Ad and marketing creatives

Just Do It! Finding the Tagline to Voice the Brand

"Taglines" are the slogans that copywriters and marketers devise to make a brand more memorable. New contributor Sarah Williams, founder of the copywriting company Wordsmith, sheds some light on what makes a winning tagline.

Short quiz — which products match these taglines? "Don't leave home without it," "It's the Real Thing," "Think Different." (Answers at the end of the article.)

We all know taglines just like we know our best friends' nicknames — Nike's "Just Do It" is probably one of the most well-known and most long-lived of all taglines, developed, so the legend has it, during a 1988 meeting between Nike executives and their ad agency, Wieden and Kennedy, when Dan Wieden apparently said in acknowledgement of Nike's positive attitude, "You Nike guys, you just do it." The tagline was great — the $300 million plus spent advertising didn't hurt either. The important point, though, is that the aspirational, direct, down-to-earth, 'can do' statement of the tagline helped consumers to feel that buying Nike products was a positive act, demonstrating their own personal 'can do' attitude. When customers buy, they buy so much more than just the product.

One way a tagline works is to help carry the brand into the consumer's consciousness, where it can lodge and, with luck, mesh with their own cultural attitudes and orientation so that they connect with the brand as something that they feel close to and develop warmth and loyalty towards. As Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon said, "A brand is what people say about you when you're not in the room." A tagline is an important part of that conversation.

How then to develop a tagline (or strapline as it's called in the UK, though quite why beats me)? Like company and product naming, tagline development is a highly sensitive, intensive and much-misunderstood aspect of the copywriter's and marketer's art. It takes hours, and, if you have the opportunity to brainstorm, more than one person to come up with something that, if you're lucky, then appears simply right.

A couple of examples from work we have recently done. One was to find a new tagline for a company which had been trading very successfully for over 20 years but was beginning to lose ground to its competitors — they wanted something to help clarify just what made them different, special and valuable. The company, a market research portal for the telecommunication industry, needed a tagline that focused on the speed, relevance and accuracy of their research. We provided them with an initial array of some 15 possible taglines, ranging from the slightly zany to the utterly straightforward. While the whacky ones appealed to the managing director, the management team as a whole preferred the more straightforward ones. From that feedback we provided a further shortlist of ten. From this, the company finally selected "Guided, Accurate, Timely and Totally Relevant" — does exactly what it says on the tin, as they say in the UK. We are trialing this for a few months to gauge customer response. You can check it out yourself at Thoughts and feedback welcome.

The other tagline was part of a complete branding exercise for a new company for a business coach, speaker and writer. For this we held a brainstorming meeting with a number of core company members, including the managing director, the branding designer and others. After kicking around for some time just what it was the company, and in particular the MD, were seeking to achieve, and the benefit they brought to their clients, we came up with some central concepts built around energy, drive, acceleration. As a business coach, clearly success, profits, wealth and results were also part of the mix. We'd been talking for about an hour, batting ideas back and forth, when, in a sudden coalescence of ideas, we came up with the finished product: Igniting Business Results. The company has just been launched, and first phase of the website is now up and running for you to have a look at Have a look and see what you think.

If naming a product or company can be compared to naming a baby, then developing a tagline is like giving a child a nickname or pet name — it fits the individual and extends their identity.

(Quiz answers: American Express, Coca Cola, Apple Computer.)

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Sarah Williams is founder and managing director of the international copywriting company Wordsmith, based in Oxfordshire, UK. She taught in universities, and then moved out of the academic world into book publishing, running the English office of the biggest French children's book publisher. During this time she wrote and published a number of children's books. She eventually became a full time freelance writer, and has published over 80 books. About five years ago, Sarah set up Wordsmith, a copywriting company providing intelligent, responsive answers to marketing needs. Click here to read more articles by Sarah Williams.

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Comments from our users:

Monday May 19th 2008, 3:46 AM
Comment by: Jyoti
Hi! Great article!

I'm a newbie on computer, but one thing i knew at the very beginning was that my folders had to have
names that stirred the soul and that were also true north. Otherwise I would not pursue and complete
my projects. Even my folder on household(now that could use a new tagline!) is "Villa Tuscana"
and always gets results.

