Inside the Mix

Taglines offer companies the opportunity to reinforce messaging over the long term

Taglines offer companies the opportunity to reinforce messaging over the long term

Here's a quiz. The tagline is "That was easy." What is the brand?

Only two out of 1,000 consumers asked in a telephone poll commissioned by Atlanta brand consultancy Emergence knew that it was Staples. The line certainly embodies what Staples wants its customers to think of it, but as it's only been around for a year, it's not yet mature enough to shout "Staples" and could represent just about any brand.

The taglines that work best are the ones that describe the brand experience specifically, uniquely and succinctly. They should reinforce the overall message the company is trying to communicate, without distilling it to anonymity. They should also be easy to integrate with other marketing efforts, from PR to direct marketing to point of sale.

Wal-Mart, a high performer in Emergence's survey at 64% recollection for its "Always low prices. Always" wears its taglines on its store signage at many locations. For retailers, the opportunity to brand is enormous, from shopping bags to in-store signage.

Another great one is McDonald's "I'm lovin' it," which not only captures the positive thinking about the brand in the wake of its successful new offerings, but also includes a catchy tune, an incredibly effective tool to reinforce a tagline.

But there is one tool that can increase the stickiness of a tagline more than any other: longevity. Ken Bernhard, professor in the Robinson College of Business' department of marketing at Georgia State University, holds up FedEx's tagline as an example of a great one: "When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight." As well as being specific about FedEx's offering, a huge reason that the line is so entwined in the brand's DNA is that it's been around for decades. Indeed Staples knows it has to consistently execute on its currently unknown line for it to become famous.

Longevity is just as important as relevance; in fact, neither is much use without the other. Kelly O'Keefe, CEO of Emergence, concludes that the taglines in his survey are failing to resonate because firms don't stick with them long enough - indeed, six of the 22 that Emergence tested last year have now been replaced. It is tempting to pull a new tagline that hasn't performed well, but it's important to remember that marketing executives tend to get tired of campaigns before consumers do. "We as consumers really enjoy seeing something familiar," says O'Keefe. "Brands are built on predictable behavior. If you start changing the behavior, it really creates a problem for the brand."

Sometimes, of course, it is necessary to change the tagline. United's "Flying the friendly skies" became starkly inappropriate after 9/11. But, in general, only such external events, or major changes in the service offerings, will render a change necessary. Even a new advertising theme should be able to include an existing line. After all, if the tagline truly does sum up everything the company has to offer, then it should in turn inform that company's marketing decisions.

In today's fragmented media, taglines are an opportunity rather than a necessity. Starbucks doesn't have one but is one of the most understood brands in America. But when you do have one, make it count - not just for consumers, but for other stakeholders, too. Just think of Avis' employees, who really do seem to try harder. That's not just the tagline talking.

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