Are Taglines Necessary?

Discussion
Dec 17, 2007

By Tom Ryan

Whole Foods Market, Urban Outfitters, Google, and In-N-Out Burger don’t have them. What if more brands conducted advertising without taglines?

That’s a proposition presented by John Moore, a former marketing exec at Starbucks and Whole Foods who now runs Brand Autopsy Marketing Practice. Writing for Brandweek, Mr. Moore came upon the notion after hearing comedian Steve Martin speak on NPR’s All Things Considered about his recently-published memoir on his stand-up years.

In the book, Mr. Martin writes that his innovative stand-up style was developed after studying how audiences respond to jokes.

“With conventional joke telling, there’s a moment when the comedian delivers the punch line, and the audience knows it’s the punch line, and their reaction ranges from polite to uproarious,” Mr. Martin wrote. “What bothered me about this formula was the nature of the laugh it inspired, a vocal acknowledgement that a joke had been told, like automatic applause at the end of a song.”

Rather than this Pavlovian formula to joke telling that led to mostly superficial laughs, Mr. Martin felt that real, guttural laughs would come more naturally when the audience was allowed to pick the moment where they could choose to laugh. As a result, Mr. Martin chose to do comedy without punch lines.

Mr. Moore asserts that the formula for advertising is a lot like stand-up comedy.

“A brand’s advertising consists of a setup and then closes with a tag line,” writes Moore. “Doesn’t matter if it’s print, OOH, TV, whatever … most advertising has a setup that leads to a tagline, which is designed to coax a Pavlovian sale from a customer.”

In the same manner, Mr. Moore wonders if brands would be better without soundbites, and consumers should be given more leeway to decide on the merits of a brand without heavy-handed messages.

“The ‘advertising’ at Whole Foods Market is all about their style in how they’ve transformed grocery shopping from a chore into a place to explore new foods and new flavors,” Mr. Moore wrote. “Same goes for Urban Outfitters where their unique style is shown through their always-unique merchandise assortment. No tagline necessary with Google because their style of easy access to the world’s information is all the advertising it needs. Ordering a Double-Double Animal Style at In-N-Out is an experience that is unique only to In-N-Out.”

Mr. Moore concludes, “A marketing world without taglines is about designing
interesting customer experiences where people interact with the brand in order
to better understand and appreciate the reasons why the brand deserves the
right to exist. It’s about realizing a brand’s unique style is its best form
of advertising.”

Discussion Questions: Do you think brands put too much emphasis
on taglines? Have taglines become obsolete in the current advertising environment?

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16 Comments on "Are Taglines Necessary?"


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Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
14 years 5 months ago

I think that taglines are important, no matter the age or sophistication of the retailer. They are just as necessary for staff to understand the commitment the retailer is making to the customer, as well as a draw used to entice the customer.

At the same time, I have found huge opportunities in helping retailers actually accomplish the goals or meet the promise they make in media marketing of a tagline, bringing those attributes to life inside the store. Most retailers don’t know what to do after an ad agency comes up with a snappy statement about the company. I can give you plenty of examples.

Dick Seesel
Guest
14 years 5 months ago

Brand equity is about much more than a slogan. Target, for example, has a variety of catch-phrases it uses in its advertising–“Expect More, Pay Less,” “Design for All” and so on. If you asked a consumer panel about the first thing they associate with Target, I’m guessing that the bulls-eye logo would come to mind, not one of the slogans.

So a slogan may be useful but it’s not strictly necessary, as the examples in the article point out. More importantly, a slogan needs to be a brand promise that is consistent with the rest of the strategy–from merchandise content to customer service and so on. A slogan can backfire if the experience inside the retailer doesn’t measure up to the promise.

Warren Thayer
Guest
14 years 5 months ago

Taglines are fine so long as they reinforce a truth. Most don’t. They thus have zero credibility, and are a waste of time and effort.

