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

Contributor - Drayton Bird

Man in a blue shirt and tie holding a megaphone in front of his face

Because you're worth it; Don't leave home without it; Beanz Meanz Heinz. Great advertising 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 - most of the time, people weren't.

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 create a slogan for your small business, I want to warn you about some of the pitfalls.

Slogans must reflect the truth

The most important thing to remember is the advice that Polonius gave to his son 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 reflect the actual truth, rather than what you would like the truth to be.

You must think carefully about what you offer that makes you better than the competition. If the answer is "nothing", you need to consider improving your offering till you do have something.

Slogans must be original

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

If you inadvertently use a slogan that's associated with another business, you could lay yourself open to legal action for 'passing off' - not to mention the cost of pulling a campaign and the bad PR it would bring.

Slogans should reinforce your brand message

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;
  • is phrased in such a way that the public is likely to remember it".

To which I would add: the purpose of the slogan, or 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 advertising 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 specific (for example, don't tell me you're going to give me "more" - more what?);
  • 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.

At the end of the day, a good advertising slogan can make your brand. 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.

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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.

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