Taglines: The Good, the Bad and the Totally Offensive

Yesterday I had a last-minute tagline project for Microsoft.

They needed a tagline that convinced graduates from elite colleges to come work for them instead of, well, who do you think? Google or Apple. Tough competition. And as just about everyone knows, Microsoft has a bit of an image problem. People see them as stuffed shirts — especially the college kids they’re targeting.

It was a tight turnaround. Like five-hours tight. So I didn’t have time to wait for inspiration to strike.

When I hung up with the project manager, I did a search for “How to write great taglines.” Now, I’ve written plenty of taglines for our clients, but I often start projects this way: Find the top hit and see what someone else knows that I don’t. Then I copy their ideas word for word, add my name to the top, and bam. I’m done. Kidding!

So who was the top hit? A company called Tagline Guru run by veteran tagline writer Eric Swartz. (Quick aside: Eric, if you’re reading this, want to do an interview for our blog? We think you’re awesome.)

Now, I won’t get into it here, but I really admire people who dare to specialize. You can’t be all things to all people. One size doesn’t fit all, etc. Tagline Guru gets this and their site is packed with everything you ever wanted to know about taglines.

Let me back up in case you’re shaking your head wondering what the heck a tagline is.

A tagline — often referred to as a slogan – is a short, pithy phrase that sums up the very essence of who you are as a company. It usually hangs out under the company’s logo or name. For example, The Hired Pens. We Choose Your Words Carefully. Nike. Just Do It. Apple Computer. Think Different. Again, sorry Microsoft.

A tagline should not be confused with a mission statement.

You know those long, pompous mission statements that company presidents write themselves and then hang over the receptionist’s desk? (Quick aside #2: Company presidents who are reading this: Quit writing these yourself! If you have some extra time on your hands, go raise some money or something.)

So now the big question: How do you write a good one?

I don’t want to give away all my tricks, so I’ll give away some of Tagline Guru’s.

12 Elements of a Great Tagline, According to Tagline Guru

The best taglines are …

Original. Make it your own.

Believable. Keep it real.

Simple. Make it understandable.

Succinct. Get to the point.

Positive. Elevate their mood.

Specific. Make it relevant.

Unconventional. Break the mold.

Provocative. Make them think.

Conversational. Make it personable.

Persuasive. Sell the big idea.

Humorous. Tickle their funny bone.

Memorable. Make a lasting impression.

Curious to see the best in action?

Here is a link to the 100 most influential taglines since 1948. (Don’t leave home without it.)

Now how about the worst?

Maybe even more entertaining is Eric’s list of the worst taglines of all time. What makes a tagline terrible? He says: “Bad taglines are typically vague, awkward, pretentious, inane, underwhelming, confusing, complicated, negative, or ambiguous — and often communicate an unintended message.”

Case in point? I leave you with Jimmy Dean’s tagline: Eat Jimmy Dean. Really? That didn’t raise a red flag with anyone?

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4 replies
  1. Mr. Goldsmith says:

    I’ve enjoyed very much the tag line line of Ms. Goldsmith’s recent posts.
    In The Botony of Desire, Michael Pollan (who has an nearly perfect name
    for writing such a book) discusses a tag line that changed completely the
    way we think of that most American of fruits, the apple. For most of its
    early history in the new world, the apple’s sole function was to produce either alcoholic cider or apple jack. With the advent of the temperance movement, however,
    growers realized things had to change, thus the reinvention of a demonized
    fruit into a wholesome one. Talk about a history making tag line! Or is it
    a slogan?

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  1. […] Eric Swartz, sloganeer and star of our previous post, “Taglines: the Good, the Bad and the Totally Offensive,” gives his insight into writing great taglines, discusses how to avoid unintentional […]

  2. […] Lightning & the Lightning Bug » Blog Archive » Taglines: The Good, the Bad and the T… […]

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