Joel Warady
Guest
Joel Warady
14 years 5 months ago

I would agree that taglines are not necessary if the brand is established, and people know for what the brand promise is. But if it is a new brand that does not have a large following, or is looking to redefine itself, the tagline is a great tool to help better explain the brand itself. Think back to when Federal Express started. The name itself did not tell the story. But “When It Absolutely, Positively Has To Be There Overnight” told a great story, and it helped build the business.

Taglines still have a great use, and we still think that Brands should utilize them. But keep them short, tell only one story in the tagline, and stick with it. Don’t keep changing the taglines simply because a new Chief Marketing Officer has joined the company.

Anna Murray
Guest
Anna Murray
14 years 5 months ago

In addition to nixing tag lines, I would like to do away with the 3-day, ten-hour-a-day executive summits that produce them. In these meeting-as-hostage-situations, brand facilitators try to beat out of the audience of earnest and not-so-earnest executives what the company’s value proposition is.

After suffering through many of these situations, I have reached a conclusion: You either got it, or you don’t. Whole Foods, In-and-Out, and Google have corporate identities resulting from passion. Many companies — private-equity-backed roll-ups spring to mind — don’t know who they are simply because there’s no there there. Mashups whose mission is to create efficiencies and reduce overhead; these companies don’t have the “vision thing” on their minds. They’ve got the next flip on their minds.

I’m all for paring down, and tag lines annoy me. If you have to tell me, then I don’t want to know.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
14 years 5 months ago

Tag lines are a very important part of the image that an organization creates, as long as it is memorable and honest…just like a particular comedian can change the type of humor he or she delivers and get away with it. In most cases, the true and proven formula works.

From some of the examples, we remember the tag line long after we stop thinking about the company or the product.

Kai Clarke
Guest
14 years 5 months ago

Taglines are often a memory device to increase the top of mind awareness of a brand (TOMA). This increases the memorability of the promotional campaign, and insures that consumer’s TOMA is increased vs. a campaign that does not have a memorable tag line. Where would Wendy’s be without “Where’s the beef?” or “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing” from Alka Seltzer? These taglines not only made the campaign, but also ensured the memorability of the product for months to come.

Robert Immel
Guest
Robert Immel
14 years 5 months ago

I think taglines are great ways of brand recognition, provided the company doesn’t change them every few years. A good example is in the travel industry with United and Avis. Ask any seasoned traveler what they think of when when you hear “fly the friendly skies,” and they will say United Airlines. However, that’s not their tagline anymore, and nobody can recite what their current tagline is.

Mark Burr
Guest
14 years 5 months ago
Coke is it! It’s the real thing…right? It was! They knew it. It was so good, and still is. So good that there is only one true major competitor. That being the case, you can use an advertising slogan “It’s the real thing.” Go ahead, insert your own example here. When I hear things like ‘branding’, ‘positioning’, ‘the offer’, etc, the jargon goes on, it generally refers to those who don’t really have any one of these things. It’s consultant and analyst speak. At that point, it becomes a barrage of messages trying to convince the consumer something that you haven’t clearly decided yourself. There are some friends of mine that have a slogan that says ‘you can’t give away something you haven’t got’. Those that have taglines generally have done one of two things. They have either earned them or they are trying to convince a customer something different than they already perceive. Those in the position of the later needn’t worry about sitting in a room and coming up with a catchy phrase–they… Read more »
M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
14 years 5 months ago

“Every kiss begins with Kay,” for Kay Jewelers, ought to be cast in stone and etched in concrete (mixed metaphorically speaking). The problem is, there are far more bad taglines than good ones. Any thoughts on the new FX channel tagline, “There is no box”…? Anyone? Anyone? Mr. Bueller?

So, Mr. Moore, there’s a formula for advertising? If that’s your contention, then your entire premise is suspect. Are you really a Rosser Reeves flat-earther? (Reeves had a formula, it’s been proved short-sighted a million times, and he was an acknowledged, successful, advertising pro.) David Ogilvy and Leo Burnett also had formulas, which are now outdated, and they actually knew a thing or two about the ad bidness.

