Slogans: A Brand’s Bright Plumage

By Michael Willard

A large pharmaceutical company once insisted the phrase “the patient is in our hearts” be included in every press release, which, of course, accelerated the release’s demise into an editor’s trash can.

The last thing an editor wants to see is a fluffy PR plug in a news release. It’s about as appropriate as singing “Happy Days are Here Again” as waves wash over the Titanic.

If the pharmaceutical slogan were masquerading as a value proposition, it failed. It was wooden, hardly a differentiating statement; and, not all that believable in the context of the industry’s soaring costs and scandals.

A tagline or slogan can be boon or bust for a brand. It represents a short couple of words that carries on its back the weight of a brand’s promise. It is often confused with the brand’s positioning statement.

If one were to diagram the DNA of a tagline like a sentence, it would have a slanted line leading directly from its grandpappy — the internally useful positioning guide — to the slogan.

The slogan is marketing’s way of showing its public plumage. It is the oh-so -concise love note about the brand that hopefully is sufficiently memorable and timeless to soar through the ages and cause cash registers to ring.

In essence, it says something “wow” about the brand. BMW has used the tagline “The Ultimate Driving Machine” since the Beatles broke up, and the cost of gasoline was 39 cents per gallon a half-century ago.

It’s worked, though there has been some injudicious tinkering with the tagline over time. The performance of the product itself backed up the “ultimate driving machine” boast.

I’m a sucker for a tagline that glitters and glows. Over the years, our companies in Eastern Europe — Kyiv, Moscow, and Istanbul — were adorned with several slogans, though I confess not all make the highlight reel.

An early one was “Trying Harder. Always Succeeding.” In retrospect, it was a brag too far. No creative business succeeds 100 percent of the time. We did well but well is relative in risky markets with somersaulting currency devaluations, occasional revolutions, and systemic corruption.

A more genuine company slogan was developed by me around 2006, primarily due to a looming recession and the threat of a mega ad agency, Young & Rubicam, intent on forcing our Kyiv office out of business.

We fought back. The motto was somewhat ballsy: “Risk-Takers. Rule Breakers. Opportunity Makers”.

It adorned every ad, letter, presentation folder, or slide that came before our clients. It suggested we had a chip on our shoulder the size of a two-by-four — and we did.

We took it a step further, and declared ourselves pirates — but good pirates — and had a larger than life Declaration of Independence (from network agencies) on the office entrance. We also flew the Skull and Crossbones and gave out pirate doubloons for excellent client work.

When the smoke cleared, we had lived up to our slogan, kept our international accounts that were threatened, and drove back the barbarians at the gate. It became one of our was most successful years.

During an earlier time, we developed the tagline “Untamed and True” for MCA Records, along with a logo of a minimalistic wild horse. Every clod-kicking recording star believed the tag fit him or her like a pair of tight Levis.

“Yeah, that’s me. ‘Untamed and True’,” said country singers.

The recipe for a good tagline is a little like your grandmother’s borsch. The ingredients are simple, but the concoction depends on the love and creativity of the master, or the slogan-meister in advertising.

Other than brevity, memorability, and relevance to the product or service, it must be credible and establish a differentiating difference that separates it from the competitive hoi polloi.

One of my favorites — though a little long — came out of my old West Virginia agency in the late 1980s for a brand we developed for a convenience store chain, Go-Mart. The brand was called Road Kill Potato Chips.

“If It’s Been There More Than A Day, We Let It Lay.” wrote Steve Plantz, a vice president of media in the company. It stuck.

Okay, you might have to be from “Almost Heaven” West Virginia to understand it.

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I am a novelist, painter, songwriter and essayist but my day job is elevating the profile of authors, entertainers and business executives.

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