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.
Diners Club. Belong.
Hankook Tires. Driven.
Coca Cola. Enjoy.
Power Bar. Push.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.