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Forget Your Tag Line. It's Obsolete

Corporate tag lines are becoming like product jingles: corny, retro and ultimately ineffective.

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When startups and SMBs turn their attention to branding, there's one expense that they can safely forego: the tag line.  Tag lines are going the way of the jingle--a once-powerful branding tool that's now become ineffective.

There's no question that in the past tag lines have been successful branding tools. Some tag lines, like Avis's "We Try Harder" or American Express's "Don't Leave Home Without It" went viral back before anybody knew what "viral" meant.

Today, however, an increasing number of companies, especially in high tech, have either explicitly dropped their tag line (like Microsoft), have a mission statement instead (like Facebook) or flirted with a tagline but no longer seem to use it (like Google.)

To understand what's happening with corporate tag lines, it helps to consider the parallel case of the jingle, a specially-written song intended to make a brand name stick in the mind.

Jingles started in the early days of commercial radio and continued to be popular as a branding technique through first decades of commercial television.  Jingle-writing was big business; pop star Barry Manilow famously got his start as a jingle-smith.

Today, though, jingles have almost disappeared.  That's partly because broadcast ads, which used to be 60 seconds long are now much shorter (often 15 seconds or even 5 seconds long) leaving less time for a jingle.

But there's another, more cogent reason for the disappearance of the jingle: they don't work any more.  At best, they sound like bad imitations of popular songs; at worst, they sound corny and retro.

The same thing is happening with the corporate tag line. Such tag lines are intended to encapsulate and clarify the essence of a brand proposition as with Apple's "Think Different" or NBC's "Must See TV."

The problem with tag lines, though, is that they tend to sound like generic corporate speak. For example, Sony's recently launched "Make.Believe" tag line is supposed to inspirational, but could describe any company.

More importantly, it's unclear whether tag lines are worth the investment that it takes to establish them.  Branding is hard enough in a business environment that's chockablock with brand names, according to branding expert Nandini Hirianniah.

"Brand recall is a great challenge and consuming, now imagine adding a tagline to it and trying to push the whole branding. Its too much to ask!" she writes. "The reality for today is that taglines are redundant [and] nothing but noise."

So if you're working on a branding campaign, you're probably wasting time and money if you're worrying about a tag line.  If you don't have one, you're okay.  And you've got one, you might want to drop it.

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IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Oct 2, 2013

GEOFFREY JAMES did a lot of business stuff and wrote a slew of articles and books. Now he writes this column. Preorder his new book, Business Without the Bullsh*t, by May 12 and get an exclusive bonus chapter and a signed bookplate.
@Sales_Source




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