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Taglines Lose Their Starring Role in Ads

Not long ago, every ad had a tagline that stuck with the consumer after the message was delivered. But that former rule may no longer be the norm.

Consider: Christmas is coming and that must mean it’s time to go jewelry shopping because, after all, “every kiss begins with Kay.” Many looking to buy a consumer electronics product will consider Sony because it’s “Like. no. other.” And, for frugal shoppers who want to “Save money. Live better,” there’s Wal-Mart.

However, as the onslaught of holiday ads hits, there are likely to be less of these familiar refrains as many marketers are using their taglines sparingly or not at all. “It used to be on the list of deliverables,” said Mike Wolfsohn, vp/executive creative director at Ignited, Los Angeles. “It was mandatory.”

Not so today. Starbucks, Samsung, Converse and others are among the growing number of brands that do not focus on the use of taglines. M&Ms and Pizza Hut, meanwhile, run their tags, “Discover your inner ‘m’” and “America’s favorite pizza,” only occasionally.

For generations, taglines have served as the foundation for advertising—a short statement poised to deliver the brand message in a memorable way. Today, there is some consensus that the tactic is on life support.

The reasons range from ever-shorter tenures of CMOs (13 months on average, according to recent research) to ever-splintering consumer demographics.

Another factor is the proliferation of channels for marketers to speak to consumers. This too has some wondering if that one overarching tagline may have outlived its usefulness. There are so many ways for marketers to speak to consumers and for consumers to experience a brand, said Ian Schafer, president of entertainment marketing firm Deep Focus, New York. “It’s about lifestyle,” he said.

When it comes to developing a hit tagline, there is no set formula, Wolfsohn said. There is little commonality in ones that work. He suggested marketers be bold and definitive about taglines, or skip them all together.

“Treat it heroically,” he said. “Celebrate it. Don’t relegate it to eight-point type in the lower right-hand corner.”

Too often, taglines are used as safety nets out of a fear that the rest of the campaign isn’t communicating well enough, he said.

Taglines are often more utilitarian and less emotional, experts say. They tend to be fed through the focus group mill until they’re watered down beyond recognition. That process does not produce “Think Different,” “Got Milk?” or “Just Do It.”

“If the Nike tagline were suggested today, the question back would probably be, ‘Just do what?’” said Wolfsohn. “There’s a level of trepidation now that people won’t get it and they won’t be able to parrot the idea back to you. So, taglines get over-defined.”

That’s when they lose strength and become meaningless, he said.
For a slogan to stick, it’s not just coming up with five catchy words or less, said Landor & Associates’ managing director Allen Adamson. It’s vital to weave that message through all the communications and the very brand DNA itself.

“It has to be the right promise, with the brand living up to it, expressed in a sticky, unexpected way,” Adamson said. “And then you have to spend money and stay with it for the long haul.”

He points to GE’s “Imagination at Work” as a breakthrough tagline because it’s more than a slogan. “It’s the business strategy,” he said. “It’s the mission of the company.”

One area where taglines still have weight is in the Hollywood movie industry, where fierce competition means that films live or die based on their out-of-the-gate opening weekend performance. Having a clever tag, along with an arresting image, can make all the difference, said Damon Wolf, president of Crew Creative, Los Angeles.

“The imagery is intended to stop people in their tracks,” Wolf said, “and the copy line should engage them, pose a question, reinforce the creative of the movie.”

Among the heavyweights: Alien’s “In space, no one can hear you scream,” Poltergeist’s “They’re heeere” and more recently The 40-Year-Old Virgin’s “Better late than never.”

Even in Hollywood’s tag-laden world, the slogan’s not always necessary. Wolf and his team just finished some work for Get Smart, next summer’s ’60s-inspired comedy starring Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway. The poster shows the two stars, looking shag-tacular in their mod outfits, with only the movie’s title.

“And the opening date,” Wolf said. “That’s all we felt like it needed.”


T.L. Stanley, Brandweek. November 26, 2007

Copyright © 2007 Nielsen Business Media, Inc.. All rights reserved.