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Slogans Are Stupid (Unless You're Smart about It)

I read a lot of marketing emails. They often give me useful food for thought and sometimes even a laugh. Drayton Bird, John Carlton, and Ben Settle are three I daily read. The former two are copywriting and marketing legends while the latter is fast becoming one. To learn and improve from masters simply by osmosis, you're doing yourself a disservice by not following these guys.

Today, Bird was talking about slogans. Also known as "tag lines" or, in the UK, "end lines". 

Slogans are tricky. Some people, especially my fellow copywriters and marketers, fall blindly in love with them.

While slogans can be useful when they do what they're meant to do, they are mostly just creative masturbation. Marketing agencies and copywriters love to grease themselves with snappy phrases and practically throw out their shoulders patting themselves on the back for being so damned brilliant.

It's laughable.

I once worked for a company that hails itself "a company of firsts". And I always thought that was stupid.

Without context, as most slogans are, what the hell does that mean? First in being a bunch of assholes (they once let go 25% of their workforce, including 4 members of their marketing department that were helping build their brand and increasing cash flow after less than 3 months there)? First in needless self-promotion? First in operating a business in chaos?

Listen, I understand that it's the age of social media. Twitter and her gang of misfit cousins like Snap have set the bar low with limits on time and words. In many ways, this is good for copywriters and marketers because it teaches conciseness. 

But it also breeds ineptness. And derision.

If your slogan is something that you have to explain, then your slogan isn't cutting it.

For example, I see many copywriters describe themselves in their taglines as being "creative". Are you a designer? A painter? A sous chef? A beer maker? Curtain-maker? Dancer? NFL playcaller? It's hard to tell because everyone describes themselves as "creative" - it doesn't distinguish you at all.

It's like, as a marketer for Cadillac, you come up with "The ride of your life" as their new slogan. Couldn't Mercedes just as easily be that? Or Audi? Range Rover? Jeep? 

Or, if you have a dirty mind, you could just as easily think it's the tagline for a new porn film or vibrator.

And that's the point - if you're creative for the hell of it, without putting some thought behind it, then you're setting yourself up (and a client) for failure.

Or, worse, ridicule...

I know many people subscribe to the credo that being catchy and memorable is the goal - just like "any publicity, even bad, is good publicity" has been a mantra for the last decade... 

But if it confuses the market, or gets them thinking about a competitor, or has them imagining something in another niche, you've not done your job right.

A slogan should not be about making yourself feel good or being proud of your creativity. The point is to sell.

At the very least, a slogan should clearly show a benefit and be unique and/or original.

And it shouldn't be open-ended. Many people think that Hewlett-Packard's slogan - "Invent" - is a classic, but just this morning I saw it also attributed to a company I've never heard of.

Plus, how is that original, unique, and beneficial? I just invented this article - is that what they mean? You may just last night have invented a new word when you cursed yourself for burning your finger while cooking. Do they mean that?

Another example: Bank of America once had a slogan "Life's better when we're connected". Couldn't that just as easily be one for AT&T or Amtrak or CenturyLink? Or for a sex or romance guru?

Be smart. Don't create a slogan that's corporate and empty. Give it life and meaning and truth. Your client and their bottom line will thank you.