Context is Everything: The Power of Your Tagline Depends Largely on the Surrounding Wordscape

The following article is a guest post by Jim Morris, aka Tagline Jim.

Context is everything.

The larger point I’m about to argue for applies to communication of all sorts, but, since I write taglines for a living, I’m going to make it in relation to taglines. Let me start out by saying . . .

I disdain one-word taglines. I have long contended that such taglines aren’t capable of expressing a whole thought about a brand. The one-word tagline is an intellectually lazy copout for brands that don’t have the courage or discipline to make a fully formed statement relating to their brand. Or it is the result of the brand being dictated to by designers who prefer a one-word taglines because it’s a cleaner design element to work with, never mind what it means or fails to mean.



It seems like HP wants to stake some claim to invention or creativity or innovation. Or something. But what? What claim, about what, exactly? A tagline doesn’t necessarily need to be clear or precise or comprehensive. In fact, I would argue that it’s better if the line isn’t any of these things. But it does need to say or convey something, to allude in some interesting way to the brand’s differessence. Invent is so broad and vague as to render it meaningless as a tagline.

I have identified 15 national/global brands that have hung their brand hat on one word or another as their tagline over the past couple of decades.

Acura. Advance.
Ally. Straightforward.
Diners Club. Belong.
EDS. Solved.
Hankook Tires. Driven.
HP. Invent.
Monsanto. Imagine.
Nissan. Driven.
United. Rising.
Coca Cola. Enjoy.
Hyundai. Win.
Xfinity. More.
Siemens. Answers.
Power Bar. Push.
Logitec. Enjoy.

No doubt there are others, along with who knows how many regional and local brands that have taken this same ill-advised path.

Two additional thoughts about one-word taglines:

My own brand’s tagline is Long Story Short. In order to tell any story in one word, it would need to be some special kind of word. I’m not saying I never will, but, so far, I’ve never written a one-word tagline (other than when more than one word is crammed together to form a new compound word.)

One of my favorite exhortations, when a client is considering a tagline, is this . . .

Read between the words.

Between the words is where you’ll find the value in many good taglines. Doing this with a one-word tagline is quite a trick. Should I exhort the client to read between the letters?

I could go on about the myriad issues with these taglines, but I must move on to the larger point.

So, if I disdain one-word taglines so much, why is there one for which I have the highest admiration?

(Finally, we get to my point.)

The answer is context. Cultural/historical/advertising/branding context. Or, if you prefer, we could characterize it as the intellectual/emotional/linguistic environment in which the tagline lives. This environment or context changes constantly and the effectiveness of a tagline depends largely on what environment—or context—it is surrounded by.

What is this singular exception that escapes my disdain? It is IBM’s ancient, iconic slogan, Think.


Of course, many of you are likely unaware of this tagline, because it held sway in the 1920’s, 30’s and into the 40’s, at least. It was created by IBM founder Thomas J. Watson. (I assume the IBM folks named their line of notebook computers, “ThinkPad”, as a homage to the slogan.)

Back in those particular olden days, it’s my guess there weren’t a whole lot of one-word taglines out there. Probably not any. It was, at the time, a bold, assumptive, leaderly, radical slogan by dint of its one-wordness. That’s a big reason why it gained so much notice globally and became such an icon. For a huge brand like IBM to brandish a one-word tagline was, in the context of that time, an act of courage.

And that word, Think, took on many layers of meaning pertaining to the IBM brand, largely because so much attention was paid to it over many years, which, in turn, was because it was so unique. It was sort of the Just Do It of its time. In a world of no one-word taglines, the first one is powerful and groundbreaking.

It was, in a sense, a demonstration of its own exhortation, and this made it all the more powerful.


That was then. This is now (last time I checked). These days, if your brand wants to stake out some tagline territory similar to IBM’s in the 20’s, you need, (in addition to a monster media budget), at least two words—one complete thought.

Like Apple’s Think Different, or AT&T’s Rethink Possible.

In today’s context, due to many factors including “word inflation” and the exampledness of one-word taglines, such lines are almost certainly not going to communicate your brand’s differessence or evoke much of a response or emotion. The only way I think a one-word tagline can be effective these days is if the word itself is unusual, provocative, exotic, intriguing. Which none of the 15 “lines” cited above are.

