Have you got an advertising slogan? Do you need one?

Have you got an advertising slogan? Do you need one?{{}}Because you're worth it; Don't leave home without it; Beanz Meanz Heinz. Great slogans like these strike a chord and are remembered for years. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of duds out there, from the bland to the downright dishonest, says Drayton Bird

Many years ago, British Rail and its advertising agency came up with a slogan - "This is the age of the train".

Since at that time it was (and still is) the age of the car, I thought that a pretty silly line! And I guess the public agreed, as after a while they tried another: "We're getting there".

This was if anything even more unwise, as most of the time, people weren't. They were sitting in dirty carriages wondering if they would ever get anywhere.

The moral is, don't boast and don't lie. So if you're selling a very ordinary Peugeot, don't talk about "The Drive of Your Life".

I don't know why marketers are so obsessed with slogans, but they are. Multi-million pound advertising accounts move on the basis of little more than a few snappy words. So before you make any dodgy decisions, I want to warn you about some of the pitfalls.

The truth sells

The most important thing to remember is the advice that Polonius gave to his son Laertes in Hamlet: "This, above all: to thine own self be true."

If you want to have a slogan (and plenty of firms have done perfectly well without), let it derive from the actual truth, rather than what you would like to be the truth.

You must ponder deeply what you really offer that makes you better. If the answer is "nothing", it may have the happy result of making you improve your offering till you do have something.

Some years ago, a good friend of mine, Timothy Foster, created an excellent website called AdSlogans. His successors offer a valuable service that among other things checks whether the line you're considering is being used by anyone else.

The purpose of a slogan

Charles L Whittier, author of 1955 classic Creative Advertising, says a slogan "should be a statement of such merit about a product or service that it is worthy of continuous repetition in advertising, is worthwhile for the public to remember, and is phrased in such a way that the public is likely to remember it".

To which I would add: the purpose of the strapline is to leave the key brand message in the mind of the target audience. It is the sign-off that accompanies the logo. It says "If you get nothing else from this ad, get this…!"

What makes a successful slogan?

Whittier lists 25 things a slogan should and should not do. They are all relevant, but some matter more than others, especially that they should:

  • be original (for example, don't tell me you're going to give me "more" - everyone else does);
  • differentiate the brand (for example, "It's Independent. Are you?");
  • include a key benefit (for example, "Visa. It's everywhere you want to be").

There are a few things they shouldn't be - corporate waffle, pretentious, or meaningless - but I won't bore you with too many examples, as you see them every day.

Don't go away with the idea that a good slogan can't be important. One of my clients ran some TV commercials more than 40 years ago that ended with the words, "Fit the best". They have never aired again since, but people remember them.

Nothing sells better than the truth.

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Drayton Bird

The Chartered Institute of Marketing named him, with others such as Tom Peters, Ted Levitt and Philip Kotler, one of the 50 individuals who have shaped modern marketing. As one advertising agency head commented: “[Drayton] doesn’t just teach.