This edition of our Tagline Tutorial series takes us through the copywriting equivalent of bio lab and anatomy class. We’ll dissect great, good and terrible taglines so you can see inside their guts and learn how they work.
Remember the job of a tagline: to support a name, make a valuable first impression, and possibly to create a lasting memory or brand imprint. If you’re new to this discussion, you should catch up—at least learn about my Word Basket Method in this post. It’s where we left off on our journey to making sure you have the best taglines you can for your business name, your products, and any of the major campaigns you launch.
8 Great Taglines to Copy
Go ahead and use one of these taglines as a template if it makes sense for your communication needs. They don’t call it copywriting for nothing, you know…
(When I say copy, you know I don’t mean emulate, not plagiarize, right?)
So, how do you know if it makes sense for your needs? This is where the deconstruction comes in to play. First, we take them apart to learn why they work the way that they do. Then you decide which make and model to select with which features or in a different color.
Oops that was auto talk and we’re supposed to be in bio lab. Sorry for the mixed metaphors, but car maker taglines are super for our purposes. As are insurance companies, food products and other consumer goods brands. Read on to find out why.
BMW: The Ultimate Driving Machine
Anatomy: Self-described differentiation; defines a class. Answers: how is it special?
How It Works: You don’t need to prove you have something above the rest to make this kind of “we’re the best” claim in your tagline, but you ought to be honest. You should be able to back it up. For instance, this tagline isn’t going to work for an economy car, or tiny efficient one. But Volkswagen supports its own name just fine.
Volkswagen: Relieves Gas Pains
Anatomy: Clever; benefits copy; speaks to audience problem.
How It Works: This car maker has had other great taglines as well. Think small. and Drivers Wanted come to mind. But this one is my favorite. It was the early 1970s and there was a gas crisis. Good job getting straight to the pain point, as they say.
It’s fair to mention, this also qualifies as a headline or a slogan. A lot of Volkswagen advertising has done that over the years (as pictured above). When a headline (or slogan, e.g. Where’s the beef?) catches on, it can migrate over to tagline land, accompanying the brand name in all its appearances. Or the reverse can happen, as with Nike. The tagline has become a headline for many of its print ads.
Allstate: You’re in good hands with Allstate
Anatomy: Customer-focused statement…or is it company focused?
How It Works: Making a statement to reassure customers is a good starting point for company and product taglines in industries that are perceived higher-risk. This can be range from home improvements to surgery centers. Of the “you can trust us” slogans for major insurers, I like Allstate’s best. I feel it’s more real than owning a piece of the rock and it’s more believable than promising to be there like a good neighbor.
Metropolitan Life: Get Met. It Pays.
Anatomy: Two-Parter; Command/Result
How It Works: One- Two- and Three-Part taglines are classic go-tos in a copywriter’s arsenal. While personal statements have their places (see the next one for proof of that), and even questions can work (Have you driven a Ford lately? Well…have you?), short, tight statements make for powerful, rhythmic copy.
Great one-parters: Think Differently. Just Do It. A three-parter, or “tri-tag” as I like to call it, is harder to pull off, but sounds really nice when you do. Subaru’s Think. Feel. Drive. didn’t work–you’ll read more on that soon. I wrote this one for an alternative fitness studio: feel good ~ have fun ~ be well. That’s more like it. This two-parter works for Met Life because it’s snappy, as a two-parter should be, and it gives us the main beneficial result we want in an insurance company. It pays. Just the right amount of double entendre to make it smart.
McDonald’s: You deserve a break today.
Anatomy: Sheer customer-focused genius.
How it works: In any number of surveys over the years, this one of McDonald’s many taglines remains a heavy favorite with consumers and ad professionals. I think I know why. First, it’s so true. Second, it’s so personal. Third, it applies to everyone in their target audience. Finally, they can deliver on it.
Ray Kroc, McDonald’s founder, was a genius. I’m open about how much I admire him as a business man. I don’t frequent his restaurants, but I so appreciate their history and how his vision for his brand was executed over the decades. And this tagline holds a key: his idea was to give mom (of the 1950s) and the family, a break. Out of the kitchen, something affordable that the kids would eat, and that the parents would approve of but wouldn’t necessarily have at home. A milkshake, burger and fries. In a clean, polite environment with fast service. What a concept. If you can express this kind of heartfelt wish in a tagline… it’s a winner.
Miller Light: Tastes Great. Less Filling.
Anatomy: Two-parter; Contrasting/Complimentary Benefits
How it works: Using a self-descriptive tagline about the product is a terrific idea for food and beverage products. It’s nice to know how they taste. In fact, anything that is particularly sensory, or possibly a status symbol (how does it make you feel or how does it look on you), works well with this point of view. You’ll spot it in tags for automobiles, clothing, makeup, furniture, even music. Those deluxe collections of 80s music need taglines, too.
But self-description don’t always work as well with bloated corporate claims. We bring good things to life, for example. GE misses the mark by just handing itself an empty compliment. Now, back to Miller Light. Using a two-part tag with a couple of powerful, brief statements is perfect. Just like the beer, it’s easy to swig down right off the bat. And the contrast is brilliant, because it overcomes the main objection beer-drinkers would have to a light beer: it’s not going to taste great. Well, these guys say it does.
Nike: Just Do It
Anatomy: The motivational command in a tight one-parter.
How it works: A command works well for a tagline when it is in the voice of someone the audience wants to hear, and when it sounds like someone they trust. Nike does the perfect job. The voice of the tagline’s “commander” is each person’s inner voice: their highest self, the motivation that will get them to their athletic goals.