Here are two additional hints that one-word taglines, in today’s context, are not good. First, you won’t find one (other than IBM’s) on anyone’s list of great taglines. Second, what used to be called a “slogan” is now referred to in the industry as a “tagline.” The former implied a phrase or sentence, not one word. The latter makes that requirement explicit. It’s “tagline”, not tagword.”

Context helps determine the value and impact of all taglines, not just the one-word ones. The more that brands resort to familiar, frequently used tagline structures, terms and phrase, the less power such taglines will have. Tagline fads and trends are one dimension of context that very clearly and directly undermine the effectiveness of the taglines that fall victim to such fads and trends, of which the one-word tagline is but one.

Jim Morris, AKA Tagline Jim, is a freelance advertising copywriter who specializes in creating powerful, evocative taglines. He can be reached at

Things to Consider When Developing an Effective Logo

Have a Brainstorming Session

Your logo is going to be one of the defining visuals of your brand. Your brand goes beyond people simply knowing your company’s name. Branding includes the feelings that are generated when consumers think about your business, your services or your goods. What kind of buzzwords do you want associated with your brand? Make a list of these adjectives so that you can have a clear idea of where your design is headed. Do you want to be considered reliable? High quality? Cutting edge? Traditional? All of these types of adjectives may mean different things to different people so narrow down the words even further. Specificity will take you far with logo design.

Incorporate Those Feelings

Once you have the list of the key target buzzwords you want associated with your brand, start thinking about how you can incorporate those feelings into a design. Do you have any seemingly conflicting words? For example, “strength” and “delicate” may be two words that you want associated with a deodorant product. How can you marry those two ideas? Design flourishes, colors, fonts, background and photos are all ways to incorporate different feelings.

Choose Your Colors

You’ll want to think carefully about which colors you choose. Colors speak powerfully and can make a great impact. Trying to incorporate too many colors can lead to confusion and clutter. Look at some of the most successful logos of major companies and see what kind of color schemes they have used. Oftentimes you will not see more than three colors that define a logo. Simple, clean and memorable are all essential ingredients when designing a logo.

Familiar Shapes

Using familiar shapes with a twist to make it your own can be a powerful logo choice. Choosing shapes and images that are familiar yet not explicitly related to your business is an effective choice. For example, McDonald’s logo isn’t a hamburger. It is the letter “M,” but slightly tweaked so that it looks unique. Everyone associates the “Golden Arches” with the McDonald’s brand. Now, clearly that is a multi-billion, worldwide business so it makes sense that their logo is known. But it also makes sense to follow the lead of such a known brand.

This guest post was written by Barry Luben from, a company providing business card printing.

Image credit: Julian Povey

Why People Hate Advertising

Wesley Fryer’s education blog The Speed of Creativity discusses why people hate advertising.

I really don’t like to use the word “hate” at all, so I hesitate to say “I hate advertising.” It is definitely accurate to say I STRONGLY dislike advertising. I’m convinced we all should strive to live our lives with digital discipline, and part of disciplining ourselves digitally means taking assertive control of the images and messages we allow into our eyes, ears, and brains.

I came to the defense of advertising in the following comment:

I think advertising can be used for evil, but I think there are a lot of positive externalities of advertising in society. For instance it generates consumer demand, which fuels the economy, which generates revenue for the government, which helps fund schools.

I believe you are a fan of the Apple iPod touch as a tool for education. Well if Apple did not run advertising to promote the iPod, their sales would be much lower, and developers would have a much lower incentive to develop useful education applications.

I think there are millions who feel the same way as Wesley, which is why people love to eliminate ads. I think the root cause is the lack of relevancy. Most ads are not personally relevant to us or offer any value to our lives.

The genius of Google is that it shows ads that are relevant to the content we view. In Free, Chris Anderson explains that a survey he conducted showed more people preferred relevant ads than having the ads removed. How can advertisers increase relevance for customers? Maybe, instead of showing random ads at commercial breaks on Hulu, they can let viewers choose what type of ad they want to see or perhaps they could set their preferences for categories of ads that are relevant to them. Alternatively, advertising could offer value such as discount code or a link to a site with how to videos. Ads can also create value by creating entertainment value. These types of ads are often actively searched for and even shared.