But I didn't know this was exercising a copywriting and marketing technique.
Monday May 19th 2008, 8:46 AM
Comment by: robert M. (New York, NY)
I've always been intrigued with the tagline development process.

I've been a graphic designer for about fifteen years and have created dozens of corporate identities and many times help craft the tagline.

Often the challenge in designing a logo is having to pare down the amount of brand attributes to a compact graphic. Adding a tagline is a great way to cover more ground than a logo alone can.

Being in the enviable position to create all three components, the name, the tagline and the logo, truly maximizes the impact of each disciplines and helps fully paint the brand messaging.

Rob Merola

PS: Is "tag-lining" a legitimate term?
Monday May 19th 2008, 1:59 PM
Comment by: Graeme R.
It works better for me when the tagline creates or evokes an image. "Guided, Accurate, Timely and Totally Relevant" is pretty heady, abstract. "Igniting Business Results" immediately evokes the image of fire, with "business results" suggesting that the blaze is controlled and helpful rather than destructive. So for me the second is more effective than the first.
Monday May 19th 2008, 4:29 PM
Comment by: Jason G.
In my experience with tagline assignments, I would think that "Guided, Accurate, Timely and Totally Relevant" would be the attributes the tagline seeks to communicate, not actually articulate. It's hard to read, boring and long. These types of lines should be a first step in boiling down what the tagline should say about the company, but it misses out on next, more important, most difficult stepâ??transforming the marketing mumbo-jumbo into something memorable, poetic, and brand-building (what I consider to be the essence of my job as a copywriter). Okay, I get it, you are guided, accurate, timely, whatever, but as a customer, I still have to translate that into what it means for me as it's just a list of attributes. It has no personality. It builds no brand. You might as well have just cut and pasted from the brief you received from the client.

In my view, part of my job as a creative professional is to help clients move beyond what it says on their agency briefs into something that's actually creative and memorable. Something that actually helps build and define the brand "personality," which is exactly what "Just Do It" does for Nike.

Taglines aren't easy, true, but if "Guided, Accurate, Timely...." is the kind of stuff you've developed, I don't think you've even started writing them yet.

Tuesday May 20th 2008, 10:55 AM
Comment by: iPrimate
Three words is enough for a tag line. Four is too much. Five is unconsionable. Especially if one of them is an adverb, (and one a conjunction).
Thursday May 22nd 2008, 10:42 PM
Comment by: Madrigal (CROYDON Australia)
I liked the article and learnt from it. But I did agree somewhat with the previous Anonymous post about the "Guided, Accurate, Timely and Totally Relevant" tagline.

I didn't think it was going to help connections "with the brand as something that they feel close to and develop warmth and loyalty towards".

I would have gone with the MD rather than the management team as, I am sorry to say, this tagline reads exactly like it has been written by a committee not a copywriter.
Sunday May 25th 2008, 5:13 PM
Comment by: Adam H.
Monday May 26th 2008, 3:49 AM
Comment by: Yolanthe S.
I am curious to hear what the other ideas were; the zany and whacky ones especially!
I find the chosen tagline rather boring.
Tuesday May 27th 2008, 8:08 PM
Comment by: Michael M.
Four words is one too many and "Totally" is totally worn. I like "Accurate, Timely, Relevant-CMS Business"
Thursday May 29th 2008, 4:49 PM
Comment by: Sarah M. (Sebastian, FL)
I'm a visual, non-auditory person and when I read the tagline in question, I didn't even get meaning from it. Taglines that say something to me are ones that evoke an instant image, and images stay with people. When I read something and have to create meaning, first of all, then make my own image, yawn, you've lost me.
Saturday June 28th 2008, 11:30 AM
Comment by: Sarah W.Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Hi guys, really helpful feedback on the CMSInfo tagline - even though that is the one the company preferred (and the MD was very happy with) it clearly doesn't appear to help clients identify, and identify with, the brand. We will let the company know what you have said. So a big thank you - really helpful.
Wednesday April 1st 2009, 12:33 PM
Comment by: Pamela L.
strapline...because you hold onto the strap on the subway or bus or whatever vehicle when you are standing rather than sitting.

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