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Part I – Distinguishing between a Tagline, Slogan, Motto and Strapline
Message Matters Most
Companies spend a lot of time and money trying to perfect their brand. Logo. Font. Colors. Patterns. Style Guides. Brand DNAs. Mission. Vision. Brand promises. Brand differentiators. For good reason. In today’s super-crowded global marketplace, it takes powerful branding to cut through the noise. If your brand is bland, boring or unclear, then it is just that much harder to break through the din, stand out in the crowd and be noticed. And is nearly impossible to be remembered.
A company’s messaging is a part of its brand. In fact, a slogan, tagline or motto is arguably the most important part. Why? Such messages are supposed to be communicate the essence of the brand… to be an unforgettable rallying cry. A logo doesn’t sell. But brand messages can, if they are good. And they don’t if they are bad or weak or boring. Just imagine if Nike’s tagline was “Shoes and More” or Red Bull’s tagline was “Small can. Tons of Energy.” Those are abysmal. No one takes notice of a company whose tagline says we are “Delivering good service” or “Making useful products”. While those are certainly things we want companies to do, they don’t grab attention or inspire and they aren’t memorable. Such messages become part of the racket, but fail to rise above it. So the goal is to ensure that messaging sticks.
Tagline vs. Slogan vs. Motto vs. Strapline
This brings up an interesting point. When it comes to brand messaging, the terms slogan, tagline, and motto are used interchangeably, as if all three mean the same thing. Actually, while they’re related and most people use the terms as if they are synonymous, they actually relate to different areas of messaging. And most people don’t even know what a strapline is. To develop really powerful brand messaging, it helps to first know the difference between them.
Tagline - is defined as a frequently-repeated message that captures the essence underlying a brand’s promise to its customers. They are often sharp, edgy, charming or stirring. Taglines can and often do change as companies change, expand products or service, change strategies, go into new markets, etc. For example, Fed-Ex has had several taglines over the years. “Solutions that matter.” “We understand.” “Relax, it’s FedEx.” It is typically pushed out to consumers through owned and paid media such as radio commercials, print and digital ads, brochures, websites, etc. Taglines are often added beneath a logo.
Taglines can be cute, funny, frivolous, flip or immaterial, but they generally have little to do with what makes a brand successful. But it can add some emotional connection; pull on the heartstrings, communicate caring, inspire or motivate. In the case of DeBeers, for example, their tagline “Diamonds are forever” really doesn’t say anything about the company’s business strategy. Any company – in fact, every company — selling diamonds can say the same thing because every diamond does last forever. This phrase does not communicate what DeBeers’ brand promise is or why a customer should buy from them. But it is a catchy line that pulls on heartstrings and helps with brand awareness.
Palmolive dish soap’s tagline says “Softens hands while you do dishes.” That tagline was meant to help with brand awareness and connect on an emotional, personal level with housewives. Dawn dish soap, on the other hand, began using the tagline “Cleans beyond the Sink” — a message that was the exact opposite of Palmolive’s tagline – when Dawn became the soap used by volunteers to wash oil off wildlife affected by the Valdez Oil Spill in Alaska. That also pulled on heartstrings, but in a whole different way.
Those are great examples of catchy, memorable taglines. But those aren’t slogans. So what is a slogan and how is it different from a tagline?
Slogan – is a phrase that is used to help position a company. A slogan does more than a tagline. A slogan says “We are….” or “We provide….” or “What we do is…”. A good slogan sums up a company’s primary business strategy. If a slogan really captures the company’s mission, it should not change over time, but it can. The slogan is meant to speak directly to the brand’s promises and the company’s value proposition, not the underlying essence of the brand promise. A great slogan nails why a customer should use or buy from a company. It validates what makes a brand successful and unique.