Sometimes taglines work and sometimes they don’t. Their absence doesn’t indicate they’re not needed, nor does their use indicate they’re necessary. It’s all semiotics, Mr. Moore, so perhaps you should consider Advertising 102 next semester.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
14 years 5 months ago

Branding is always evolving. What was hot 10 years ago now sits somewhere in a clear-out bin in the back of your local Wal-Mart. I think the same goes for merchant branding. A sexy logo is no longer enough. Consumers associate brand image with past experiences. Price, service and overall customer satisfaction, whether perceived or actual, is what determines brand image nowadays. What’s ironic is now the customer is in control of that image, not ad executives.

Whole Foods has built their reputation by offering unique products and good service and therefore, it has become their brand image. More chains need to focus on what’s inside the 4 walls to salvage their brand image. A sexy logo with a cute tagline isn’t going to cut it anymore. Especially in this competitive retail environment.

Joanna Kennedy
Guest
Joanna Kennedy
14 years 5 months ago

Taglines are not necessary for companies that have been able to effectively communicate their positioning using other means. Whole Foods, Urban Outfitters and In-N-Out are great examples of these companies. Unfortunately, other companies do not succeed in delivering their unique message with alternative methods and must resort to taglines.

Andrew Gaffney
Guest
Andrew Gaffney
14 years 5 months ago

I really like John Moore’s concept. Unfortunately, I think his theory points to bigger Achilles heel for most retailers. The reality in the retail industry is that most brands do not have the same clearly stated value proposition and mission statement that Starbucks, Whole Foods and Urban Outfitters do.

If most retailers locked themselves away in a board room and tried to really clearly communicate their point of difference, it would be very difficult to get that message across without the support of a tag line.

Given the flattening growth curve and shifting channel preferences, all retailers are going to need to work harder on what their brand stands for and the way that message is delivered.

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 5 months ago

Taglines are worthwhile when they’re memorable. Most taglines are like most corporate mission statements: not special or credible. Even more important: if the tagline is worthwhile, don’t change it just because you have a new CEO, CMO, or ad agency. Folks want don’t want chameleon brands. There was no good business reason to dump “You deserve a break today” or “We try harder” or “Good to the last drop” or even “It’s the real thing.” Marlboro hasn’t dropped the Marlboro Man. And that brand owns the cigarette business in country after country. If your tagline is as good as the Marlboro Man, keep it.

Peter N. Schaeffer
Guest
Peter N. Schaeffer
14 years 5 months ago
It is interesting to note that the companies named, Whole Foods, Urban Outfitters, Google and In-N-Out Burger are all examples of the best of American retailing and distribution. These well-run profitable enterprises were built upon their offer to the consumer not on price and promotion, thus the consumer is well aware of who and what these operators are and what they offer. All retail success depends on a sound and desirable offer. Desperation and competition leads to price slashing, give aways and the necessary reminder of who and what an operator is. Great retailers, or in the case of Google, great operators, don’t need these reminders. Other companies with similar positions include Costco, Target, and even Nordstrom. Target, for example, does only brand reinforcement on television and has developed their image through association with national brands that pay the bill for their broadcast advertising. Nordstrom runs minimal sales and promotions and even in today’s difficult retail environment they are reticent to join the throngs of retailers whose only image is that of price. All of… Read more »
Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
14 years 5 months ago

It’s not a tag line that creates retail brand awareness in the minds of consumers. It’s the clearly communicated value proposition of that retailer. The communication need not be communicated via advertising–in fact some of the pre-eminent retail brands have done little advertising–but rather it must be communicated in everything the retailer does, in the very experience that they create for their customers. And the value proposition need not merely be denominated in dollars and cents, it is denominated in any way that the customer deems valuable, whether it’s state-of-the-art product knowledge, customer service that truly engages the customer, lifestyle cache, and so forth.

This is how smaller independent retailers are able to establish a powerful retail brand awareness in their niches and thrive amongst the big boys.

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