Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Taglines: who needs them?

A recent article in Brandweek by T.L. Stanley on the diminishing importance of taglines has caught the b-sphere attention because it rightly recognizes something we’ve all noticed: lots of great big brands aren't bothering with them anymore. Stanley’s diagnosis of the tagline’s declining relevance is, however, less convincing in my view. Here are T.L.'s reasons:

1) Shorter tenure of CMO’s (which I’m not sure I understand except as a general point about risk-aversion, repeated in 3 below)
2) Proliferation of media channels means we have ways to reach consumes that don’t require taglines
and 3) focus groups, or at least, an excessively rational relation to the function of the tagline. Aka, using the tagline as a “safety net” rather than a rallying cry.

Stanley’s second reason is only one that makes any sense. The first and third are tautological. Taglines no longer matter because we are only producing bad taglines that no longer matter. In fact, the article goes on to name a couple (GE’s “Imagination at work” for one) which it thinks is great. Come to think of it, the piece never really distinguishes a good from a bad tagline to begin with.

Responding to the same article, Gareth cites a couple more reasons for the tagline’s demise more convincing than the orginal article: most importantly, the fact that a consumer’s relation to a brand is often more influenced by what a brand does (and how it helps them) than what it says. Or as GK puts it: actions speak louder than words.

I’d add one more addendum to the expanding story: taglines might be increasingly unimportant to consumers, but in my experience, they are still very important to marketers. Most of them still ask the marketing service co. to provide something clear, concise and inspirational that expresses the brand idea/experience. Call it what you like: tagline, handle, rallying cry. Most marketers still like and need to have a quick way of representing the brand idea to the company as a whole, to align them around the vision and inspire everyone to take action on it.

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