A slogan, also called a tagline, motto, strapline, signature, claim, payoff or baseline, is a short phrase or sentence meant to gain attention and get a specific message across quickly. People use it primarily in advertising and politics, and in either instance, they generally are trying to make the public more familiar with someone or something. Occasionally, the purpose is to bring individuals together under a common purpose, often with the objective of social change. Traits such as rhyming are relatively standard, but some of the most effective versions have completely broken tradition. It is common for a group or business to change one based on shifting culture and objectives.
A widely recognized purpose of a slogan is to communicate information about a company, product, service or candidate, helping people become familiar with and remember what’s available. Ideally, this information differentiates whatever a company or other group is promoting from what competitors might offer. At the same time, it should get the underlying mission of the business or organization across, showing commitment to consumers or voters. The hope is that, by promoting someone or something this way, people eventually will demonstrate loyalty, which ultimately improves market share, drives up sales and profits or gets a person into office.
Although most people associate taglines with advertising and sales, a secondary purpose is to unify. In fact, the word “slogan” originates from the Scottish-Gaelic sluagh-ghairm tanmay, which is roughly translated into modern English as “war cry.” First used around 1513, it referred to the chants fighters would use to rally themselves together for battle and make the enemy afraid. In contemporary societies, people often chant them during political protests, marches or general campaigns. A famous example is “Hell no, we won’t go!”, which Americans shouted outside the New York City Armed Forces Induction Center on 6 December 1967 to protest the military draft in the heat of the Vietnam War.
Slogans are meant to be catchy, so creators often write them to have a distinct rhythm. Many of them purposely are set in a rhyme scheme. These techniques make the line fall into a natural pattern of speech that sounds good to the ear, or as marketers say, has a memorable “ring” to it. Most fall somewhere in the 6 – 8 word range for length, as anything much longer becomes harder to remember.
The name of the company or candidate is often included, particularly when a business specializes or someone wants their name clearly associated with a goal or ability. The slogan for Ace Hardware Stores® is a good example:
Ace is the place for the helpful hardware man.
Here, the company not only includes the name of the business, but also communicates, in rhyme, the idea that the store is where people should go for their hardware supplies, all while using the word “helpful” to imply that being able to fix or build is a positive characteristic.
Another good example is from Budweiser:
When you say Budweiser, you’ve said it all.
This sentence doesn’t really say anything about the product, but it gets across the concept that the company by itself is well-established and trustworthy, cashing in on the feeling that the brand epitomizes something big. Approached this way, it can apply to any product the business makes and therefore has a wide appeal and use potential.
Some of the most effective versions do not use the company or group name, however, instead focusing on traits of the product or service, or the experience of having or using it:
Once you pop, you can’t stop. (Pringles®)
In all these instances, the companies focus on — and arguably succeed in — making the consumer feel good. This positivity is another common trait, because the general belief among marketers is that people will shy away from what makes them physically, emotionally or mentally uncomfortable.
In several instances, companies have succeeded in using slogans that break just about every “rule” taglines have. They don’t rhyme, use the company name, stick to the standard length or even truly say what the business offers. Perhaps the most famous instance comes from Nike®:
Just do it.
The line begs the question, “Do what?” The answer marketers were getting at was to get moving, to become fit and healthy. Hidden in this promoted achievement was a much bigger message, however, the idea that customers should follow their dreams and not give up. People eagerly latched on to this empowering concept.
Similarly, in President Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, the use of “Forward” was somewhat ambiguous. It did not mention his name, and it was just a single word. Even so, it successfully encompassed the belief Obama held that the United States needed to progress, to establish new policies and systems that would lift it out of a poor economic situation and improve general success.
These cases show that slogans can move away from traditional marketing standards and still be successful, provided they latch on or appeal to a philosophy or feeling held by a large number of people in the target market. They demonstrate that the selection or creation of a good tagline is very much about understanding not only human nature, but also the cultural contexts surrounding the company, product, service or campaign. Marketers and campaign leaders often put great effort into learning about people and society for this reason, with some companies spending enormous sums each year on marketing research.
Understanding that they represent something or someone at a given time within a specific social perspective, these lines are not necessarily static. Companies often change them if they feel that the original ones no longer represent what the businesses are trying to do, or if the market has shifted so that consumers are looking for something different. Even though switching up taglines is common, executives typically take these modifications seriously, because the new phrase can have a dramatic effect on how people see the brand and whether they buy. They generally try to come up with something that will work for a while so that people have a chance to really become used to and remember what’s offered.
Sometimes, a person who leads a company or who is on a marketing team is able to come up with a slogan without much conscious effort — that is, the line “just comes to him.” More often, however, individuals work together to create it, brainstorming and bouncing ideas off of each other. They usually think critically about whether each idea fully conveys the right message and make changes until they come up with something they believe will work. The next step is to narrow down the choices and get approval from executives to use the top option. From there, those who are working on the marketing or political campaign can start incorporating the phrase into merchandise, documents, posters and other tools like websites.
Appearance With Other Elements
Slogans may appear by themselves, which is common when space is limited, such as on a bumper sticker, or when marketers feel that it is more effective or powerful when kept simple. Most of the time, they are paired with other elements, such as pictures. Multiple research studies have shown that people remember one better if it’s set to a song, so product “jingles” are a big part of advertising on radio, television and the Internet.
Many regions have regulations that make it possible to trademark a tagline. When a business or person chooses to do this, it severely restricts how others can use the phrase or sentence, protecting future sales or preventing confusion about a brand or concept. The laws often allow people to pay for authorized use.