Tagline Truths and Tips

By Emily Shea, VP/Partner & Executive Creative Director

January 28, 2014

In marketing circles, the term “tagline” gets thrown around a lot.

It’s one of those words that means different things to different people, often leading to mass confusion. Ask one guy and he might tell you that a tagline is a like a slogan—something that holds an advertising campaign together. Another might tell you that a tagline is bigger than a campaign—that it’s part of the brand promise.

Truth is, both are correct. They’re simply two different kinds of taglines that serve two very different purposes.


Establish clarity

If you’re ever tasked with developing or evaluating a tagline, the critical first step is to define which kind of tagline you are developing.

  • A campaign tagline holds an ad campaign together. It’s specific to a particular initiative and lasts only as long as the campaign lasts.
  • A brand tagline is tied directly to a brand. It’s something that endures, regardless of initiative, and can be used in conjunction with the previous type of tagline.

Once you’ve identified which tagline you’re after, make sure everyone is on the same page about that goal. Then, remind them–repeatedly, if necessary. (It will be necessary).

Regardless of specific sales or marketing initiatives, the basic definition of a corporate tagline is always the same: it’s an enduring line of copy that helps clarify and support a brand.


Understand the purpose

As marketers, we know that a brand is much more than just a logo or a name.

Academically speaking, a brand is a promise you make to your customers. It helps set expectations. Over time, this leads to trust and the big “it” that everyone is going for: brand loyalty.

That’s a tall task for a name and logo alone. A corporate tagline can help by working in conjunction with your brand name to paint a clearer picture of what you’re all about.


Strike the right balance

Taglines fall on a spectrum from literal to evocative. Some speak precisely to the products, services or benefits a brand delivers, while others are a bit more elusive in their meaning.

The basic principal for deciding where your tagline should sit can be decided, in part, by your brand name.


Option 1: Descriptive Taglines

If the name of your brand is either unknown or not descriptive of the product or service you offer, your tagline should help clarify what you do or the benefit you offer.


Aprilaire—Feel good. Inside.

Aprilaire manufactures indoor air quality products. While familiar to some, it’s not an everyday brand that rolls off the tips of customers’ tongues. And while the name is somewhat descriptive, it needed a strong assist from the tagline.

BOSE—Better sound through research.

When this tagline was first introduced, the brand was relatively unknown. Because the name isn’t descriptive of the product, the tagline help lead a clearer pathway to the brand promise.


Option 2: Personality Taglines

If your name is descriptive, or if your brand is already well recognized within your target audience, the role of your tagline can focus more on personality without having to be so literal.


Badgerland Financial—Cultivating rural life.

Farmers in Wisconsin are familiar with Badgerland Financial and the products and services they offer. Plus, the name offers a pretty good description of what they do. Rather than focus on the products and services the lender provides, the tagline focuses on a key differentiator: their commitment to the agricultural community.

Nike—Just do it.

While the name isn’t a description of athletic gear and apparel, this is one of the world’s most recognizable brand names. Because of this, the tag can be a bit more evocative.


What makes a good tagline?

It’s easy to say a tagline is good or bad based on whether you like it or not. But remember: a tagline isn’t about what you like or don’t like. It’s what best conveys a brand promise to your target audience.

Here are a few of the traits that the best taglines have in common:

The SUM principle

Most successful taglines follow what I call the SUM principle. That is, they should be shortunique and memorable.

  •  Short. I’m sure what you’re looking for is an exact word count. Well, I can’t give you that, but I’d say the sweet spot is somewhere around three. Maybe a few more. Maybe even less. But as a general rule, the more succinct, the better.
  •  Unique. As with any element of your brand, you need to differentiate yourself from your competition. And your tagline should follow suit. Before everyone falls in love with your brilliant idea, do a quick Google search to see if it’s already being used. You should also check with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) at  if you plan on trademarking your tagline.
  • Memorable. Thought provoking taglines that force an audience to spend a second or two with them can often improve recall. Double meanings of words or phrases can also prove successful. And don’t forget to take advantage of what you learned in Kindergarten—the rhyming, rhythm and alliteration that made those nursery rhymes so unforgettable work just the same with taglines.


The conversation starter

Another common trait that successful taglines share is that they lead the way for the next step in the conversation. Whether that’s your elevator speech or the opening line of a sales call, it sets the brand message in motion.

A recent tagline we developed for the foodservice division of a cheese company was “Crafted to Achieve.” Not only does it establish a strong, confident brand promise, but it leads seamlessly to the next step in the conversation.


Other filters to consider

Here are a few final thoughts to take with you as you embark on the process of creating or evaluating a tagline:

Taglines are not the be-all and end-all

Some people think that the name and tagline together should tell the complete story, leaving no question left unanswered. This line of thinking will drive you—and everyone else involved in the process—absolutely mad.

The name and tagline work together to tell part of a story, but they can’t possibly be expected to tell the entire story. Remember: a tagline should kick-start a conversation, not be the conversation.

Also, a name and tagline rarely appear on their own. They almost always appear in a context that allows the audience to fill in the gaps. Whether it’s an ad, a sales meeting or your website, the name and tagline are just two of the many characters in your cast of brand ambassadors.

Make sure you can deliver on the promise you make

Taglines often make lofty promises. And if your brand can’t follow through on your tagline’s promise, you’ll not only disappoint customers and prospects, but you’ll blow your chance at brand loyalty. So once you get to a tagline that follows the guidelines discussed here, step back and make sure it’s authentic to who you are and what you can reasonably achieve.

As I write this, I’m flying on a commercial airline from Tampa to Atlanta. This particular airline’s tagline is “Keep climbing.” I understand the promise they are making me. They are going to continually try to be better. To do more. To set the bar higher. In turn, they’re telling me to do the same—to expect more from them. I like it. It follows all the principles I recommend to my clients.

But if this airline has any chance of winning my loyalty, they’re going to have to show me that they’re trying. It is a commercial airline, so I’m not holding my breath. But I’ll keep you posted.


All flights were on time, and while there was no room for my carry-on bag, it made it safely to its destination. Lo and behold, I’d consider flying the airline again, and with time, may grow to prefer the brand. Tagline success!


farmer opening barn door

We Know Ag

We Know Ag

This confident campaign reached a new segment of their audience with relatable images and bold copy.

This confident campaign reached a new segment of their audience with relatable images and bold copy.

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