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Tag, you're it!
By John L. Cimino

Besides providing some much needed entertainment to folks who might be a bit overwhelmed by the pressures and stress of today's workplace, this column also seeks, occasionally, to dispense some helpful, useful insights on any number of business related subjects.

Today's subject is taglines. Everyone knows what a tagline is. It's that word, or phrase, or series of words usually positioned next to the corporate logo which seeks to convey the essence of a brand in as few, memorable, meaningful, powerful words as possible.

You see them and hear them all the time. Usually crafted by general advertising agencies for their clients, they run the gamut from artful to awful. The best of them are short, sweet, and straight to the point. Seven-up's The Uncola is one of my favorites. Don't leave home without it, the American Express standard for years is another. Or how about Visa's It's everywhere you want to be. The worst of them are wordy and convey the sort of generalized message that doesn't say much at all. Saturn's A different kind of company. A different kind of car is an example, in my opinion, of a tagline composed by a committee or Tagline Task Force which falls short of the mark.

While the best taglines may seem to roll easily off the tongue, they are the result of hours and hours of tedious, difficult research and represent a rare and talented blend of writing and business acumen. Anyone with a vague sense of a company's marketing strategy or position can write a mission statement, but very few writers can come up with taglines, which are enduring and serve to perpetuate the strength of a brand.

Many taglines fall far short of conveying what a company stands for or what its chief assets are. PECO Energy is one, which comes to mind. No doubt about it has been their tagline since the advent of energy company deregulation a few years ago. But what does it mean? No doubt about what? What they were trying to say, in my opinion, was, that given a choice of what energy company you wanted to choose among the many available, there was no doubt about which one was the best choice. Sometimes, as in this case, the agency gets so close to the situation that they lose their objectivity. Instead of identifying a company's unique position in the marketplace, they come up with some generalized, obscure phrase that could apply to any company in any market.

Considering what some companies and organizations are willing to pay for taglines, it's no wonder that agencies compete fiercely for this business. Often, companies get shortchanged by agencies who don't do their homework, or just don't have the talent, and simply come up with the first thing to cross their mind. Recently, the state of Delaware, whose tagline had been, Small Wonder, paid a Wilmington agency $250,000.00 to replace it with It's good being first. But what does it mean to someone who is not a history buff (Personally, I think this copywriter was watching the old Mel Brooks film, History of the World, where Brooks walks around continually muttering to himself, It's good being King!)

Interestingly enough, the Wilmington News Journal, which ran a front page story about the tagline, received numerous letters to the editor complaining about the waste of money and ridiculing the tagline itself. "First at what", wrote one reader, "cancer deaths and intravenous drug users?"

Sometimes, current events can play a cruel joke on a company's tagline. As you can well imagine, United Airlines won't be wheeling out Fly the friendly skies for quite some time. Nor does Southwest Airline's Feel free to move about the country stand much of a chance of capturing the hearts and minds of most Americans right about now.

Unlike sales letters, brochures, space ads, or any of the myriad forms of collateral advertising, there are no hard and fast rules and formulas for composing taglines. If you find yourself in a position of either having to write your own tagline, or evaluate or approve one written by an outside agency or freelance copywriter, here's what I would suggest.

First, do your research about the company's position in the markets it operates in, especially with regard to the competition. Due diligence is required to ascertain what a company's real strengths and assets are. Be honest. You can fool some of the people some of the time etc. Often, companies or organizations employ taglines, which are nothing more than wishful thinking about how they would like to be perceived.

GE's We bring good things to life comes to mind as deceptive and incongruous. This incredibly diversified company sells everything from refrigerators and light bulbs to life insurance and mutual funds. Yet it seems as if they want you to believe they're in the agricultural or bioengineering business or that all their employees work in the delivery room of your local hospital!

What are your favorite taglines? What taglines do you hate? What taglines would you like to see? How about this one for the CIA, Clueless In Afghanistan. Why not dig up some of your favorite taglines of the past and present, and maybe take a stab at inventing some for the companies and organizations of tomorrow. How about Sleep tight for Tom Ridge's new Office of Homeland Security. If enough people respond, maybe we'll have a contest for Tagline of the Month. Or maybe we'll have a contest where I'll give you the tagline, and you tell me the company. How about Where the rubber meets the road (Hint, it's not a condom company). Or, We will sell no wine before it's time.

One last thought. The new online bank, which touts higher interest rates on savings and checking accounts, has a pretty good tagline. The Dutch company's name is ING. It's tagline is ING not an ending, but a beginning. Given the dismal, commercial record of other online banks like Wingspan, only time will tell if it's an ending or a beginning, or just another ongoing e.conjob.com.

2001, Cimino Direct, Inc.


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