The 5 Most Effective Types of Taglines

From an outsider’s perspective, taglines can easily be misunderstood as an afterthought in the larger branding process. After all, most taglines are comprised of a short, simple phrase that can easily fit on a business card, a baseball cap, or a coffee mug. The last time you checked, you could type at 48 words per minute, so how hard could it possibly be to crank out a snappy 5–10 word tagline?

We understand where these misconceptions stem from, but any experienced branding professional can tell you that, despite their deceptive air of simplicity, taglines are one of the most difficult pieces of brand messaging to create.

That’s because a tagline is meant to deliver the brand’s promise, it’s mission, and it’s message, all using the brand’s established voice and tone. Oh yeah…it should be clever, too. And don’t forget to make sure that it’s 100% original, ownable, and memorable.

That’s a lot of ground to cover in just 3–10 simple words, so believe us when we say that it’s definitely not something that can be thrown together in the 15 minutes before you stroll into the conference room to present it to your board.

Unless you’re a wordsmithing prodigy, accomplishing this feat rarely comes quickly or easily. More typically, a brand will invest a significant amount of time and intellectual energy to distill all of the most essential aspects of their brand down into a singular phrase that is both intriguing enough to catch the attention of their audience and flexible enough to remain relevant for years to come.

That’s probably the only reason McDonald’s hasn’t adopted “It’s tasty af!” as their headline. They’d just have to change it again in a year or two.

While there isn’t a magical, plug-in & play formula that will enable you to check all the boxes and create the world’s next iconic tagline, there are certain approaches and tagline styles that have proven to be effective for many of the world’s leading brands.

We’d recommend experimenting with each of these styles as you begin brainstorming tagline ideas. Depending on your brand, one type may seem like the obvious choice, but, in some cases, a not-so-obvious tagline can be the most effective approach.

Without further ado, here’s a quick & dirty breakdown of the 5 most effective types of taglines:

1. Imperative

Imperative taglines usually begin with a verb and “command” users to take a specific action relevant to the brand’s mission, impact, or product. The subtle assertiveness of this approach can bring authority, edginess, or attitude to your tagline, which may or may not be beneficial to your brand’s identity or mission.

Nike commands athletes to dig deep, tap into their well of perseverance, and “Just Do It.”

YouTube instructs video bloggers and budding directors to “Broadcast Yourself.”

Coca-Cola, possibly the most recognized brand in the world, tells its customers to “Open Happiness.” And, every day, an average of 1.8 billion people obey that command.

2. Descriptive

Descriptive taglines are the most straightforward of all the tagline styles in that they provide a short & succinct description of the product, service, or brand promise.

TOMS Shoes is famous for donating one pair of shoes for each one that they sell. Their tagline, “One for one,” educates new customers about the brand’s mission, and reinforces the loyalty of returning customers who care about leveraging their purchasing power to make a positive impact in the world.

Target uses its descriptive tagline, “Expect More. Pay Less.” to communicate its value as a brand, as well as how it differs from its top competitor: Wal-Mart.

And TED, one of the world’s top distributors of thought-provoking, educational, and motivational talks, uses this simple, but incredibly apt, tagline: “Ideas worth spreading.”

3. Superlative

Remember when your graduating class voted to decide which of its members would be eternally memorialized in the yearbook with titles like: “Most Likely to Succeed,” “Best Smile,” and “Cutest Couple”? Those titles are called “Superlatives,” and when a brand uses a superlative tagline, it is positioning itself as being at the top of its class or as the best in the industry.

Budweiser calls itself, “The King of Beers,” and BMW boasts that it is “The ultimate driving machine.”

So, even if you prefer to drive an Audi and exclusively drink craft IPA’s, those brands were able to corner their markets when it comes to the superlative tagline.

4. Provocative

When we hear the word “provocative,” we tend to associate it with shock tactics and celebrity stunts. Britney’s shaved head in 2007. Kim Kardashian on the cover of PAPER in 2014. Joaquin Phoenix’s short-lived (& likely entirely fabricated) rap career as documented in 2010’s “I’m Still Here.” In their time, these events were all considered provocative.

Provocative taglines, however, don’t necessarily have to be shocking. They can simply make a statement or ask a question that provokes thought.

In fact, one of the most iconic provocative taglines was used by a company to promote a product most would consider the antithesis of exciting. Which is that?

The Dairy Council’s 1993 “Got Milk?” campaign, of course.

5. Specific

Specific taglines directly or subtly reveal the brand’s product or business category in a clever and memorable way.

Olay has had a lot of success with their tagline, “Love the skin you’re in.”

Volkswagen, a brand notorious in the advertising world for use of deadpan, off-the-wall humor, stays true to their brand’s ethos while flipping the script with their slogan, “Driver’s wanted.”

In conclusion…

While a tagline will usually be the shortest piece of messaging you will create to represent your brand, it is definitely one of the most important. Writing this task off as an afterthought would be mistake, and we’d encourage your team to experiment with each of these types before committing to a single tagline. If you do, you’re much more likely to create a tagline with staying power, which is the ultimate win when it comes to brand taglines.

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