Nerve Collective

Thoughts & Musings

The Brand Compactor II: Taglines. Are They Possible Anymore?

Tagline. Slogan. The words are essentially interchangeable. When most new companies think about developing an identity, they think about a logo, then usually a tagline or slogan to go with it: a few catchy words that will cement the brand in the minds of consumers (and maybe, just maybe, if the tag is clever enough, it will ascend into the firmament of the all-time most memorable, up with the just-do-its and think-differents, where it will shine like a star in the marketing sky...forever).

Yet the trouble with taglines in the 21st Century is that there aren't many of them around anymore. Most of today's biggest brands have either dropped theirs (Microsoft's "Be What's Next", for example) or never had one to begin with (Google, Starbucks, Facebook). A few brands soldier on in the genre. Twitter has "It's What's Happening" and McDonald's is still using "I'm Lovin' It", yet tags are almost totally absent among today's up-and-comers. One exception, "Shave Time, Shave Money" used by Harry's Shave Club, has gotten some attention, but few would deny that it's more an ironic joke than a serious attempt at a tag. 

So what's behind the death of the tagline? Some blame technological changes like tiny smartphone screens and social media character limits. Others point to trends like the rise of niche marketing, where brands need the flexibility to push different value messages to different audiences. Still others talk about the pace of economic change and the need for brands to be able to turn on a dime to chase a new opportunities or demographics. 

All have merit as far as they go. Yet the ultimate truth lies in deeper shifts in the way we consume messages and view brands. The first of these is all about attention. If you've read the first in this series of posts, you know that brands are becoming increasingly compact items. To keep up with today's fast-moving consumers, they need to be small, aerodynamic and densely packed. In a day and age when audiences will barely slow down to read your company name, who's going to stop to absorb a tagline? At least a few of your key attributes had better be reflected in your name, or you're already behind in the race for brand recognition. 

A second and probably even deeper shift has to do with power. There's been a change in consumer attitudes over the last two decades. Traditional workaday suspicion of marketing claims has hardened into profound, deep-seated skepticism. Amplified mightily by social media, that skepticism has created a fundamental power shift, away from the brand and toward the consumer. Today's brands are no longer in the driver's seat when it comes to telling consumers who they are. Today, it's consumers who tell the brands who they are. Taglines, what are those? I'll decide who's delivering on what brand promise, thank you very much!

Does this mean tags are totally useless? Not necessarily. For a newly minted brand, the right tag can act as a clarifier, an elaboration on a name, a product feature or a benefit. For an established brand, a tag can serve as a reminder of what's always made it great. But be warned, tags don't carry the weight they once did. Good ones can still prop a brand up. Bad ones on the other hand can make a brand look stodgy, insincere and out of touch. So write wisely. And when in doubt, don't. Today a tag is what you might call an optional extra.