How to Write an Award-Winning Tagline

This post originally appeared at the Content Bureau blog.

Part three of a three-part series.

One of the most fun categories to judge at the 2016 LIA Awards was taglines (endlines). This was because—as we say in the naming biz—we had seven words rather than seven letters to play with and consider! The taglines we reviewed were mostly from advertising campaigns, both print and digital, and they varied widely in tone and format. The two winners did excellent jobs of expressing the spirit of their campaigns in elegant, memorable ways.

Before I get to the big reveal, let’s define our terms. “Taglines” (also called “endlines,” “straplines,” “slogans,” or even “catchphrases”) are short phrases that are tied to the product or company name, and they feature heavily in marketing. Taglines are different from “descriptors,” which generally follow a company or product name directly, and which clarify the purpose of a business, or what a product is or does.

Here are some examples. Well-known taglines are easy to cite. They form a core part of marketing, and so we see and hear them all the time: McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ It,” Nike’s “Just Do It,” Apple’s “Think Different,” and so on. These taglines don’t tell you anything more about what these companies do—Loving what? Just do what? Think differently about WHAT?—but they clearly express emotions and call on the audience to take some action, either directly (“do it”) or by proxy (if they love it, you should love it too). These taglines work because, as consumers, we already know a lot about McDonald’s, Nike, and Apple; we don’t need to be told what products they’re selling. The taglines instill in us a feeling of warmth and familiarity with the brand—we see them as friends with whom we want to spend time.

Descriptors are just the opposite. They exist to provide context for an unfamiliar brand, especially one that has a name that isn’t transparent or easily understood. Look at the slogans used by these companies in their early days:

Amazon: “Earth’s Biggest Bookstore”

Uber: “Everyone’s Private Driver”

Skype: “Free internet telephone that just works”

Read the name and the descriptor, and now you know what each company does. Many companies launch with descriptors attached to their names, and later drop them when consumers become familiar with their offerings.

The taglines we considered for the LIA Awards were developed specifically for advertising campaigns, and so weren’t intended to clarify an offering, but to intrigue or evoke an emotion. The two Silver winners invoked very different emotions in powerful, direct ways. I’ll discuss each in turn.
The first Silver winner was the tagline “It’s bigger than a mountain,” for Stowe Mountain Resorts, developed by Connelly Partners, Boston. This tagline was paired with gorgeous images of skiers on pristine snow in the beauty of the Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont. Each piece also had different, haiku-style copy, to which the tagline was a coda, e.g., “Some once-in-a-lifetime experiences are meant to be repeated.” Here, the tagline serves two purposes. It indicates that the Stowe Mountain Resort isn’t just a mountain for winter sports, but a huge unspoiled area preserving nature; and further, that Stowe represents the experiences you have there, and all the memories and emotions associated with those experiences. While this tagline isn’t an obvious call to action, it presents the Stowe Resort in an irresistible way—who wouldn’t want to have unlimited fun in such a breathtaking landscape?

Ma place est dans la salle
was developed by Fred & Farid, Paris, for Prodiss. This tagline was simultaneously a call to action, a manifesto, and an expression of hope. It was created in response to the dreadful terrorist attacks in November 2015, including one at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, in which 89 people were killed. The fear that followed the attacks caused a nearly 80 percent decline in attendance at shows and performances. So on December 18th in an act of solidarity, more than 150 concert halls and theaters united to change the names and slogans of their shows to Ma place est dans la salle—”My place is at the show”.

This tagline was a direct appeal to the French people, presenting the phrase as a direct quote—a statement of support for the theater community and a symbol of personal resistance. It draws on the history of the French Resistance during World War II, as well as on the importance of the arts in French culture. The effect of this tagline—on hundreds of posters, tickets, billboards, and so on—was one night of fully booked shows in Paris, and a place as the #1 trending topic on Twitter. This tagline is deeply emotional, speaking to the French identity in simple words, words that any person could speak without feeling like they were selling something. It is activism as much as commercialism: it does not target one specific show or artist, but instead calls for people to support the abstract “show”—any show, any artist.

Both of these taglines express levels of meaning in clear, plain language. They are memorable, but not because they employ rhyme, coined words, puns, or wordplay. They do more than just describe a ski resort or a night at the theatre; they evoke unique experiences, one in nature and one in art. Why did these taglines win awards? They accomplish, in a few short words, what no image or sound or pages of copy can. These taglines have soul.

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