Death to Taglines!

Years ago I was working for an education startup and plotting the revision of the company web site when I asked my boss which tagline we should use under our logo. My boss, being wiser and younger than I am (hate that), came back at me one simple question:

“Why?”

I learned then that particular W was the most disarming of the five W’s, but more importantly, in stopping to make me think, my boss taught me that taglines are often a complete and utter waste of space. Since then, I’ve observed that a tagline is a sorry excuse for not being clear about the positioning of your company and its products.

Yuh-huh...

Yuh-huh…

I liken taglines to vanity plates, or maybe tattoos people get after a night of drunkenness. It may have looked cute or cool or funny at the time you thought of it—if you were in fact thinking at all—but eventually you’re going to be forced to look at it for the bazillionth time, and its cuteness, coolness or funniness definitely will have worn off by then. Most bumper stickers fall in the same category as well. Fortunately, bumper stickers can come off easily (boiling water is a smart tip), and vanity plates can be exchanged. Tattoos…ouch. But I sometimes experience the same degree of pain in looking at the same tagline when revisiting a company’s web site and seeing its logo in various advertising channels.

Yeah, I get it. That’s what you paid some creative genius five or six figures to tell me what your company is about.

Think of the most established brands out there—the ones that run their marketing like champs, or the ones you use or pass by every day. Does Apple put “cool-looking products that revolutionize technology” under its Apple logo? Does Amazon say “the world’s largest store for everything”? Does McDonald’s say something silly like “I’m loving it”? (Oh wait…)

Word of mouth is our best source of customers!

Word of mouth is our best source of customers!

I just started poking around online at some top brands. Ford uses “Go Further” under its logo, which violates one of my pet peeves of using a tagline or other marketing message that could be applied to just about any industry. My favorite in this category was a billboard many years ago along the Kennedy Expressway that said “Word of mouth is our best source of customers,” which could apply to every business out there, including my kids’ lemonade stand. (I’ll refrain from the personal attack on the healthcare company that paid thousands for this space.)

Forever New Frontiers!

Forever New Frontiers!

Boeing appears to have removed its “Forever New Frontiers” tagline, which at least applied strongly to their business, and it was sort of inspiring…the first time I saw it. On the other hand, considering you want your company brand to inspire your workers internally, “Forever New Frontiers” must have been a cruel irony to the janitors cleaning their offices and factories.

Chase Bank is smart enough not to have a tagline. What would a bank use anyhow? “Counting, laughing, and protected on high?”

I could go on, but I believe the main point is that your brand isn’t only about your words. It starts with the products or services you provide, which should convey your value proposition more than anything you can put into words. If you offer a complex product or service, or a new one that needs explaining, three to seven witty words constructed by an ad agency are probably not going to solve this problem, but they may empty a big part of your marketing budget.

But that’s just my opinion. What do I know? Aside from being a Digital Contrarian, I’m also a Long-Distance Traveler on the Digital Frontier. (Palm slap to the forehead!)