Are Taglines Going Out of Style?


A few years ago, Forbes compiled a list of America’s best-loved taglines. At least half of these advertising lines dated back before 1975. These days, more and more brands are walking away from the practice of summing up their brand with a few catchy words. Brands like Starbucks, Nordstrom, and Whole Foods prefer to let their brand name stand alone.

“Taglines now present some challenges for marketers,” reasons Denise Lee Yohn, author of What Great Brands Do, “In today’s media, the most common advertising real estate is a small mobile phone screen, and much of a brand’s verbal messaging is constrained by a 140-character limit or six seconds of video. A tagline would dominate communication in these formats and crowd out the brand logo or the ad-specific message.”

Granted, screen size aside, we’ve been seeing advertising taglines becoming shorter and shorter with every passing decade. In the 1950s most ad slogans were a mouthful and most happened to rhyme. You’ll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent. You’re in good hands with Allstate. Go Greyhound and leave the driving to us. By the 1960s the taglines were a little more manageable. Finger Lickin’ Good. Does she or doesn’t she? We try harder. The 1970s gave us lines that we still associate with enduring brands. BMW was the Ultimate Driving Machine. Miller Lite was Taste Great. Less Filling. By the 1990s, taglines were a few monosyllabic words: Just Do It. Got Milk? Eat Fresh.

In the new millennium, any copywriter worth her salt was aiming for a one-word solution. Thrive or Advance or Imagine. The fact that you’re having a hard time putting a brand name to those last three may tell you that less is not always more. Sometimes less is less.

Relax.Taglines may be getting more compact, but they probably aren’t going away anytime soon. Whereas, there have always been brands that have opted out of the tagline game, advertising slogans have traditionally provided the discipline of getting marketing directors and CEOs to boil down the essence of their brand’s promise. A tagline gives the brand ambassadors a singular mission statement and it gives the customer a handle to hold on to.
Sure, the hashtag is great, but it will never replace the tagline. A hashtag is designed to last 30 days. A good tagline can last 30 years. Maybe more. So if your brand is lacking direction––if the only thing you stand for is selling more product––it’s probably time to do a little soul searching. We’d be happy to hold the flashlight.

We are a Dallas Advertising Agency specializing in Brand Strategy