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Beyond 5 Tips: General Rules of Thumb for Creating a Brand Slogan

David Bohan

David Bohan (BS/BA ’70), chairman of BOHAN Advertising/Marketing and CCI BOV member, collaborated with BOHAN President Kerry Graham to provide a more extensive set of recommendations about creating effective slogans.  Bohan Advertising is an award winning advertising agency in Nashville with many notable clients including the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism for which they recently received an Emmy Award. 

General rules of Thumb for Creating a Brand Slogan

As you stare at that blank computer screen, ready to begin penning the greatest tagline of all time, remember the following rules of thumb.

 

Poetry and Meter

The fact is, there is poetry and meter involved in most of the best and most resonant slogans. How they roll off the tongue, verbally and mentally. Consider General Electric: We Bring Good Things To Life. The cadence of this line is already musical, even before it became a jingle. In the UK campaign for Heineken beer, the line Refreshes the Parts Other Beers Can’t Reach has a similarly poetic construction. Visa: It’s everywhere you want to be. DeBeer’s A Diamond is forever. Alka-Seltzer’s “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz. Oh, what a relief it is” and “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.” The New York Times: “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” The Irish Tourist Board’s The Ancient Birthplace of Good Times.

 

So meter and cadence can be important in creating a memorable expression of what your brand does or delivers better than anyone else.

 

Start with What Your Audience Already Knows, Then Twist It

Some successful themes skip over the declaratory brand descriptors to simply add topspin and flavor to all the pre-existing imagery, hopes, dreams, expectations and other information consumers already know about the brand and/or the industry sphere in which it operates.

 

For example, when we did brand work for The United Methodist Church in an environment of declining congregational membership – especially among younger generations – we issued the challenge of Rethink Church as the slogan. This allowed audiences of our message – internal and external - to bring their own preconceived notions, prejudices, issues and negatives about organized religion to the table for “rethinking” as we spoke about a variety of ways in which the Methodist Church was changing to be more relevant and inviting.

Bill Bernbach’s classic line for Levi’s Jewish Rye took a similar tack, addressing the preconceived notions about rye bread head on with You Don’t Have to be Jewish to Love Levi’s.

Clairol Hair Color’s “Does she...? Or doesn’t she…?”

Foster Grant’s “Who’s that behind those Foster Grants?” This brings so much information with it in so few words. Namely, that anyone wearing Foster Grants is a celebrity, which implies quality and cache.

M&M’s iconic “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.” Chocolate candy, but in a different form. Got it.

Knowing that navigating the financial and insurance world is a difficult task, John Hancock Financial Services took a very colloquial, real-world approach to its advertising in the late 1980’s, accurately depicting the life and financial challenges real people often face. Then they signed it off with “Real Life, Real Answers.” Few other campaigns in the sector have been as honest and refreshingly approachable since.

Las Vegas: What happens here…stays here.

And 7-Up played off of its customers’ pre-existing category knowledge to say what it wasn’t - with its famed 1970’s declaration of difference in a Coke and Pepsi world: 7-Up: The Un-Cola.

 

Make it a relevant, positive and empowering message of the customer’s involvement in the brand purpose. Make it an invitation to a better experience thanks to the brand or product. Make it a challenge to the categorical status quo, assuming the brand and the product can pay it off.

Think of Nike, and Just Do It.

Apple’s Think Different.

The California Milk Processor Board’s “Got Milk?”

Volkswagen’s Think Small.

Miller Beer’s line which can still be heard at the end of a long work week today: “It’s Miller Time!”

AT&T’s Reach Out and Touch Someone

Burger King: Have it your way.

Verizon: Can you hear me now? Good.

 

These are about what these brands’ products will allow you to do or think how they will alter your inertia or your daily experience in some important way. Of course these are ridiculously famous examples. But the precept holds true for more local or regionally notable brands as well.

Diapers.com has a memorable promise: We deliver everything but the baby.

 

And at BOHAN, we recently developed a theme line for a hospital system’s faith-based approach to healing and wellness that has had a substantive and even emotional impact on those who’ve heard it:

Saint Thomas Health. Nothing shall be impossible. The line was derived from a passage in the Book of Mark, which states, “With God, nothing shall be impossible.” Now think about that philosophy from the standpoint of a patient or their family hoping for healing. And from the point of view of the health system’s internal staff as they face the incredible challenges of a changing healthcare industry.

 

Don’t mistake descriptors, company values or mission statements for slogans.

Sometimes companies mistake statements about what they do, or use their own tepid mission/value statements for themelines or slogans.

Tyson: We’re chicken.

Denny’s: A good place to sit and eat.

Exxon: We’re Exxon. Duh.

ChevronTexaco: Turning partnership into energy.

Best Buy: Making Technology Work for You.

Delta: We get you there. Hope so.

Jockey: A commitment to quality and value. Really? For underwear?

Goodrich Aerospace: Creating value through excellence – In innovation, quality and people.

Sanyo: Affordable quality.

Whiskas: Best quality ever.  No wonder this brand almost went into extinction.

Whirlpool: Bringing quality to life.  Sound familiar? Yes. Differentiating and consumer-activating? No.

Goodyear Tires: Quality and innovation. The problem is that this approach is almost always rational, bland and undifferentiating, and leaves out the important emotional component that makes a tagline stick with real people who might become brand customers.

 

In summary, there are many strategic paths you can take to reach a great resonant tagline or slogan. But executionally, there’s really only one. Make it relevant. Craft the heck out of it. Test it on humans. Then live it.

 

Here’s what Black Dog Strategy has to say about attacking the slogan in the right ways.

 

The word “slogan” derives from the Gaelic slaughgaiirm. As it turns out slogans are not for the faint of heart, a slaughgaiirm (slogan) translated is a “war cry”.

A Powerful Tagline is defined by essential characteristics:

1.)    Pop: A powerful tagline gets to it. A well-turned phrase is direct, succinct, and to the point in a few words. Excavating an expression that represents your brand is critical. Big ideas condensed create sticky messages. If you want it remembered and repeated…just say it.

2.)    Differentiates:  The goal is to tell your story with a little punch in a memorable quip. Communicate your attitude, core competencies, flair, and/or novel purpose in your own voice.

3.)    Capture the truth: Your tagline should be believable, straightforward, clear, focused, and original. Avoid lofty, pretentious phrases that won’t turn a head, capture anyone’s attention, or mean anything to anyone. Stay clear of jargon and clichés (unless you have a new spin on a common quip).

4.)   Operationalized:  The last thing you want is a message that you can’t deliver and a brand promise that you can’t keep.

5.)    Recognizable: To thine own brand be true. Taglines are intended to reinforce the “word” that you want to own in your customers mind. The trick is to capture and communicate the brand’s collective persona.

6.)    Discover the universal truth in your brand: Sticky slogans get to the heart of the matter revealing an inherent quality, a universal truth, or a drive that all users can relate to at a meaningful level.

8.)    Bold: You want a slogan that is impossible to mimic. This is no time for obscure promotions. Your audience is listening for bold brands to speak up and in a customer centric voice. Be impressively, unequivocally, explicit about who you are, what you do, and what you stand for. Bland is boring. Avoid copycat, cookie-cutter, safe, vague, tired, homogenized, and drab slogans. A bland brand is nothing to brag about.

9.)    Enduring value: Taglines that have stuck and lasted the test of time have dug deep with a simple message.

10.)    Customer focused: Never forget who you are talking to. Why do they care? Why should they care? What’s the need? The need behind the need? The shared perspective? The promise that compels? The real deal?

11.)    Works: Now that you have done all that…you need to vet it, “google it,” field test it on the outside, put it to the “mother-in-law” clarity check to ensure that it works for you and doesn’t belong to someone else.

 

Of course in the world of branding and marketing – especially in today’s vast new frontier of technology, transparency and the constantly changing dynamics of “customer experience,” there are different perspectives on the validity and usefulness of a host of marketing techniques, the brand slogan being one of them. Here is a counterpoint, posed by Denise Lee Young in AdWeek this past September, in which she says “taglines (maybe) bygone marketing relics.”

Another list of imperatives for slogans, from KingFish Media:

12 Elements of a Great Tagline, According to Tagline GuruThe best taglines are …

Original. Make it your own.

Believable. Keep it real.

Simple. Make it understandable.

Succinct. Get to the point.

Positive. Elevate their mood.

Specific. Make it relevant.

Unconventional. Break the mold.

Provocative. Make them think.

Conversational. Make it personable.

Persuasive. Sell the big idea.

Humorous. Tickle their funny bone.

Memorable. Make a lasting impression.