One of the biggest marketing mistakes today, and how to avoid it.

Just imagine what a great catch phrase can do for your business.

by Tom Davidson 
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It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words…

Yet a tagline, or catch phrase offers an elegantly balanced ratio of words to picture that cement the moment, aid in recall, lock in the experience, set expectations, and create a covenant between your brand and the customer.

But a tagline, in its truest sense, delivers the brand promise. From this business perspective, they are words to live by. They echo the core values of the brand they represent. Moreover, the annals of award-winning advertising are lined with them.

So what are they really, and where did they go?

A little history lesson:

In most cases, a tagline or positioning statement is a poetic and well-metered phrase born out of the value proposition or mission statement.

A derivative of the original French expression “raison d’être”… taglines serve to inspire a level of service, experience, expectation or confidence on the operational side while fulfilling a core need on the consumer side.

According to Webster, the “slogan” derives from the Gaelic “sluagh-ghairm” (an army cry). In the contemporary sense, it has come to mean a distinctive advertising motto, or advertising phrase, used by any entity to convey a purpose or ideal; Or, a catchphrase. Taglines are the American term for brief public communication promoting products and services. In the UK they are called endlines, or straplines. In Japan, they are called catchcopy kyachi kopī or catch phrase kyachi furēzu

Suffice it to say at one time, taglines were considered the brand glue that held a campaign together and ensured continuity.

But somewhere along the way, a few brand marketers decided taglines were no longer in vogue, and now, you would be hard-press to find a brand that still uses one today. The few companies that managed to retain the idea have mostly dropped them from their websites.

So, what’s the downside in losing your brand mantra?

Brand examples who don’t use or integrate their taglines.

… I would argue plenty.

I believe it led to a brand identity crisis we are witnessing in business today.

In an effort to be all things to all people, it seems Advertisers have lost their way. Stripping ads of taglines and boardrooms of their mission statements may prove to be the root cause of a growing brand epidemic that is likely to spread well beyond United Airlines.

Where you might ask, did this lack of confidence in a time-proven marketing tactic originate?

It may have been bubbling below the surface for some time, but it can be traced back to a brand management concept called Flexible Branding.

According to a 2013 article published in Adweek: “The Death of the Tagline” Flexible Branding became the new mantra and a majority of advertisers seemed to agree.

Nike’s VP of Digital Sport, Stefan Olander, was quoted at the time as saying that the relationship between his company and customers has changed so much that Nike’s legendary tagline almost no longer applies: “People now demand us not to say, ‘Just do it.’ They say, ‘Help me just do it.’”

Call me crazy, but in my view, this is brand speak rationale gone haywire.

Moreover, I am increasingly convinced this flawed thinking was driven further by poor millennial insights and a rise in SEO marketing trends, namely, the short text code limitations.

To be fair, there may have been other factors as well. But I maintain these weak strategic insights gave brand decision makers a false narrative in asserting millennial brand distrust and their need for individuality as the evidence for killing the tagline.

I believe the demise gained greater momentum as marketer began relying heavily on SEO “search-term” insights as a metric for basing key marketing decisions, and effectively ruled content based on brand values and the tagline superfluous.

Their logic concluded the next up and coming market “Millennials” a thirty-and-under target audience are wary of slick advertising slogans and grandiose promises. Brand messages need to fit key search terms, sound bites and character limitations of social media.

But there is a counter-argument to this insanity…the truth.

If you look at trend-setting brands like Apple, DC Shoes, Urban Outfitters or car makers like Audi, it’s worth noting these same millennials still fork out the green to differentiate themselves. And like any other consumer, they use these brand purchases to declare their own personal brand status.

However brands like Apple, DC Shoes and Urban Outfitters have an added benefit of strong entrepreneurial culture, and visionary leader or they are early in the start-up phase and haven’t had to maintain a brand growth and shareholder over 3 or more decades. But as leadership changes at the helm, there can be an erosion in core brand values which led to the company’s success.

What’s my point?

In an era where many brands and businesses have lost their competitive edge, the soul-searching exercise of generating a proper tagline just may be the fastest way to reclaiming it.

Still not convinced?

Consider this excerpt from a recent article in Entrepreneur

“The Internet has kicked that feedback loop between branding and identity into overdrive. Millennial consumers don’t just seek self-congruity through products that they actually buy: they also seek it through the product photos they pin on Pinterest; the brands they follow on Facebook, Snapchat, or Instagram; the unboxing videos they watch on YouTube. Some commentators have hypothesized that this abundance of social proof is one reason why millennial are so loyal to brands — it’s easier to trust your friends (or social-media influencers) than it is to trust traditional advertising. This, plus the decay of more traditional sources of identity, is the reason brands have become so important in millennial’ conversations.”


