Monday Mornings with Madison

Is Your Brand Message a Rallying Cry for your Company? Part 2 – Crafting Taglines, Slogans and Mottos that Stick

Word Count: 1,487
Estimated Read Time: 6 min.

Give A Company’s Brand Messaging a Boost

Is there a commercial or ad for a product that is particularly memorable?  Who can forget the funny Wendys’ commercial in which a little old lady opened the buns on her burger and yelled “Where’s the beef?” as she searched for the tiny meat patty.   Or the BandAid jingle in which a kid in a bathtub sang “I am stuck on band-aid brand cause BandAid’s stuck on me”.  Whether it is a slogan, tagline, jingle, motto, headline or strapline, all brand messaging needs to shoot for maximum impact.  It also needs to be catchy and memorable, part of which comes from connecting with the customer in some way.  It might be because it rhymes.  It might be from repetition.  It might be through humor.  Ultimately, though, all brand messaging should unite in telling a story.  But creating brand messaging that tells a cohesive story and is also clever or catchy and memorable is not as easy as it sounds.  There are, however, some tips that can help guide the process.

Brand Messaging that is Sticky

The goal is for a company to create taglines, slogan, motto and other brand messaging that tells a story… one that clearly communicates with maximum impact the company’s why, how and who, both internally and externally.  To do that, the leadership team – perhaps guided by a brand agency or an internal branding team – should start by asking themselves a host of questions.

  • Do we have a clear vision, mission and understanding of the company’s brand?
  • Who do we want to be and how do we want to be seen in the marketplace?
  • Why do we do what we do?
  • How do we do what we do that is uniquely us or special?
  • How do we communicate our brand in a way that leapfrogs over the competition?
  • How do we articulate the vision and goals of top management in a way that empowers and inspires?
  • How do we defy convention and drive innovation through our brand messaging?
  • How do we define and clarify our position in the market while connecting with customers/clients in a way that reflects the changes in the market or society?


Once the leadership has taken the time to answer these questions and really understand the brand deeply, then comes the time to play with words.  If wordsmithing is not a skill that comes easily to anyone on the team, it might help to hire an agency or individual that specializes in brand development to assist.  But, whether the team works on it or hires an agency to do the job, it still helps to understanding what makes messages stickier.

Making Messaging with Staying Power

A great slogan, tagline or motto will:

1. Be memorable. It should be quickly recognizable. People should have to spend only a couple of seconds thinking about the meaning.  Rhyme, alliteration, repetition and a play on words are several ways to make a phrase more memorable.

Shave Club’s tagline says “Shave time.  Shave money.”  The repetition of the word ”shave” points directly to the product’s purpose.  It is also a play on words denoting that it cuts back on the cost of shaving and the time it takes to purchase the items for shaving.  That is clever and communicates the value proposition.

In the case of Bounty paper towels, their tagline is “The quicker picker upper.”  It alludes to the essence of the brand promise, which is that they produce paper towels that are more absorbent than those of competitors, so they can be used to wipe up spills faster.  But, as a tagline, it is catchy because of its cute alliteration.

2.  Be brief. When it comes to brand messaging, less is more.  A few brief but strong words go a long way.  Taglines are shorter; perhaps 3-6 words.  Slogans, however, tend to be a bit longer.  Mottos can vary from a single all-encompassing word to a phrase.   For example, Ajax’ tagline is “Stronger than Dirt.”  Three words really convey the power of this cleanser.

Capital One’s tagline asks “What’s in your Wallet?”  With one brief question, consumers are urged to consider if they have the credit card that provides the most buying power and benefits.

The U.S. Post Office has boiled down their slogan to two words:  “We Deliver.”  By not defining what they deliver, a customer can deduce the obvious which is that they deliver letters and packages, or they can infer that the post office delivers regardless of weather, or that they deliver value by offering the most affordable options for package shipping.  The slogan has a lot of versatility.

3.  Focus on a key benefit. Copywriters know that the goal is to “Sell the sizzle, not the steak”.  That means focusing on the benefits rather than the features.  A great slogan or tagline makes a company’s benefits clear to the consumer.

Timex’ timeless tagline says: “Takes a licking and keeps on ticking.”  Here is a great example of selling the sizzle.  The tagline does not talk about the features of the watch, such as that it tells time with precision, or that it has a beautiful design, or that it has a flexible wristband.  The tagline is talking about the benefit of being able to wear the watch in all types of conditions, activities and situations and the watch will still work.  The rhyme also makes it more memorable.  And, the use of a word like “licking” to denote a beating communicates toughness in a cute, colloquial way.

Even the military knows to focus on the sizzle, not the steak.  The U.S. Army’s tagline says: “Be all you can be in the U.S. Army.”  Besides the rhyming and repetition, the tagline is also powerful because it focuses on the benefit of being a soldier, namely achieving the highest level of individual professional development, rather than focus on the many features that come with being a soldier including pay, room and board, uniforms, travel, lifelong health benefits, mortgage assistance, and much more.

4.  Differentiate the brand. A good message will say something about the brand or product/service that sets it apart from competitors.  Perhaps it is a service that most others do not offer.  Maybe it is a level of service or the attention to detail.  Or, possibly it is the innovative design or quality of materials.

Meow Mix’s tagline says: “Tastes so good, cats ask for it by name.”  This says that the differentiator is the taste.  For cat owners, providing food that their cats will like is not only a great benefit, but also sets the brand apart from other cat foods.  It is also a playful tagline since the sound a cat makes is to meow.

M&Ms tagline “Melts in your mouth, not in your hands” points out one thing that sets it apart from all other candy.  The hard shell coating over the soft chocolate ensures that consumers can eat the chocolate and not dirty their hands.  That is a key differentiator of M&Ms over traditional chocolate bars.

5.  Communicate positive feelings. The best taglines and slogans are positive and upbeat. For example, Budweiser is the “King of Beers”.  It would be negative to say Budweiser “Dominates over other beers.” DeBeers says: “A diamond is forever”.  It would be true but morose to say “A diamond will outlive you.”  The Energizer brand tagline says: “It just keeps going, and going, and going.”  It does not say:  “It doesn’t stop.”  One positive is better than a double negative.  Seek to phrase things in the affirmative.

6.  Appeal to diverse audiences. Brand messaging has to work for audiences in different locations, speaking different languages, at different times and with different cultures.  For example, when KFC expanded into China, they had to ditch their beloved tagline “Finger lickin’ good” because it translated to “Eat your fingers off.”  When Chevrolet took their Nova brand to Latin America, they had to change the name because Nova translated to “Doesn’t move” which is not a very positive selling point for an automobile.    While Verizon’s tagline “Can you hear me now?” was incredibly popular and sticky at that time, eventually the tagline lost its punch when sound quality improved for all phones.

Over time, brand messages can become stale if they are too specific or narrow.  It is better to embrace messaging that tells a story that transcends time, place, and culture.  As for language, it is best to change brand names, taglines and slogans when they don’t translate well, and it’s best to learn that before expanding into markets speaking other languages.

If a company’s main messages are weak, unclear, do not grab attention, make an impact or are just not memorable, it’s time for an update.   Every company deserves to have a tagline, slogan and/or motto that helps clarify and communicate what the company does, what makes it special and why people should choose it!


Quote of the Week

“Every great brand is like a great story.” Kevin Plank

© 2018, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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