Two types of tagline – great and “other”

We’ve certainly talked taglines before.  When they’re right — they can be an incredible tool for a business.  Sadly, they’re not usually right.

Kevin Horne (from whom I stole this post’s headline) wrote about a British paper having some fun with their readers, asking them to come up with a tagline that describes what it’s like to be British.  My favorite…."at least we’re not French."  Good to see that geographic rivalries exist outside of the states as well.

Kevin goes on to list 3 taglines that were dead on.  Ironically, none of three are being used today.  They were great and replaced with pablum.  It happens way too often.

Let me add to that list with an example that is enough to make a marketer cry.  Michelin Tire’s tagline "because so much is riding on your tires" was brilliant.  It spoke to the buyer’s deepest emotion and fear.


And then, of course…they changed it.  Ready for the absolutely remarkable tagline that would justify walking away from "so much is riding on it?"

A better way forward.

Yup….you read it correct.  I often wonder how someone presented a particularly bad idea in such a compelling way that everyone around the table bought it.  This is one of those instances.

"Hey….let’s trash the tagline that differentiated us, identified a clear advantage, triggered the buyer’s deepest emotions and has incredible mind share already with something that says absolutely nothing and ANY tire company could use."

No wonder they changed it.

Why do you think most companies don’t really understand taglines?

20 comments on “Two types of tagline – great and “other”

  1. I think the biggest problem is that the COMPANY is bored with it and because they’re bored they believe the customers are bored, too. It’s the ultimate in self-centric thinking because somehow these companies can’t believe their customers aren’t thinking about the company as much as they do.

    The original was brilliant. The replacement? Dull, same-old, same-old that could fit 100 other companies.

  2. The Kaiser says:

    The changed agency Drew.

  3. The Kaiser says:

    I meant “they” and not “the” – sorry.

  4. Scott says:

    I think companies don’t understand tag lines because they don’t understand what business they are in.

  5. Scott says:

    Maybe I should have said, “I think companies don’t understand tag lines because they don’t realize a tag line is a summation of the business you are in, and as simply put as possible. But to sum up your business, you first have to understand what business you are in. For example, Michelin probably thinks they are in the tire business (which is thinking that helped them switch to a more vanilla tagline) but they are really in the safety, security and peace-of-mind business. Once you understand that, then the images, visuals and words used to convey those images come into better focus.

  6. Jay Ehret says:

    The Kaiser gives the reason why they changed. But why did they change to something so meaningless? The new tagline smacks of marketing by committee. This is the type of tagline that appeases everyone and offends no one. It’s one everyone can vote yes to because they can’t get the tagline they really want.

    Great ideas have detractors. If you can’t find anyone who disagrees with you, then you do not have a great idea. This tagline is the one that didn’t have any vocal detractors. If only they would have passed it by the blogging community first.

  7. Gilman says:

    Someone new gains a position of authority and must justify his/her existence. Whether a new agency or new VP of marketing, and they mess with thing to ‘mark their territory’ as it were.

    My favorite abandoned tag line: ‘Life’s Messy. Clean It Up.’ Anyone remember whose this was? What it was replaced with?

  8. I love how we all assume it was a new agency. (Although yes…plenty of evidence to support this theory). But often times, it is when a new CMO comes to town that things really get tossed around.

    Current agencies fall by the wayside, taglines are criticized…all so the CMO can carve out their own niche.


  9. Roberta,

    I’m sure you’re right. Clients are notorious about being bored with their company’s positioning or branding and changing things up.

    That’s about the same time the consumers are starting to notice and/or remember the positioning. I caution clients all the time. I ask them if they suppose the people who work in Coke’s Atlanta headquarters are sick of red. Assuming they are — would they recommend that Coke abandon red.

    That helps them see it from a different perspective.


  10. Kaiser,

    You are probably right. Sometimes that is the agency’s ego or arrogance. Other times, it is the client pushing for change and the agency not having the courage to say no.


  11. Manizesto says:

    For the most part, taglines are forgettable, a waste of space, and add nothing to the brand of the company they are supposedly promoting. Just look at this list of 25 of the top 50 Fortune 500 companies’ taglines. Can you name which tagline belongs to who?

  12. Randy Vaughn says:

    We’re a culture that is easily bored…so we assume that taglines have to change frequently so people don’t get bored with our product. I disagree but there’s got to be some timeframe in which it’s acceptable…and frankly it’s just time to freshen up the tagline. But I agree that “a better way forward” is weak!

  13. “Life’s Messy. Clean It Up.” was the tagline for Bissell vacuum cleaners. Their current tagline is “We Mean Clean.”

  14. Drew,

    The new tagline actually isn’t bad–when taken on its own merits–but it can’t hold a candle to the old one, which is precisely why it shouldn’t have been used to replace it.

    The new one is short, pithy, authoritative–almost noble–in tone. Yet it lacks two crucial elements which would make it great–the two elements that make the old tagline so powerful: emotional appeal (as you’ve already mentioned) and a dual meaning.

    In short, the new tagline is good, the old one brilliant. It’s hard to understand why a company would exchange “brilliant” for “good.” Perhaps it has something to do with political correctness?

    Great post!

  15. Jon,

    Your point sort of makes the point. Most companies don’t “do” taglines well. I suspect much of this is thanks to committee think. But none the less, you are absolutely right.

    Many companies survive having a bad tagline. But the few who have (and keep) a good one are way ahead of the game.


  16. Marc,

    Which of the two do you think is more effective?


  17. Jeanne,

    I think one of the disappointing truths about the industry is how often companies walk away from something exceptional because they’re bored with it or someone has convinced them its time to freshen up.

    Political correctness is certainly to blame for more than one bad marketing decision. How do you see Michelin’s original tagline to be politically incorrect?


  18. Hi, Drew,

    I guess I don’t actually see the old tagline itself as potentially politically incorrect, now that you mention it. It’s more the ad you’ve posted, which contains it. I can definitely see how there might be those who would object to the use of the baby in this ad, sitting next to the tire, which would, in reality, be a very dangerous place for a baby to sit.

    Without the visual, though, I’d have to say that the tagline itself doesn’t sound politically incorrect at all. There must be another reason why presumably sane advertising execs would scrap such a brilliantly crafted line for one that’s merely good.


  19. I honestly would prefer the second tagline (We Mean Clean) for a product like vacuum. To me, the first one (Life’s Messy. Clean It Up) is catchy…but I picture a product that cleans up accidents and spills like a paper towel. When I think of a mess I don’t think of a vacuum.

  20. Marc,

    It would be interesting to know which one women reacted better to. I’d assume they are the primary target. Would the first one sound like an order? Would the 2nd one be too far removed from them?


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