A friend of mine – author of ten books – greets me with a disdainful, “So, come up with any great slogans lately?” He was referring to writing tag-lines – a job scorned by pointy-headed intellectuals and brand strategists alike.
The top brand strategy firms don’t feel comfortable coming up with tag-lines. Just the phrase “coming up” with anything sounds like an activity handled on a coffee table while watching TV. Hey, let’s come up with a theme for this year’s prom.
To strategic consultants, making up tag-lines is the work of people hired for being “creative,” the guys in earrings who fidget during meetings. Compared with perfecting a brand strategy, developing tag-lines is cheap and gaudy… strictly Vegas.
One thing is clear: Clients love them and need them. Where would Nike be today without “Just do it”? Or Intel without the simple, preposterously self-referential “Intel Inside”? In client-ville, tag-lines rule. Like this one, just revived...
When I hit on a great line, I revel in it. I lie under the trees and picture the words floating across the sky. There was a software company that created a system for rationalizing all the documentation for import-export processing – all the bills of lading, freight statements and customs forms went online, saving global traders billions of dollars. My line for their promise: “Move goods. Not paper.”
Tag-lines appear out of nowhere. A not-for-profit client of mine was promoting a dance program for adults. The fiery marketing lady told me she had the urge to accost women in the street and demand, “Why aren’t you dancing?” I stared at her. My work was over. That was her tag-line.
Some of the best lines are left on the cutting room floor. A medical device company was skittish about adopting this gem: “The science of miracles”… Our clients thought it might be seen as promising divine intervention.
A great metropolitan library rejected this poetical and strategic masterpiece: “Free ideas for a free society.” Sounded like right-wing propaganda to focus-group participants. Are we really a free society when our government suppresses information? I know a screen-writer who hates focus groups. I can understand why.
How about this line for a Middle Eastern bank: “Global mind. Arab soul.” Shortly after submitting that line, our team was fired.
Tag-lines are no substitute for a solid brand strategy and excellent service. No matter how beautiful the fabric, a neck-tie alone can’t make a tasteless jerk come across as a well-dressed gentleman.
A tag-line is by nature light, ephemeral, evocative. Crafting one is like doing a watercolor, not an oil painting. Just kiss the paper with your brush and the color glistens… and then runs… and then gets absorbed. You may only have one shot at it.