The tagline. Should you bother?

There’s a school of thought that taglines and slogans are nearly prehistoric. A holdover from the days of Proctor & Gamble and New York ad agencies from the 60’s and 70’s when copy was king!

In today’s visually-driven, madhouse mobile world, a tagline is practically Mad Men-ish. Go on eBay, buy yourself a vintage IBM Selectric typewriter, pour a glass of Canadian Club and bang out a few.

It takes both discipline and courage to focus a message and deliver it with a distinctive voice. Here’s a simple trick – if your tag sounds even remotely familiar, then yes, it’s a fail.

Most attempts are often so generic and forgettable they flat-line immediately. Adweek magazine openly questioned whether taglines were dead four years ago.

So are taglines alive and well or past their expiration date? Can they function in a complex, hyper-speed, multichannel world?

Our answer is, yes, absolutely. There’s never been a more urgent need for a succinct, distillation of your brand message. A video might go viral for weeks; a killer tag has a lifespan over 50 years. (More on that one below.)

Here are twelve gems that illustrate everything a great tag can be: memorable, intriguing, thoughtful, challenging and funny.

Follow your Folly — New Belgian Brewery

Three bold words that show a profound understanding of audience. Folly is a salute to a new generation at odds with the predictable career track – people who follow a passion even if it seems crazy to everyone else. It’s not about money or cool or society’s expectations. This tag is so deep and right for the times you could write a PhD thesis on it.

You’re not yourself when you’re hungry – Snickers

How many brilliant things can six words accomplish? Let us count the ways: Unique behavioral insight, dynamic strategy, fresh voice and expression, entertaining sense of humor, visceral and honest connection with audience. I’d immediately double the salary of whoever wrote this.

People against dirty — Method

Household cleaning products are legendary for low interest. Unless you’re Method. This tag works like a massive hit of citrus scent – it wakes you up. They turn the tired domestic chore into a mission, a movement, led by the people against dirty. They make cleaning irreverent and cool and socially responsible. That is a huge accomplishment for one short sentence.

You are now free to move about the country — Southwest Air

How was this approved? Because CEO Herb Kelleher likes funny and unique and guess what – people like Southwest because they’re funny and unique — and have low fares. Their latest tag keeps the usual focus on what matters to customers: “If it matters to you, it matters to us.” Not as funny, but still worthy and right on brand.

Be a Hero — GoPro

Simple, big, flattering. GoPro nails the selfie-sharing, video culture with the ultimate ego-centric promise. GoPro owns user-generated content and Be A Hero is a giant casting call for entries. This is also tag as community builder because tags were social media-esque way before twitter. Bravo on all fronts.

We’re on the drivers side—Phillips 76

Customer service messages are the ultimate writing challenge because nobody believes the claim. It’s a pointless, expensive lie. That said, this is the best of the best on several levels. It doesn’t overpromise – which jacks up believability. Then it’s delivered with a nice colloquial twist that makes it human and fun. Taglines are Spinal Tap –a fine line between clever and stupid. This one is on the right side.

Legendary protection for legendary men – Old Spice.

There’s generally a bit of camp, irony and gleeful twisting of classic advertising cliché at Old Spice. One of their other tags is Believe in your Smellf. Both bring a wink, a few yuks, and build on the playful and irreverent brand Old Spice has built.

The Craftsmen of Commerce – Pitney Bowes

How many corporate slogans are like taking two Ambien? This brand new effort from P-B presents a confident, distinctive point of view in a business category that prides itself on formulaic and dull. The tension between commerce and craft brings curiosity and memorability.

Wander wisely – Travelocity

Anything in travel and hospitality tends to be evocative – or should be. The word wander puts us on the emotional journey and wisely is a nice way to sum up doing it right all across the board – price, logistics and experience. There’s a thoughtful and memorable yin-yang contrast to wander and wisely. Throw in alliterative flow and you are definitely good to go.

Tested on humans – OXO

Bang. Instant unforgettable. OXO went for a bold expression that hit their design expertise and ergonomic advantages. This is hardcore strategy and consumer benefit served up with a playful attitude. It makes me want to go out and buy an illuminating digital hand mixer right now.

Stay thirsty my friends – Dos Equis.

This amazing line drives a campaign that intentionally shatters two major rules you’re never supposed to break – and proves those rules are lazy and misguided.
Rule 1: Always put your target audience in the execution. Dos Equis has a man in his 70’s with a white beard pitching to young beer drinkers in their 20’s and 30’s.
Rule 2: Never write a tag with a category sell. 99.9% of brand managers would never approve Stay Thirsty because “thirst” isn’t ownable – drinking water takes care of parched. This tag operates at a higher elevation because this thirst is about endless curiosity and passion. As benefits go, that’s mucho grande. A reason why Dos Equis is the first beer to reach one million Facebook likes.

Now, that 50 year old-ish tagline?

The toughest job you’ll ever love — U.S. Peace Corps. A gold-standard classic written back it 1961 and I still remember it. This is a great example of issuing a challenge and the magnetic contrast between tough and love. However, things at the Peace Corps have since gone downhill – the new tag is a slice of bland: “Life is calling: How far will you go?” Which could be for a bank, new car or running shoes.

There you have it. All these taglines energize your brand, your people, your story and your audience. In a culture defined by hyper-speeds and instant memory-loss, they speak with enduring confidence. Think of them as the verbal emoji of branding.

Now go buy a vintage IBM Selectric – it’s a really cool typewriter.

A few thoughts on creating tags that reach Just Do It, Got Milk, cultural status.

Focus. No need to tell the entire story, just the most important one.

Emotional benefit. The emotional hook sinks in deeper and holds longer.

Consumer observation. Anchor your tag in a living, breathing, human insight.

Drama or humor. Make the bold statement or have a playful point of view.

Tension & curiosity. Issue a challenge, ask a question or juxtapose ideas.

Freshness. Avoid cliché, category language and dead words.