Taglines: The True Madness of the Mad Men

The golden age of advertising laid the groundwork for branding, perfected the ‘less is more” approach to communicating your message, and allowed us to glorify the bad behavior of Don Draper in Mad Men always knowing he had the right answer for any campaign. (Thank you Matthew Weiner for romanticizing the work of art directors to the point that many clients expect a “Mad Men” experience on every project.) It also brought about the rise of taglines for good and evil.

Education and Differentiation

In a time where advertising relied on print ads, radio commercials and television spots, taglines were crucial to communicating your message in the simplest form to a largely unsuspecting audience. Often, taglines were used as kickers at the end of broadcast spots. They explained crucial differences in crowded vertical segments like “The milk chocolate melts in your mouth, not in your hand.”, or concisely clarified a more complicated product like “Let your fingers do the walking.” Their purpose was to educate.

Audiences were anything but targeted during this time with ads running or sponsoring the most popular shows. You cast your net wide, and hoped to capture a few people interested in your product. Taglines created the sound bite that would stick in consumers minds driving them mad when they tried to sleep at night. Internet and social media tactics allow brands to target a specific audience, and the days of broadcasting your message to anyone has come to an end. Your target audience knows about your brand, and frequently has researched your company via your website, facebook, twitter, yelp and pinterest negating nearly any impression your tagline will have in educating them.

Aspiration and Motivation

In the late 80’s taglines began taking on a new role in marketing. They became the aspirational aspect of a brand like “Just do it” and “Think different” talking less about the product and more about the feeling you get from using the product. Taglines became brand mantras, and the need to have a tagline for most brands became a necessity once again.

Expectation and Implementation

Taglines can serve a purpose in your brand, however many bad practices have been adopted out of misunderstanding what a tagline does. It should educate or inspire, and it should do so in the most concise manner. It’s not a headline, and a tagline is never marketing on its own. Think of the best way to communicate your message, and whittle the words down to the fewest possible while avoiding the overly used formula of three word taglines like “work. play. eat.” and every other cliché variation that has plagued branding over the last decade.

Don’t think of your tagline as a piece of your logo. While it’s tempting to include your tagline under your logo because everyone else is doing it, your tagline doesn’t belong on every piece of marketing that your logo does. After all, Nike didn’t have “Just do it” on every pair of Air Jordans in the 80’s. Save your taglines for your more general uses like print ads, television & radio spots and even direct mail. Most of your market will already be able to recite your tagline by the time they are visiting your site, retail outlet or even calling you on the phone.

Advertising’s golden age brought about many of the best practices of modern branding and marketing, which we’ve continued to build on to create targeted strategies while leaving the more cumbersome aspects behind. We no longer cut amberliths, do paste-ups or even spec type, however marketing departments and business owners have continued to hold onto taglines as a necessity for brand building. It’s time to either stop using taglines for evil, or unplug our computers and go back to the 1950’s ways of doing business.

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