Does your brand need a tagline?
The recent furore surrounding Bud Light brought the concept of brand taglines and ad slogans firmly under the spotlight. The beer brand’s effort – “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night” – as part of its “Up for anything” ad campaign, was derided for promoting rape culture and forced the brand to scrap the line and offer a public apology.
Aside from the rather obvious lesson of making sure your brand doesn't cross any lines and offend anyone, the episode reignited my conflicting views about taglines. Such devices came to prominence in the golden age of advertising in the early to mid-20th century, and I think they can still provide value to certain brands – but they're far from a one-size-fits-all solution. Successful taglines are an extension of a brand's name. They encapsulate the ethos of a company or institution and its products or services. Yet sometimes, they become a worthless appendix that can cause problems like consumer confusion or worse – brand dilution.
Taglines can really help a brand at the right stage of its evolution. When a new brand launches, its name alone isn't enough to tell the story. There's an education process that needs to happen, where brands must build their value and reputation – and a tagline can help add a deeper layer, providing context and articulating a company's offering and its value. But as a brand becomes successful and globally recognisable, its tagline becomes less and less important – and often it fades away. BMW is an example of this. Its official tagline is “The ultimate driving machine”, but nowadays a lot of consumers won't even recognise that – it's been all but removed from the company's marketing.
For some globally established brands, their taglines have become as instantly recognisable as their name or logo. You're probably able to name the brands behind some of the most popular taglines – like “Just do it”, “Think different” and “I'm lovin' it”. Consumers are so familiar with brands like this, what they offer and what they stand for that they recognise them without seeing any other brand elements. This is to be applauded; these companies have reached a new level of recognition – and it's the aim of all brands to hit similar heights of awareness. But increasingly, it appears that some of the biggest companies on the planet are opting against taglines.
A look at the world's top 10 brands by value, as ranked by BrandZ, illustrates this. Google, the world's most valuable brand, doesn't employ a tagline at all. Of the top 10 companies, only two have what you would deem an official tagline and only McDonald's uses it regularly in its advertising and marketing.
A bygone age
Though taglines are fast becoming relics for more established brands, the companies that comprise BrandZ's top 10 have successfully used them in the past. Cigarette brand Marlboro was an advertising heavyweight in the 1950s and 1960s and was known first for its tagline “Mild as May” before gaining success with “Come to Marlboro Country”. While neither would be immediately associated with the brand now – particularly by the coveted millennial demographic – they proved extremely popular in helping establish Marlboro as one of the world's largest cigarette brands. Though advertising restrictions helped accelerate the demise of the tagline in Marlboro's strategy, the company has endured.
Coca-Cola's taglines play a prominent role in its ad campaigns – but not many consumers would recognise its latest effort: “open happiness”. There's nothing wrong with the line; it taps into the emotions associated with drinking a cold glass of Coke and aligns with the brand's values, but it's never going to be as impactful as classic lines of the past like “It's the real thing” and “Always Coca-Cola”.
Bud Light isn't the only brand to have taken some flack for its tagline. Best Buy was the subject of criticism for months thanks to its seemingly erroneous attempt: “Making technology work for you”. But it was slammed as tired and out of touch with the modern consumer. US fast food chain Denny's is another brand that was ridiculed for its bland effort: “A good place to sit and eat”, before ditching it for “America's diner is always open” – which at least conveyed the benefit of its 24/7 opening hours. But I wonder whether the 62 year-old brand needed to say anything at all.
These examples weren't successful, not because they were controversial but because they didn't add anything. In some cases, the taglines even adversely impacted people's opinions of the brand because they weren't clear. The taglines did nothing to extend the brand's value – ultimately they weren't needed.
For established and truly global brands, taglines have become almost irrelevant. They can be useful in helping to build new brands, but even if you look at the wave of young, digital companies that have emerged so far this century – Asos, Twitter and Uber to name just three – they're opting not to employ one. Before choosing to use a tagline, brands should do their research: what will it really add to your company's identity? Is it clear without being boring (à la Denny's)? Is it memorable? And most importantly: is it necessary?
In my opinion, not having a tagline enables many brands to be more creative in articulating their purpose to the masses and, ultimately, gives them greater prestige. Companies like these also realise that audiences have less and less time to understand their brand. In many cases, less really is more.
- Bud Light