates, articulates or otherwise alludes to a brand’s DIFFERESSENCE.
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The Search Made Simple.


I didn’t say easy. I said simple. Here’s how it goes.

FIRST: Learn everything possible about the brand, the target audience, the competition, the brand’s promise or key benefit and its face/voice/personality.

NEXT: Build a vocabulary/lexicon of words and phrases that, even in the most circuitous way, have something/anything to do with all of the above. This vocabulary building phase requires, in addition to whatever background information I’ve been given by the client, the use of a dictionary, thesaurus, Word Menu and a rhyming dictionary. In the process of building this vocabulary, I simultaneously front-load my brain with all these words and begin to trigger connections and associations, all of which I write down.

Then I float. I begin playing in the sandbox, shuffling the cards, recombining, mixing and mingling—you get the idea.

FOLLOWING THIS STAGE: I begin selecting, refining, editing, winnowing and exploring new paths that open up.

These last two steps can become a repeating loop that lasts as long as the project allows.

FINALLY: I review the unedited list, holding each line up against the criteria established in the first step: the strategic constraints regarding the brand’s voice, the brand promise, the target audience and so forth.

The most important part of the process: Doing nothing—consciously, that is. Between every one of these steps, it is critical to take time to allow the brain to do what it does. It is hardwired to sort and file, compare and contrast, juxtapose, connect, connect, connect. This where the seat of our creativity resides, in the new combinations that the brain generates, on its own, without our consent or control.

By building in these periods of “not-doing”, the results are always richer, more interesting, surprising and prolific. And the most productive periods are often when we’re disengaged or semi-engaged—going into or coming out of sleep, showering, zoned out on the train, running, walking, swimming.

This entire process can be accomplished in two or three days if necessary, but for best results, as they say, it takes two to three weeks, because that’s how long it takes to peel away all the most predictable, obvious lines and get to the juicy bits that lie inside, underneath—the truly new combinations. To boldly go where no copywriter has ever gone before.
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Who Needs a Tagline?


No one.

Who needs a great tagline?

Everyone with a business card and/or a website.
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Why Is  A Great Tagline Absolutely Essential?


1. Without a good tagline, you have no BRAND HANDLE.  No one will reach for a brand they can’t grasp.

People want/need to know what your deal is—why they should consider the product or service you have to be better or more desirable than your competitors. Again, what’s your differessence. And they need to know where to store your brand in their brain. Additionally, the tone or attitude expressed in a good tagline can provide an emotional handle—a basis to like or relate to the brand.

2. It is critical to get a handle on your brand . . .

For your sake

It’s astounding how many business owners don’t know what business they’re in, or what their brand is (or should be) about.

For your employees’ sake

It’s hard to feel allegiance or derive pride or inspiration from a brand if you don’t get what it is. A great tagline can be an anthem, a rallying cry, an aspirational challenge.

For your customers’ sake

Just as the name of your brand doesn’t tell that whole story, neither does the tagline. As you find opportunities and venues to convey your brand’s differessence, customers, as well as employees, need something to hang your brand’s hat on—some simple, memorable, meaningful encapsulation of the personality and differessence of your brand. The human brain is predisposed to label, sort and file bits of information, depending on the interestingness, importance—and brevity or conciseness—of each bit. A tagline is your only opportunity to boil your brand down to one small set of words that can be retained, filed and retrieved easily.