Taglines are key to proper brand experience. Logos and names are great, but they cannot tell the whole story. Why is it so important? A tagline is where emotion and experience blossom. And, as this article from Social and Behavioral Sciences shows, brands can only become brands when they establish an emotional connection with the customer. 

Behavioral economics has shown us that the brain operates on two systems: the fast, automatic system (subconscious) and the much slower, conscious system. When building a tagline, it is important to speak to the subconscious (which makes over 95 percent of decisions). Here are three things you should do to build a brain-friendly tagline, and the one thing you should avoid:

1. Know what emotion you want to convey.

If your current or potential customers could only know one thing about your business, what would that be? And, what emotions resonate with that best? Consider one of the most iconic taglines of all time, Nike's "Just Do It."  Yes, it is short and concise, but it is so much more than that. The emotional foundation is clear--you can hear the voice of a coach behind the tagline, encouraging the athlete to strive for greatness. 

Disneyland's, "The Happiest Place On Earth" is full of emotion, and that can prime the experience people have when they come to Disneyland. The brain gets what it expects, which is why it is so important to understand the emotions your tagline is evoking, and how that aligns with the overall brand experience. 

2. Avoid negatives.

Because of priming, it is incredibly important to refrain from using negative verbiage in a tagline. You have such limited real estate, and wasting it on negative words is too risky--it will likely create the wrong impression of the brand. 

For example, Marshalls' tagline is "Never Boring. Always Surprising."

Now that you have had a moment to think on that, consider all the associations your brain made while internalizing that tagline. By starting with the word "boring" it puts a negative impression in the brain that is difficult to overcome and creates skepticism. You might think, "Have I ever been bored in a Marshalls? Could I be bored there? I bet I could..." the integrity of the second sentence is then brought into question and the whole thing starts to unravel. 

How much stronger would the tagline be if those first two words were simply removed? 

Marshalls: Always Surprising. 

It has a completely different feeling and emotion (what I believe they were trying to convey with the existing tagline) and is stronger without the negative priming. 

3. Make them think--but not too much.

The subconscious brain has a lot going on--processing 11 million bits of information per second--so it has rules for pretty much everything. If you want to break through the rule clutter, it is important to have something a little catchy that encourages the conscious brain to jump to action. Consider these three taglines that make you stop and consider all the meanings behind the words (even if you don't realize it):

  • 7-Up: The Un-cola
  • Ford: Go Further
  • The Independent: It Is. Are You?

Just don't go overboard. All those rules allow the brain to be lazy, so don't be too witty or confusing, because the customer will give up and move on.

4. Try rhyming. 

Studies like this one in Psychological Science, called "Birds of a Feather Flock Conjointly" have shown that rhyming increases the likelihood someone will believe the statement to be true. The name says it all--clearly "birds of a feather flock together" seems more accurate than the clunky, unrhyming version, right? This is why taglines that rhyme (while not always the right solution) can be incredibly impactful. 

You can either have the tagline rhyme with the name of the organization, like the Army's Be All That You Can Be. Or, you can have a tagline that rhymes on it's own, like Bounty's The Quicker Picker-Upper.

This is also why jingles and anything that can help a tagline stick in someone's head are helpful. Breaking through the clutter and with a line that feels truthful and resonates is key to a strong tagline.

Bonus Tip

Length isn't everything. Yes, you want to get down to as few words as possible, but there is no magic number. Consider the incredibly impactful Mastercard tagline of "There Are Some Things Money Can't Buy. For Everything Else, There's Mastercard." Perhaps this could have been said in less words, but this statement was extremely powerful when spoken in television and radio campaigns. Where and how something will be consumed should be considered before landing on a final tagline as well. 

What about your tagline? Does it meet these brain-friendly criteria, or is it time for a revision?

Published on: Jul 29, 2019
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