Sunday, November 9, 2008

Brandsinger reviews corporate tag-lines

At the 70th birthday bash for Alan Siegel (extraordinary man, extraordinary party), brandsinger bumped into the magisterial Herb Schmerz. Schmerz is the brilliant, blunt former head of Mobile Oil public affairs who championed the school of pubic relations known genteelly as "confrontational" and informally as poke-out-your-eye-with-your-own-pen-you-obnoxious-reporter.

Schmerz looked at me, heard me say “blog” – and said, “Why don’t you review the tag-lines of different brands?”

Tonight, leafing through a copy of Fortune, I read and counted tag-lines – getting up to 39 before my second glass of rye whiskey ran dry.

We’ve talked about tag-lines here before. The best tag-lines take care of three jobs: 1 Express a brand’s personality – 2 Suggest what the outfit does – 3 Keep the CEO from looking like a dope.

No stars – CEO not embarrassed because obviously cannot read
Emcor – Build. Power. Service. Protect.
Do these four flat words represent four lines of business? When Emcor buys a lawnmower company, they can add Clip.

Zurich – Because change happenz.
Ziss tagline iz juzt zilly.

Time – Inside. Insightful. Indispensable.
Is Time magazine indispensable? No, water is indispensable. Time is in decline.

Veolia – Preserving the environment is our universal challenge.
What the heck does “our universal challenge” mean? Tag-lines must mean, not be.

Lanxess – Energizing Chemistry
I never heard of this company but guess it was named by an intoxicated German.

CDW – The Right Technology. Right Away.
Are we talking pizza delivery? If your technology isn’t here by 7:00 you get three free bytes.

One star * – Passable work by committee of boring staff
Allianz – Financial solutions from A-Z
If the name were Ali-babba, the slogan would have to be "Getting nowhere fast."

Montblanc – A story to tell.
Romantic, perhaps. But help us tell the truth.

Cargill – Nourishing Ideas. Nourishing People.
Stiff and forced – but deserving grudging respect for relentless symmetry.

BASF – The Chemical Company
Something touching about this ultra-descriptive phrase. How about this alternative: “BASF – A bunch of letters strung together because we’re focused on chemistry not communications.”

Citgo – There at every turn.
The obvious message – that Citgo facilities are everywhere – is prosaic. Beneath the surface is the suggestion of reliability no matter where life takes us.

Lufthansa – There’s no better way to fly.
Infantile, dull but believable.

Two stars * * – Good work by team of colorful oddballs
Northwestern Mutual – the quiet company
Really wealthy people don’t like it when their advisors’ shoes squeak.

UBS – You & Us
I hate to give these guys credit, but they have a right to be smug to have solved the problem of their sad name with this happy tag-line.

Gillette – The Best a Man Can Get
I like this realistic line because it hints that we’re not magicians here. "You can only look so good, pal."

Waste Management – Think Green.
Hey, this company does the dirty work for the rest of us. Consider the benefits.

Three stars * * * – First-class phrase by suicidal genius working from home
Allstate – You’re in good hands.
Evokes fatherly strength and motherly tenderness. Not bad for an insurance bureaucracy.

Lincoln Financial – Hello future.
Simple, reflects the business, inspiring. Tag-lines get NO BETTER than this. The gold standard.



Jay Livingston said...

"Change happenz"?? Don't they realize that that "z" gives it a hip-hop connotation? Or maybe the Swiss are down with the homeys.

And maybe it's just my dyslexia, but "Lanxess" looks an awful lot like "Laxness."

"A story to tell." If you didn't know what the product was, could you guess from this tag line? (brandsinger's criterion #2)

brandsinger said...

Jay! good hearing from you.
Yes, tag-lines are a bit like canned soup – mostly terrible... though once in a while you come across one that warms your soul. At that moment, you reflect on your life and say, Just do it!

Brett Duncan said...

First-time reader, first-time commenter. Nice blog.

I've noticed a theme in tag-lines as of late: Punctuate. Between. Words. In. The. Same. Phrase. It appears to be quite common in the 0 stars category.

Also, are the high scores for All-State and Gillette related to the fact that they've been around forever?

Miki said...

It took us way too many years, but we finally came up with a great tag-line, but please feel free to tear it up.

My company is and our tag is
"To change what they do change how you think."

Jerry Kuyper said...

My favorite recent tagline is for a pharmaceutical product:


Consistently Vyvanese

It says it all.

brandsinger said...

Brett Duncan - Thanks for commenting - welcome aboard. Interesting observation about the punctuation between words. Agree it's a trend. During the dot-com boom there was a spate of questions: "Where do you want to go today?" "What can we do for you?" etc. Tag-lines subject to fads, like jeans.
- brandsinger

brandsinger said...

Miki - Couldn't find yr company's site. Provocative tag-line.

Jerry- Thanks for sharing "Consistently Vyvanese" -- I think the rule is: If your product name looks like scrambled letters on a Scrabble rack, be consistent in all you do.


Jeffry Pilcher said...

My favorite tagline?

"Our name says it all."

Really? If your name says it all, why the hell do you need a slogan???

Also, for reference sake, here is the Biggest List of Financial Slogans Ever:

brandsinger said...

Yes... that makes me laugh. Our tagline is, "we don't need a tagline."
Thanks, Jeffry.