  • Social Proof {Peer Acceptance Gave Way to Independent Thinking, Identity and self-actualization}
  • Decay of Traditional Sources of Identity {Parental|Religion | Rebellion} Skepticism is replaced by internal value system
  • Takeaway: Millennials are not Anti-brand. In fact, now that we give them credit for independent thinking, they are using these Strong Brand Identities to help define themselves. And they’re sharing the experience.

Now, you and I might consider this insightful anthropological research. But even here the conclusions are weak at best. It’s true, brand ambassadors and affinity marketing help broadening the tent of product appeal, but today, brands still need to pound a few stakes in the sand in order to stand for something. Brand Value. Social Value.

That’s why, now more than ever, the tagline is an essential brand tool in aiding recall, setting expectations, delivering the promise, inspiring an emotional experience, ensuring campaign continuity and business fidelity.

For some businesses like United Airline, it’s also about reclaiming their souls.

So let’s assume I convinced you that taglines serve an undeniable purpose. Now what? Maybe it’s time to get your own tagline and your brand house in order. Here’s a simple litmus test to help you strike marketing gold:

Your tagline should: Set an expectation. Fulfill a core need. Create brand differentiators and set them in motion.

Next, synergize your entire communication strategy and tactics to align with this new operational philosophy.

It’s the fasted way to separate yourself from the competition and attract new and loyal fans to your business.

More importantly, when you synergize all of your marketing efforts against your core value system as summarized in a positioning statement, you multiply your message effectiveness a hundred fold in media saturation, in aided and unaided recall with your consumer.

Just these two simple steps will help ensure you don’t run into your own “United Airline” mass media debacle by failing to deliver on your brand promise.

You’ll even earn value points with Millennials who are suspicious of all brands that fail to consistently or accurately represent themselves in the marketplace. In fact, they rely on peer group rating to determine the value of purchasing whatever it is you happen to be selling.

At some point with every age-based demographic system from baby boomers to millennials, wisdom and experience eventually override peer influencer marketing schemes and your consumers will begin to think for themselves. Make sure you still have a way to connect with them in a meaningful and truthful way, that aligns with their core emotional values.

Here are a few ideas to help you get started.

• Developing a value proposition

If you are a smaller brand with limited access to solid marketing research tools like focus groups or anthropological survey’s, you may benefit from these guerilla-marketing insights. See my article The Brand Proposition, Answering The Eternal Question, Why? for more tips

• Filter any insights through a core needs and emotional truth filter

Research your website SEO analytics for frequent search terms and remember to include any negative category searches. In this case, focus less on your business but the entire category i.e. Airline Customer Complaints

This will ensure you arrive at a tagline that will rock your business world.

  • Assess your company’s standing in the category

If you can invest in a research company, customer rating services like Yelp, and employee rating services like Glassdoor are a great way to research your category. The insights you can glean can point the way to marketing pain points and offer you valuable ideas to differentiate your product
or service.

Remember, advertising is still about influencing, modeling, teaching, and rewarding behavior. So before you walk away from a tagline remember… “repetition, repetition, repetition.” It works in eastern meditation, rapid learning, instructional science, and has proven its effectiveness in some of the most successful marketing campaigns in history.

CHECK THIS OUT: Here’s a company still kicking it with a tagline is 
Dollar Shave Club.

Dollar Shave Club: “Shave Time. Shave Money.”

I give them high marks for creative execution, the tagline appears at the end of their videos and using it to shapes and inform the website experience. (But still no tagline on the website)


Use these tips, and you’ll be well on your way to a powerful tagline and a disruptively integrated campaign.

You may also want to familiarize yourself with these branding experts if you are ready for Fortune 500-level brand strategy.

Make sure your marketing partner really understands your brand and they’re not following the latest fads.

If you would like additional help with your branding, check with a local marketing or ad agency representative for professional counsel.

For additional insights on this topic I would also add the article on brand valuation by Interbrand to the top of your reading list.

Happy reading!

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About Tom Davidson

Tom has served as Senior Vice President & Creative Director for ad agencies like Leo Burnett, working on advertising and brand engaging experience for companies that include: Cadillac, AAA Insurance, OnStar, Eight O’clock Coffee, Shedd’s Spread Country Crock®.

While serving at Douglas Shaw and Associates, he helped to craft a unique approach to fundraising that optimizes messaging strategies, offer summits and innovative, creative solutions into proven and tested reasons to give for a variety of non-profit organizations.

To learn more about his communication & design consultancy, visit: