The Problem with Most Taglines

taglineToday, I spent a good 10 minutes in my car following a National Grid truck on my way home from an appointment.  It was a slow, stop-and-go ride through several back roads with no way to pass.

With each stop, I would come face to face with the National Grid logo – and its tagline:

“Here with you.  Here for you.”

It has a nice to ring to it, don’t you think?

But here’s my question:  Does it work?

More generally, do inspirational or feel-good taglines help to communicate your message, builde your brand or generate more business?

I don’t think so.

I think taglines like this are a waste of time, money and valuable advertising space. 

They feel good to be sure, but they are throwaway lines that are often replaced the next year with another throwaway line.

I don’t mean to pick on National Grid.  Many companies and brands, including the largest in the world, spend countless hours and gobs of money developing these worthless phrases.

In fact, I would argue that even the most famous tagline, Nike’s “Just Do It,” does nothing to build the Nike brand or sell more shoes.

Nike is very proud of its tagline and swish logo, and I’m sure would tell you that both the tagline and swish logo are essential to the brand and are as well-known as the company name itself.  Even if true, so what?

Nike is one of the most famous brands of all time.  But that recognition has more to do with its worldwide exposure, celebrity endorsements and advertising budget than its tagline.

Would a different tagline have produced fewer sales or lower brand recognition?  I doubt it.

But the point of this article isn’t to knock taglines. 

I think taglines are important.  I use them all the time.

But taglines should be used to clarify or inform – rather than inspire.

I often recommend taglines for websites, logos, email signatures, business cards, billboards, truck signs and, most often in my work, for outer envelopes when developing direct mail campaigns.

But my approach with every tagline is not to come up with something catchy or clever but to help the reader or viewer better understand what the company (my client) does.

Why do we need taglines?  To answer that question, ask yourself another question: “If all they see is my company name or logo, will they know what we do?”

In many cases, the answer is no.  The company name/logo alone doesn’t reveal what the company does, but a tagline could provide that clarification.

Consulting and professional services firms are most vulnerable here.

For whatever reason, these companies often have names like The Landmark Group, or Landmark Partners, or Landmark Consulting.  (I just made these up).  How would anyone looking at the company name have any idea what they do?

Wouldn’t it be helpful if they had a tagline that read something like:

  • Specialists in OSHA Compliance for Manufacturers
  • Experts in Balance Sheet Strategies for the Banking Industry
  • Investments – Tax Planning – Wealth Management
  • Marketing Strategies for Professional Services Firms

But even company names that do convey the nature of the business or are well known to the public can benefit from taglines that inform or clarify.

Consider this painting company (again I made it up):

Picasso Painting Company
Your home is our canvas

Picasso Painting Company
Professional – Courteous – Quality

Picasso Painting Company
Commercial – Residential
Interior – Exterior – FREE Estimates

In the first case, the tagline does little other than demonstrate some cleverness.  (But why do I get the feeling this company will be expensive?)

The second tagline is wishful thinking I’m afraid, but even when true, does little to clarify the business.

Only in the third case do you actually learn something new about the company.   It’s not earth-shattering news or all that different from their competitors, but it is informational.’

And what about those restaurant signs?

Along the same lines, one of my pet peeves is the way some  restaurants use their outside signs – especially when their signs are on a busy street reaching thousands of potential customers every day.

Instead of using this valuable ad space to tell me about today’s specials, they choose to post some inspirational thought they found in a fortune cookie.

What a waste.  It’s such a missed opportunity, but it happens every day everywhere.

Getting back to our friends at National Grid (which is the local electricity and natural gas provider in my area – and a household name), why not a tagline that reads simply:  Electricity – Natural Gas.

I am one of their electricity customers and I didn’t know they offered natural gas too.  This information may come in handy some day.  You never know.

About Bob McCarthy

Bob McCarthy is a direct response consultant and copywriter with a focus on direct mail, email and digital marketing. Bob works with B2B, B2C and Non-Profit clients. You can download his free ebook, "Making Snail Mail Work: 13 Lessons in Direct Mail Strategy."

1 comment to The Problem with Most Taglines

  • Thanks for the article on taglines! Interesting and fun. Some of my clients ask for feedback like this when creating marketing collateral!

    Best, Lorraine

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