If you choose a command for a tagline, you need to avoid coming off as bossy. Instead you want to be uplifting or strong. Try doing what Nike does and speaking in the voice of your audience’s ideals—from them, to them. Another great example is the U.S. Army’s “Be all that you can be.”
Visine: Gets the Red Out
Anatomy: Beneficial product result…in your face.
How It Works: You won’t see this tagline in most of the glossy All Time Best Lists but it makes my Top 10 without hesitation. Visine could have taken a sexier route, or made a more clinical or high-performance claim. Instead, it boldly and clearly claims for itself the space all eyedrops everywhere need to occupy.
It doesn’t matter if other eyedrops get the red out, that’s Visine’s territory and always will be. It doesn’t matter who you are or why your eyes are bloodshot, we know you don’t want them to be. Visine gets the red out. What better answer could you get from four little drops of words? If you have a utility product that does something simple, really well, like Visine deos, consider striking first among the competition with a tagline like theirs, too. It can give you prime territory in your market space, possibly forever.
A Couple of Good Ones—Including Mine
pen to ZEN: writing on purpose
Anatomy: Descriptive statement of the action or result.
How it works: My tagline is good but not great. It was written for my business when the focus was more on journaling and the creative process – for any stage of or use for writing. The idea was instead of accidentally coming up with ideas and/or losing your words, here’s how to write them. On purpose. This tag still applied quite well when I switched to an all-marketing/copywriting focused business.
I believe you need to have your purpose in mind for your copy from the start. That’s your intention. Deciding that will lead you to less stress in the process and more success with the results. But “writing on purpose” doesn’t say much about copy or marketing. Just that you aren’t a hobbyist, per se. It supports my name, getting the word writing in there. The transformation/result is already in my name, so my tag isn’t under as much pressure as others can be. It’s a little passive at the moment, but until I decide to change my logo or revise my messaging, it’s working for me.
New York Times: All the news that’s fit to print.
Anatomy: Descriptive statement of the product features and benefit.
How it works: This is one of the oldest known taglines still in use, circa 1896! That makes it pretty great right there. But longevity isn’t enough. It’s neat how it’s still useful. You get all the news, and not shabby news, but news that is fit to print. This tagline does its job and supports the name of its brand. What’s missing is any sort of distinction.
It might have been more distinct at the time, in comparison to what else what available journalistically. But if you were to emulate this tagline today, I’d say add more oomph. If it were pen to Zen for example, I’d fall short saying, “All the copywriting advice that should be on a blog.” Hint: personalize it to the audience to add depth. “All the copywriting advice an entrepreneur needs” would be better, though, it’s a little clunky now. See, not all templates will work in every industry!
4 Terrible Taglines to Avoid
Subaru: Think. Feel. Drive.
Anatomy: Tri-tag (three-parter); these are three commands.
How it works: As mentioned above, I love the tri-tag anatomy. You can say a lot in a small space, with rhythm. You don’t have to stick with commands, either–these could be adjectives, like we did for my friend custom cake business, Flour Child: pretty ~ yummy ~ fun.
But Subaru’s is a poor execution because the intention is off. It is not inspiring, innovative or informational. What is it, then, Subaru? It ends up that I should drive, yes. You’re a car. You’re bossing me around to think and feel something, too. Well, I think it feels like next you might say Sit. Shake. Roll over…
Exxon: We’re Exxon
Anatomy: ummm, there is none?
How it works: I guess they came up with something no one could sue them for saying?
Mobile: We want you to live.
Anatomy: Mission-based statement.
How it works: It doesn’t. I mean, thank you, Mobile, I want me to live, too. Truth is, I have no idea what Mobile means to imply about their products in relation to their well-wishing.
Delta: We get you there.
Anatomy: It’s a statement. Part feature, part mission-based.
How it works: Ho hum, we’re talking about us again. And we’re telling you not only what you already know we do, but what is the absolute minimum thing you would expect from us or anyone in our business. K I’m being harsh. That tagline would be “We fly planes to places.” But still. If you are an accountant, and think you need a tagline, please don’t make it, “I am good with numbers.”
One I can’t decide on…
Raid: It kills bugs dead.
Anatomy: Product use or feature (plus possibly benefit?)
How it works: Raid might know that consumers complain about bug sprays that don’t do the job all the way. Say, cheaper/generic brands. Bugs come back to life or something like that. So saying “Raid kills bugs” is obvious, because, yeah, it’s bug killer. No benefit. That would be a big loser, like Delta’s above.
I think the differentiator is supposed to be that the bugs are dead, like, super dead. However, I’m just guessing. It could be just word play, poorly done. A shortened verison of “dead on contact” (which would actually be a better tagline). For you, it’s best to avoid the obvious. And the ambiguous–if you need a couple extra words to say something meaningful. It’s okay.
Get 50 Terrific Taglines to Copy
Oh, this is a fun topic for me. But even if you’re not a word nerd like I am, chances are you have to name and tagline something important to you. A business or product name, your store location, website, or clinical services. If you’re not satisfied with your tagline, why not create a new one and test it out to see how it works, like Coca Cola and McDonald’s do all the time?
Please, sign up to get the free resource I created specifically for this topic. It’s my Ultimate Guide: 50 Terrific Taglines You Can Copy (& 25 Terrible Ones You Should Avoid Like the Plague). I want to share it as a special email bonus for my pen to Zen grasshoppers, to help you with your creative process. If you’re already on my email list, no need to sign up, I’ll be sending it to you soon!
For new followers, you’ll also get my ebook, The 30-Minute CopyMaster, so you can start editing all your marketing copy with the wise eyes of a professional, using my unique system.
Then, let me know what you come up with!