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A Few Wrong Reasons to Reject Taglines

Pace blog_taglines

As part of our branding services, we develop a lot of taglines for clients. Taglines are tricky. Chances are, most agencies, writers, marketers, and clients have rejected a great tagline for the wrong reason. As a writer, I love the process of developing taglines. It’s an invaluable branding exercise and a chance to help define a company or client in a lasting way. That’s why I was delighted to read this concise, valuable look at 5 questions NOT to ask when you’re evaluating taglines, courtesy of Jennifer Eggers. Happy to share some excerpts of her thoughts here… along with some of our thoughts tossed in for good measure.


“Taglines are hard to write, hard to get right, and — most important — hard to select. Over the years, I’ve seen many great taglines rejected because decision makers insist on asking some or all of these five questions:

Could any other company say it?

Pace blog_taglines_nike-just-do-it“This is undoubtedly the first question someone in the presentation room wonders. Let’s look to the most famously cited tagline in history — Nike’s Just do it. If you were to ask this widely accepted question (Could any other company say it?), it actually wouldn’t fly. Why? Well, Home Depot could motivate DIYers — Just do it. TurboTax could relate with procrastinating taxpayers — Just do it. Thousands of other companies across industries could all easily claim Just do it. But the fact is, they didn’t. Nike has the advantage of being the first to say it. That’s the real question — has any other company actually said it? Not could they say it. If no, the opportunity is yours. Other companies may be able to use your tagline, but when you build an unmistakable story, personality, and full verbal, and visual brand identity with it, no one will ever be able to touch it.”

Our thoughts: This is a great point. Who CARES if someone else can say it about their brand? If it’s right for you, and no one else is using it, own it. But make sure you do your homework. Research it to make sure no one else is using it, lest you run into some trouble down the road.

Does it say everything about us?

Pace blog_taglines_tell-me-about-yourself“First decide what message you want to lead with. Imagine being on a job interview — there may be many things you want the hiring manager to know… your greatest skill, what’s most important to you, what you can offer. You will eventually get a chance to cover all those subjects. But you are not expected to communicate everything about yourself in six words. Always remember, your tagline is just part of your complete communication strategy.”

Our thoughts: Although it doesn’t need to say everything about you, it probably goes without saying that it needs to say SOMETHING important and unique about your brand. Make sure you’re able to substantiate the tagline with a genuine brand USP.

Will everyone “get it”?

Pace blog_taglines_i-dont-get-it“You want a tagline to be easy to understand at first blush. But some taglines have nuanced double meanings, and sometimes a tagline that someone might not fully understand will at least peak interest. The well-respected tagline for USAA insurance — We know what it means to serve — references both the insurance company’s excellent customer service, and that the company is proudly committed to people of service, military members and their families. Someone reading the tagline might understand one or both of those meanings, and that’s okay. The truth is, no will ever give more thought or time to your tagline than you do.”

Our thoughts: Not everyone has to get it, but make sure your primary target audience will.

Pace blog_famous-taglines

Some of the world’s most memorable taglines…

Will it be true forever?

“When implementing a brand, we often recommend not putting the tagline on any expensive permanent fixtures, even if the intention is to keep the tagline around for the indefinite future. Your tagline should certainly be broad and future-focused enough to accommodate some change, like new acquisitions, in your business, but it can’t predict your entire future.”
Our thoughts: One of the wonderful things about taglines is that they don’t NEED to be true forever. Like people, brands change over time. I would not want to be defined today by the same measure that someone may have defined me five, ten years ago. We all evolve… and taglines should, too.

Do I like it?

Pace blog_taglines_you_like_me“Chances are, there will never be a tagline that every decision-maker in your organization prefers equally. The more effective question in this case is: ‘Is it on strategy?’ If the tagline hits the criteria that you’ve set out to achieve, if it tests well with your audiences and if it plays the right role in your overall communications, then your (or your boss’s) personal preference may have to fall to the wayside.”

Our thoughts: While we usually DO want to like the tagline, we respect the process enough to know that this is not always a meaningful measure. By the same token, asking “WILL THE CLIENT LIKE IT?” is not a fair measure. It may be something to consider, but the creative and account team should be prepared to defend a tagline if it is on strategy and if we really believe it’s the right choice for the client.

To these excellent questions from the article, we add a few more that we believe we SHOULD ask when evaluating taglines:

Is it better as a headline? Sometimes, a line sounds good and might work great as a single idea for an individual headline, but not necessarily as an overarching theme for an ongoing campaign. Know the difference!

Pace blog_taglines-vs-heads

Is it memorable? You want people to recognize your tagline and to be able to recall it, or at least the essence of it and what it says about your brand.

Finally, my only other thought for writers when it comes to developing taglines is: just keep writing. Some of the best taglines I’ve come up with and we’ve created at Pace have come around on the fourth or fifth attempt. Write down the idea, then write it in another way, then say it another way, and then try five other variations of the same idea. Just keep at it and you’ll be surprised at what bubbles up to the top of your list in the process.

Pace blog_taglines_bradbury-quote

Pace blog_taglines_Randy KershnerRandy Kershner is an associate creative director and senior-level copywriter at Pace. An award-winning writer, he is responsible for developing and overseeing all strategic brand messaging and marketing/advertising copy for our clients. He is also skilled at media relations and handles publicity and press for a number of our Pace clients. Randy is fascinated with words and a little obsessed with pop culture.