In the case of Motel 6, it is “Lowest price of any national chain.” That’s the main value proposition they deliver. In the case of Federal Express, their slogan is “When it positively, absolutely has to be there overnight.” That sums up their business strategy and value proposition… reliable overnight delivery of packages. In the case of Pitney Bowes, for example, their slogan is “We power transactions that drive commerce.” In the case of Nike, their “Just do it” tagline is often mistaken to be their slogan. It’s not. Their slogan is actually “There Is No Finish Line”, which basically means there will always be another hill to climb, another game to play, another workout to finish, and another race to run. It is a broader message about how their value proposition is in providing a variety of products that encourage a person to stay active throughout their entire lifetime. In the case of Dawn dish soap, their slogan is actually “Cuts through Grease”, which is their brand promise and what is meant to differentiate them from competitors. It’s not gentle; it’s tough enough to clean even grease.
Motto – which is Italian for pledge, is a phrase meant to describe the general motivation or intention of a group or organization. A motto says “We shall…”. It is often a word or phrases that is used internally to give direction to staff and externally to communicate a company’s mission. It is usually a transformational message that helps unite and motivate people into being positive agents of change. It is meant to communicate a “cultural movement” or serve as “what you stand for” or “words to live by”.
Strapline or ThrowAway Line – is a line or phrase that is used at the end of a marketing piece to sum up the overall feel of the brand. It is a line that is meant to be memorable even if it doesn’t really deliver any substance to what the company does. Sometimes if a particularly catchy strapline gains enough traction, it can become a tagline… and goes on to be part of earned and shared media as well. For example, Tom Bodett’s Motel 6 radio spot 30 years ago ended a commercial with a line he improvised at the last minute which said, “And we’ll leave the light on for you”. It became a big hit and then started getting used as a tagline that has lasted much longer than most taglines.
Great Messages are Unforgettable
That’s the thing about great messaging. A great slogan or tagline transcends time, generational divides, and market trends. They do so because they are sticky. Hewlett Packard’s tagline of one simple word, “Invent”, is a command to be creative. Apple’s tagline, created by the L.A. office of ad agency TBWAChiatDay in 1997, is a two-word challenge to “Think different.” It is still as impactful today as it was 20 years ago. And Nike’s “Just do it” tagline, dating back 30 years to 1988, is still a valid rallying cry for people to take a leap of courage and get going… get moving.
One of India’s most powerful and diversified companies, Mahindra, adopted a new motto in 2011 that has since been the organization’s unifying marching order for all of its businesses in the automotive, information technology and energy space. It is a single word: Rise. They chose this both as a battle cry and as a brand building exercise for the future in the face of growing change and media fragmentation. Rise also instructs its constituents to accept no limits and spurs the company to innovate, a launch pad for growth.
Notice none of those messages actually mention a product or service. Instead, they work to connect with and engage the company’s constituents on a personal level and in a deep, meaningful way. Those messages motivate, elevate or celebrate…. but they never age or get stale. That’s the sign of a truly great message.
Next week, we’ll look at how to update brand messaging so that it has more impact. Is it time to update your brand message so it connects on a longer lasting and more meaningful way with your clients? If so, stay tuned.
Quote of the Week
“Too many companies want their brands to reflect some idealized, perfected image of themselves. As a consequence, their brands acquire no texture, no character and no public trust.” Sir Richard Branson
 November 11, 2015, Ries, Laura, Slogans vs. Taglines: What’s Your Brand’s Battlecry? Ad Age Magazine, https://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/slogans-taglines-brand-s-battlecry/301217/
 January 12, 2017, Betonio, Dustin, 50 Examples of Catchy and Creative Slogans, Tripwire Magazine, https://www.tripwiremagazine.com/50-examples-of-catchy-and-creative-slogans/
 March 30, 2017, Mueller, Steve, Famous Corporate Mottos, Planet of Success, http://www.planetofsuccess.com/blog/2010/famous-corporate-mottos/
 January 23, 2011, Goodson, Scott, Rise: A Motto, Not a Tagline, Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/marketshare/2011/01/23/rise-a-motto-not-a-tagline/#6fcfb48c719e
© 2018, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.