Slogans are the fundamental and, often, the most important piece of a company’s marketing campaign. Companies spend thousands of dollars on copywriters, trying to find the perfect combination of words to draw in and retain customers. Take a moment to think of your favorite brands and their slogans. Burger King, for example. “Have it your way,” may just seem like a simple sentence, but it is the summation of their corporate philosophy. At Burger King, you can have whatever you like on your hamburger, you can customize it, you can make it yours. This has brought customers in droves to their restaurants around the country and internationally. That’s why knowing how to write slogans is such an important skill.
Here’s how to write slogans
What Makes a Slogan Good or Bad?
The true measure of a good slogan is sticking power. Does is stick in the mind of the consumer? Does it embody the message of the company? Does it motivate the consumer to action? Simplicity, memorability and honesty make for a sticky slogan.
Think about the Burger King example again. Simple—it only has four words. Memorable—again, the length and the message make it easy to remember. It creates a positive connection in the mind of the customer. Honesty—the restaurants really do let you have your meals the way you want them; the customer at least has the illusion of making a choice. “Serving you since 1945,” may show the consumer that this company has staying power and it is simple enough, but it says nothing else about the spirit of the business.
Originality is the key to great marketing. Something may be sticky but if the consumer can’t remember what company it goes along with, if they remember it because it is similar to other slogans they hear all the time, the slogan has no conversion power and therefore is not profitable.
Bad slogans rip off other companies, have no staying power or don’t make sense. They also may contain idioms or words that create negative and undesirable connotations in the mind of the reader/viewer.
Where to Start
When thinking about how to write slogans, many copywriters start by looking at what other companies in the same industry are doing. This is a good place to start but not the best place. You don’t want a saying that’s a reformulation of what the competitors are doing. You want something true to the unique spirit of your company and something that stands out from the crowd. The real starting point is to make a list of the company’s characteristics. As the copywriter, you want to get a true feeling for the company, not just their philosophy, but also what they want to achieve.
Obviously, every business wants to be profitable, but every business also has other goals. Whether they want to run a “green” company, build personal relationships with their customers or just be the best at what they do, these desires need to factor into the slogan. Include in your list of characteristics what goals this slogan can help that company achieve.
Last, and most importantly, consider the target market. Truly effective advertising shows consumers how a product or service will fill a need in their life. A slogan is the best way to communicate this and to make consumers remember it. Back to the Burger King example, Burger King’s advertising department presented their target market with (seemingly) unlimited choice, in contrast to their competitors, who did not offer this freedom. They found a way to differentiate themselves in a positive way, so that as people were considering where to stop and get a hamburger, they would see the Burger King sign, remember that “have it your way” slogan, and choose “freedom” instead of “restriction.”
Dissect Your Words
Not all companies, even the largest ones with the most money to pour into advertising, come up with effective slogans. Even if they seem great at first, many companies experience a negative public response. This is because consumers see words differently when it comes from a corporate presence. Words in our culture (in all cultures) have straight meanings and then they also have connotative meanings. These are connected to shared cultural experiences, personal experiences, and pop culture. Even one word that has a common negative connotation can ruin an otherwise punchy and effective slogan.
Once you have your list of goals and characteristics and have started to consider which characteristics you want your slogan to portray, consider carefully the words you use to construct your ideas. As a copywriter, you have to think not only as a writer, but also as the consumer who is going to view your copy.
Keep it short and keep it simple. If the company you write for is alright with humor, humor is always a great way to go. Don’t overpromise with the slogan. Make sure the company delivers what is promised or the slogan will just engender distrust among consumers. Don’t just say that something is “the best,” or “#1” in the market. This doesn’t mean much to consumers anymore. And have fun! Consumers like to have fun and they like to laugh. Fulfilling those needs will ensure you’ve cracked how to write slogans well.
Many words, not much information.
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One problem with the zillions of articles like this one on how to write a tagline is that, first they don’t offer any new insight. Keep it simple, focus on the brand benefit, don’t overpromise, use humor when appropriate, and on and one. These articles seem to assume that any copywriter, armed with these suggestions, should be able to write a good tagline. In reality, there is at least one other ingredient necessary to make this stew. It takes a certain kind of talent. Many very good copywriters are only mediocre tagline writers. Some writers’ brains are simply hardwired in such a way that good taglines happen, and some aren’t. For the latter group, the suggestions in articles like these might make them less flawed as tagline writers, but that’s about it.
Another issue I have with these superficial visits to tagline writing land is that the terms that are often invoked are so vague. Clear, simple, short, engaging, arresting, and many other such terms are only of limited help. My other issue is that many of these rules are often baloney. Shorter is better? Al Ries makes an eloquent case for long taglines. You could look it up. I would argue that many of the best taglines aren’t really clear, they are just not-clear enough to engage the brain for a nanosecond, which is one way in which a tagline is made sticky. “Impossible is Nothing” isn’t clear. It needs a moment of deciphering. Sometimes, it is precisely when humor is “inappropriate” that it is most needed in a tagline, because it will get noticed and make an impression. Sometimes risking “inappropriateness” is worth it.
This false assumption that any old copywriter can be a good tagline writer is just a subset of the implicit assumption in so many of these kinds of articles that anyone can be a good copywriter. After all, everyone can write, right?