What else can advertisers do to be less hated?

Don't Talk Like Advertisers

One of the reasons that people avoid and dislike advertising is because it can be annoying. Like Microsoft’s latest ad campaign which used the previous Lois and Clark star, in a blasphemous way.

This definitely makes me want to punch Dean Cain in the face and I like Dean Cain. There is also an ad in this campaign in which a lady vomits on her husband after looking at his computer screen. Although it has received 800,000+ views and is extremely memorable, it does not make you think very highly of Microsoft.

What's Wrong With Microsoft's Marketing

Do you think Microsoft is good at marketing?

Here are some examples of why they are not good. This is a commercial made for an experimental product called Songsmith.

I can’t tell if this is an actual commercial or if it was an internal joke, but it is pretty ridiculous.

Here’s another example…

The Microsoft ad campaign in which they filmed lap top buyers looking for a lap top for under $1,000. The problem was that Microsoft was being very inauthentic. CNet reports that Microsoft ad’s ‘average consumer’ is an actress and as the video above alledges, she never even went into the Apple store. One problem is that the ad misleads the viewer to think they are watching real life, when it is pretty evident that the whole thing was staged. If you watch the commercial Lauren says “I guess I’m not cool enough for a Mac”. Is Microsoft saying that the PC is for uncool people?


After reading a blog post titled What Does the Term Marketing Mean, from The Git, I realized that what I am really talking about here is just one small part of marketing. I probably should have titled this post, Why Microsoft’s Advertising Sucks. Another example of why Microsoft’s advertising sucks:


Here’s a piece by Slate that discusses some of Microsoft’s advertising shortfalls.

Frito Lay Advertises to Aliens

I would have loved to have been in the marketing meeting when the Frito Lay team decided to transmit a 30 second ad to a solar system 42 light-years away.

“Being first to market often results in category leadership. If we can be the first in the minds of the aliens near Ursa Major, we can capture a majority of their planet’s market share!”

More likely this is a publicity stunt to get people to generate buzz. Peter Charles, head of the project said “We are constantly looking to push the boundaries of advertising and this will go further than any brand has gone before.” The ad was pulsed out from high powered radars from the EISCAT European space station in the Arctic Circle. The user generated ad that is being transmitted is titled “Tribe” and features a tribe of dancing chips that sacrifice one of their own to the god of salsa.

Scientific American asked the question we are all thinking. “How will ETs know Earthlings aren’t a bunch of dancing little edible triangles?”

Bad Ads Never Die

In sports the best marketing is winning. Marketing a mediocre or consistently bad team is tough. So when Appalachian State defeated Michigan in the upset of the decade in college football, they had a great opportunity to recruit students to their school. One of the advantages of winning football programs is that it attracts great demand for entry into undergraduate programs (read Beer and Circus). Unfortunately for Appalachian State, an old advertisement has been circulating YouTube, which has been described by the Walstreet Journal This Morning podcast as a karaoke style church video. The video puts doubts in prospects minds, reminding us that sub-par work lives never dies in the digital age.

Mark Twain's Newspaper Ad

Honolulu Correspondent of the Sacramento Union
Will Deliver A Lecture on the Sandwich Islands…


is in town, but has not been engaged



will be on exhibition in the next block


were in contemplation for this occasion, but the idea has been abandoned


may be expected; in fact, the public are

privileged to expect whatever they please

Doors open at 7 o’clock, The Trouble to begin at 8


Amazing Ad Study

In a study of 200 ad competition winners and finalists, 89% could be classified into six basic templates. You would expect that highly creative ads be greatly varied, however a great majority fit into just a few categories. The categories were: Pictorial analogy, Extreme Consequences, Extreme Situations, Competition (product is shown winning against another product), Interactive Experiments (audience can test the claim themselves) and Dimensionality Alteration (like a time alteration). They also tested 200 other ads that did not win awards and only 2% could be classified. All good ads are similar, while bad ads are bad for different reasons.

From Made to Stick and the study “The Fundamental Templates of Quality Ads” by Goldenberg, Mazursky, and Solomon in 1999.