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.